The Aesthetic Autobiography: Testing the Theories
“The starting point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion.” (1) Emotion: The driving force behind motivation, positive or negative. When artists like van Gogh, Banksy, and Warhol create something, the emotions anger, love, and hope may go into that piece. There have been biographies and studies of almost each and every artist, but unless we can go back in time to personally ask what there were feeling, we can only guess. Even then, the way we process emotions is different than everyone else.
Visiting the Mint Museum in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, I attended the Fairytales, Fantasy, and Fear exhibit. Upon entering, you walk under a canopy of paper-mache and plastic trees that immediately set the tone. Feeling like I’m a princess in an alternate world I move through room after room of childhood memories. Red Riding Hood with an evil wolf-like twist, Alice and the mischievous Cheshire cat, remnants of the wicked witch, and my sister’s favorite, Cinderella’s Wedding Cake. The cake itself isn’t like any other cake; it has many layers each filled to the brim with emotional goodies, including bits and pieces from other works of art.
Art doesn’t have to be in a museum though. You can find it in everyday life. Rolls of the waves, formation of a patch of trees, the body of a sports car, are all works of art. Being more of a mountain person, I enjoy the gentle chirping of the birds, scamper of squirrels, and hum of the stream running alongside me as I ascend towards the top of a trail. It’s my own personal soundtrack and gps. The even more impressive masterpiece is the waterfall itself. A recent trip to Brevard County, NC, left me breathless. The Land of Waterfalls, it’s called. I choose Gorges State Park as my primary destination and after the almost grueling 90 minute hike I reached the falls and couldn’t have been happier.
In appreciating nature as a work of art, we need to consider how it can be so. How we feel about things like art, work, relationships, and even ourselves determines how we evaluate the world around us. If we classify a Mini Cooper as a work of art, a way of transportation, or an adult-sized toy, then we can say a valley in South Dakota filled with wildflowers is a self-portrait of Mother Nature. “Experience occurs continuously, because the interaction of live creature and environing conditions is involved in the very process of living.” (2) Imagine yourself in a museum looking at that wedding cake. You see the delicate trees and tiny paper chains draping across each layer. Now imagine you’re in that field of flowers, can you see the same delicate lines in the trees and how effortlessly the leaves reach for the sun or float towards the ground.
“There are two kinds of beauty: free beauty or beauty which is merely dependent.” (3) The flowers are free beauty; you do not have to pay for them, unless you go to the store and purchase a specific bouquet. You can step right outside your home and appreciate art. There is no easy way to define art. One must classify it into a subgroup because to gather a group of flowers and some earth and arrange them in a frame would be entirely possible, it just wouldn’t be very easy. “Let us suppose a group of people who do in fact respond to just the things we would offer as paradigms: to fields of daffodils, to minerals, to peacocks, to glowing iridescent things that appear to house their own light and elicit from these people, as they might from us, the almost involuntary expression “How beautiful!”” (4)
(1-4) Bell, Dewey, et al. Aesthetics: A Reader in Philosophy of the Arts. New Jersey, Goldblatt, Brown, 2011