Live an Aesthetic Life

Aesthetics

“Officially” speaking, Aesthetics is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty and artistic taste. But you don’t have to be a philosopher to bask in the benefits of living an aesthetic life.

Simply having a sensitivity and appreciation for beauty is a good start.  Slow down; pause; observe.  Note and appreciate those things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction when you experience them with your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste).  What things appeal and resonate with you?  What ignites a passion and inspires you?  What calms and pauses you for contemplative reflection?

It could be numerous things:

  • Arts (visual) – paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photography, architecture, metalwork, mixed media, textiles
  • Arts (performing) – music, drama, dance, film
  • Literature – novels and poetry that engage your sense of beauty, inspire and transport you
  • Design – interior, auto, architecture, fashion, engineering
  • Nature – trees, shrubs, flowers, streams, waterfalls, mountains, insects, animals, landscape gardens
  • Cuisine – savoring excellent food and drink in a pleasing ambience
  • Craftsmanship – appreciating well-executed creations of others
  • Science – beautiful discoveries that provide incredible aha moments

What gives you pleasure and inner joy?  Jot down some notes about any special aesthetic things that seem to “do it” for you.  Get a clear idea on what aesthetic elements really appeal to you and give you an innate satisfaction.

 

How to Adopt a Living Aesthetic

So, after considering the beautiful and appealing things that give you pleasure and inner satisfaction, what can you do about it?  So what?

How about you make an effort to surround yourself with those resonating aesthetics?

Why?  Because regularly experiencing the appreciation and pleasure from these beautiful things provides long term benefits for your life.  They can be a powerful influence for growth, fulfillment, happiness, inspiration, accomplishments, etc.  Your overall attitude about life is improved, versus someone that doesn’t identify with aesthetics in any way.

I found an excellent article that zeroes in on the importance of living an aesthetic life:

Benefits of Living the Aesthetic Life by Victoria Raynor

She really understands the importance of aesthetics!  Her vision mirrors my own regarding its influence on our lives.  Her article, while not lengthy, packs a powerful message.

Benefits of beauty and aesthetics she mentions include: it energizes body and spirit, invigorates us, gives instant pleasure; instills interest in our lives, gets us in touch with ourselves, enables the beautiful inside us, reduces stress, ignites creativity, improves mental health, gives us focus, provides calming relaxation and happiness.

I don’t see much of a downside . . .  do you?

And, as she points out . . . we don’t need to be an authority on art, beauty and aesthetics to identify something as pleasing to us. We’re our own judge. It’s our interpretation. We decide what’s beautiful for us; what resonates with our spirit.

So…. be an Aesthete by surrounding yourself with beauty and reap its benefits.

 

Some Ideas . . .

Immerse yourself in soul-satiating aesthetics – outfit your living and working space using elements that resonate with the pleasure points in your soul (furnishings, décor, music, lighting, artistic & intellectual artifacts, collections & curios).

I have what seems like innumerable interests and passions.  Some of these I use to enhance my living aesthetics.

Some examples from my personal life:

My home office & library:

  • I love Art Deco architecture, art and design so when I created my office I decorated it in that theme.
  • I also find beauty in those things that can ignite a sense of adventure and discovery – such as intriguing scientific and navigation instruments, historic artifacts, mysterious megalithic ancient archaeological sites, mythic lands, esoteric woodcuts and symbols. So various objects in my office library reflect these inspiring themes.

 

My garage:

  • Since I was a teen, I have an interest in building, restoring and mildly customizing cars of the 50s & 60s. Along with that hobby, I find appeal in 50s-era gas stations and streamline modern design. So, when tackling the project of refinishing my garage, I chose to do it in a retro-50s style.  Streamlined curved corners to the cabinets I built, which also have a retro Formica countertop and polished aluminum counter edging (like the old dining sets of the 50s and 60s). Matching pub table and retro stools. I decorated the garage with a 1955 Tokheim gas pump, a 1953 Westinghouse wall-mount telephone (restored and working), Texaco neon clock, as well as a lot of appealing retro tin signs on the walls.  Overall, it’s a 1950s Texaco gas station and workshop theme.

 

Our home:

  • My wife and I love to create a cozy, comfortable aesthetic for our home. Appealing furniture, colors and décor that evoke a wonderful and satisfying feeling for the time we’re there.
  • We recently refinished our basement and wanted a theme of Louisville (both the city and its history, as well as the University of Louisville where we’re both alumni). Along with that we wanted a bit of a pub/tavern feel.  We achieved that and did almost all the work ourselves.

 

Our home’s landscape gardens:

  • My wife and I both are passionate about immersing ourselves in a large variety of gorgeous public gardens. We’ve visited dozens over the years and these beautiful oases have inspired us to create our own “Elysium” to immerse ourselves and kindle our spirits.

 

Travel to-and-from work:

  • In a further effort to expose myself to as much beauty as often as possible, I make it a point to drive through Louisville’s Seneca and Cherokee parks both to and from work whenever I can. I avoid the interstate and busy secondary roads with lots of traffic lights and cars.  At the same time I play beautiful music in the car, opening my windows, feel the breeze – all of it taking me away from the stress of work and traffic, focusing instead on the beauty that relaxes and reduces stress.

 

Work Office/Cube/Desk:

  • To the extent possible, enhance your workspace with items that are beautiful and inspire you.

 

Social Activities:

  • Dine and drink at restaurants that have a pleasing ambiance. Choose something other than uninspiring and cold concrete floors, dull furnishings and drab décor.  Find places that call to your soul/spirit – even if in a small way.  Dining alfresco is a favorite of ours – selecting a location that has a satisfying patio with shade, plants, fountains and a decent opportunity for people watching.  In Louisville, O’Shea’s in the Highlands is one of our favorites. Europe’s street cafés are wonderful in this aspect too.  No wonder so many great writers, poets and artists found solace and inspiration at cafés and encouraging social atmospheres throughout Europe.

 

 

A Couple of Observations . . .

I find that living an aesthetic life drives Romanticism and vice versa. They build upon, compliment and feed each other.  There’s much in the way of overlap between the two. Both celebrate beauty. Beauty is the common core.

Also, some people feel you are either an intellectual or an aesthete, but not both. I disagree.  Ideas and discoveries can be beautiful too. And an appreciation of beauty can ignite the intellectual fires within us as well. We can celebrate both beauty and ideas – the best of both worlds.

 

In summary

Surround your life and living spaces with that which pleases your eye, delights you, mystifies you, engages you, impresses you, inspires you, satiates you, resonates with you, inflames your passion, engulfs you in warmth and beauty, gives you joy, triggers your creativity, evokes comfort, fires your intellect, sparks your curiosity, drives discovery, encourages adventure, instills satisfaction, reduces stress.

It doesn’t have to happen overnight, or all at once.  Create it over weeks, months, years, decades.

Think of this living aesthetic as a canvas of personal fulfillment and fire for your spirit.

Carpe diem!

🙂

 

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.”
– Henry James

 

“It is through art, and only art, that we can realize our perfection.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

 

 

Sources:

 

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.

 

 

 

Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality by Robert C. Fuller

A little over a year ago I listened to a podcast on ArtOfManliness.com entitled The Power Of Wonder wherein Brett McKay interviewed the author of a book (Robert Fuller) on the topic of Wonder.  It was particularly interesting since this topic fascinates and inspires me and it’s difficult to find references of any kind on the subject. (Not to mention that it’s the titled-focus of this web site.)  So after listening to the podcast I ordered the book.

The formal book title is: Wonder: From Emotion to Spirituality.  The author’s professional vitae reflects his major focus on religion – which the book did indeed address. However, I’m extremely appreciative of the fact that he was able to treat this subject with a broader secular approach it so deserves.

“Wonder is what sets us apart from other life forms. No other species wonders about the meaning of existence or the complexity of the universe or themselves.”
– Herbert W. Boyer

 

What is Wonder?

At the time of the publication of the book (2006) the Oxford English Dictionary defined wonder as:

The emotion excited by the perception of something novel and unexpected.

 

The current Oxford English Dictionary definition is:

A feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

 

A working definition noted within the book is:

The feeling state that accompanies the total organism’s response to something novel and unexpected (especially those things that strike us as especially powerful, real, true and/or beautiful.)

 

Throughout the book the author mentions many attributes of wonder.  The main components of wonder include:

  • Surprise
  • Bewilderment
  • Astonishment
  • Amazement
  • Perplexity
  • Admiration

Mr. Fuller notes that in searching the indices of his personal library of psychology books published in the last 100 years, he could not find a single mention of “wonder.”  It’s a rare emotion that is difficult to reproduce in a laboratory environment, so it’s rather ignored.

Over and over in the book, and even the podcast, he continually alludes to wonder being driven by powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. He also mentions Beauty, Order and Vitality although I’m not exactly clear what he means by “order.”  Perhaps he means order and harmony in the universe and nature? I really like this reference to powerful experiences of Beauty, Vitality and Truth. It resonates with me.    🙂

What things typically produce wonder?  Nature, Beauty, Music, Art, Science, Discovery, People, Love, Life, Mathematics, Geometry, Religion and Metaphysical Mysteries.

I think another significant cause of wonder is also Knowledge Adventuring.  Researching, questioning and uncovering heretofore little-known facts that leap out at you; smacking you in the face with a realization of awe and wonder about the ramifications and truth of that knowledge. As the author states, powerful displays of Truth can be a cause of wonder.

 

Wonder vs. Awe vs. Curiosity vs. Interest

An interesting element of the book were many excerpts from various sources and the author’s own thoughts to differentiate between various emotions that are easily confused with, or closely related to, wonder.

Awe – Actually….almost every mention of awe in the book is always listed in conjunction with wonder….. i.e. “awe and wonder.”  As already admitted, wonder is rarely the subject of written psychology texts, but apparently awe is even less defined – at least when it comes to distinguishing it from wonder.  It was not clear in the book as to the difference.  When awe was mentioned the typical attributes were: the presence of God; a religious experience; dread; terror; intimidation; vastness of the universe and life; the unknown and maybe unknowable.  In one instance, a source of his states that “wonder generates awe.” Interesting. Perhaps it should be that awe generates wonder?

Curiosity – Mr. Fuller spends some time discussing curiosity and how this is a more active emotion than wonder (which is said to be passive).  Curiosity is summarized as an attempt to analyze, understand and even manipulate the events and objects of our environment. It involves inquiries into the causal workings of physical reality.

Wonder – As opposed to curiosity wonder is a more passive emotion.  It has more to do with cognitive reflection and contemplation about unexpected perceptions. Reflecting on how the various parts relate to a greater whole. It induces receptivity and openness and causes us to consider life and its meaning from broader perspectives. How do we relate to the world?  How do we relate to others? What is possible? Is there a purpose in the universe? Where does existence come from? Like interest, it drives long-term constructive and creative endeavors. It has intrinsic value to the individual. Wonder causes us to philosophize.

Interest – How is interest different than curiosity and wonder? The author and his referenced sources aren’t particularly clear about this.  On the one hand he says that, like wonder, heightened interest “animates and enlivens the mind” and lures us into “constructive and creative” engagement with our surroundings. It “focuses attention” and readies us for “engagement and interaction.” It’s closest to wonder in terms of its effect on motivation.  However, as much as he relates it to wonder, it sounds like it’s more active than wonder – akin to the active emotion of curiosity rather than passive wonder.

I think all these positive emotions are beneficial to us.  It’s quite difficult to split hairs about the subtle differences and nuances among the four.  And to the non-academician – – does such bifurcation really matter?

Awe, wonder, curiosity, interest . . . .  the important aspect to register in our lives is the tremendous effect these have to enrich us SO far beyond the mundane.  What exactly are the benefits and effects of wonder and its related emotions?

 

Benefits and Effects of Wonder on Your Life

Without a doubt these incredible emotions bring enriching positives to the lives of anyone who will entertain them. The book has continual and profuse references to the benefits of experiencing wonder in our life.  It . . .

  • enriches our existence
  • produces personal fulfillment
  • stimulates growth
  • excites our imagination
  • enhances our seeking
  • invigorates us
  • provides a fresh approach to life
  • frees us of environmental conditioning
  • enables our self-direction
  • imbues the world with an alluring quality
  • engages us in self-examination
  • produces a mindful awareness of the world
  • awakens our higher-order thought
  • initiates abstract thinking
  • animates and enlivens the mind and body
  • induces us to pause, admire, and open our hearts and minds
  • kindles a reverence for life

Amazing.  Yet, the vast majority of humanity has no concept of wonder or its benefits. They meander through life impressed by nothing.

“And thus although you can surely go through life without a developed sense of wonder, it is equally true that a life shaped by wonder is attuned to the widest possible world of personal fulfillment.”
– Robert Fuller

 

Religion vs Spirituality

While Mr. Fuller comes from an academic role focused on religion – as I mentioned – he does a good job of sharing wonder in relation to both its religious and secular aspect.

One area where I cannot agree with Mr. Fuller is his claim that religious rituals and doctrines evoke wonder in people. I can understand his claim (since I presume he has a lifetime of indoctrination via many years of formal religious experience) . . . . however, even before I was a heretic, I did not find doctrine and ritual fascinating or wonderful in any way.  Years of being a Catholic, or later, a born-again Christian did not help this claim.  Unless one is ready to abandon every filament of their rational being, rituals overtly come across as inane, meaningless and manipulative; the antithesis to wonder.

As a student in Catholic elementary school I thought First Communion, Confirmation and May Procession rituals all certainly interesting, but even then, they couldn’t hold a candle to to the magic of hiking along the creek in the woods with my father. Nature rules over doctrine. Period.

Even outside of formal religion, rituals and doctrine of fraternal organizations such as Freemasonry (I was a member for a few years) are equally inane and meaningless. I could not perceive benefits or wonder of any kind beyond the fact that I was wasting valuable hours of my life experiencing silly play-acting that was somehow supposed to be mysterious and special to its participants, but which lost its true esoteric meaning and importance long, long ago.

One area I do agree is his references to various people’s connection with spirituality as it relates to nature.  Somewhere in the book he mentions it as “religious naturalism.”  I think a better term would be “spiritual naturalism.”  From my perspective the only god I ever see (if there is one) is a deistic god of nature – – nature as god.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where I was brought to disbelief, awe, wonder and tears of joy by the sheer majesty and mystery of nature…..NEVER by anything related to orthodox religion.

 

Can Man-made Objects Cause Wonder?

Another area where I find disagreement with the author is his claim that wonder is less likely to be caused by human-made artifacts.

For anyone with even a crude understanding and appreciation of engineering and construction capabilities, there’s a myriad of man-made structures that simply leaves a viewer with slack-jawed awe and wonder.  From monstrous bridges, buildings, palaces, cathedrals, ships, statues, and huge sculptures a viewer is left dumb-struck as to how such edifices and artistic expression could possibly have been erected using the technology of the day.

The most incredible examples of this mind-blowing awe and wonder in human achievement are the innumerable ancient structures around the world built with megalithic blocks of stone. Incredible behemoth stones were quarried, lifted, transported, lifted again, finished and fitted with space-age precision – supposedly with crude tools that could not have accomplished the task at hand. Unless you possess at least a basic understanding of engineering you wouldn’t give these structures a second thought. But if you do have the capacity to see the engineering impossibilities staring you in the face, you can’t help but stand in utter disbelief and awe at the accomplishments of these ancient civilizations.

This is an example of the benefit of “knowledge adventuring” wherein we dig, educate and discover facts not previously known or admitted within the paradigms of orthodox historians.

In a similar vein, one has to simply visit the incredible structures of castles, palaces and cathedrals of Europe to be instantly in awe at the fantastic engineering, art and architecture employed. You can stand in these edifices and simply be blown away by the sheer size and complexity of their structure and artistry.  How did they accomplish it?  How did they cut, move and precisely fit these stones several hundred feet in the air when modern cranes did not exist? It’s absolutely amazing to wonder and admire these accomplishments.

Human-made artifacts aren’t likely to produce wonder?  Think again.

 

Wonder Generates Awe?

As noted above, Mr. Fuller’s book attempts to differentiate between awe and wonder, and states at one point that “wonder generates awe.”  I cannot agree.  In fact, it should be just the opposite.  Awe generates wonder.  One follows from the other; clear and simple.

When we’re exposed to a gorgeous vista, the limitlessness of the cosmos, the incredible beauty of the world around us, the mind-blowing engineering involved in constructing the world’s most impressive edifices . . .  we can’t help but be dumb-struck with awe. . . .gobsmacked by the object and beauty before us.

As I see it, these emotions progress and are triggered thus:

Awe = Gobsmacked by an experience or object.

Wonder = Reflection on the gobsmacked awe, beauty and impressiveness of what we just experienced. Philosophizing on the larger questions of how and why these incredible things are even in existence. How did they come to be?

Curiosity & Interest = The actions we take as a result of the gob-smacked awe and its resulting wonder that drives us to learn, discover, understand, assimilate and integrate the mysteries of these events and objects into our lives.

 

“Once the emotions have been aroused – a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.”
– Rachel Carson

 

Closing Thoughts

I think an interesting study (if it could even be done) is whether people who lack a sense of wonder about the world can possibly re-develop that sense. I’m not sure. We lose much of our wonder and our senses are dulled into the mundane by years of schooling, work and cultural conditioning.

The only hope, perhaps, would be for individuals to step back away from the cultural paradigms and social conditioning and begin asking questions about those “givens.”  To be Walking Question Marks. To dig, discover, appreciate and enculture an open and awakened mind (Knowledge Adventuring). As a natural progression during this pulling away from the normal and mundane, a person will also gradually stop taking beauty, life and truth for granted. Then wonder can take hold again.

I encourage anyone to wonder about the world all around you. Pursue beauty, life and truth. Enrich your lives with the benefits produced by a sense of wonder.

 

“In wonder you realize that this is it. You have the opportunity to swim through the river of life rather than just float on it, to own your life rather than be owned by it”
– Juan De Pascuale

 

 

 

Sources:

 

As with any sourcing on the internet, links can go ‘dead’ after a time. If you find the above-mentioned links no longer working, try the WayBack Machine:  http://archive.org/web/web.php    It’s sometimes a good way to pull up and view websites that are no longer active.