“Fine wines and perfumes offer tastes and odors which are sought and enjoyed apart from the satisfaction of hunger; in dancing, movement sensations are enjoyed for their own sake; in the bath, heat and cold. But, as we have seen, it is not sufficient for a sensation to be free from practical ends in order to become aesthetic; it must be connected with the larger background of feeling; it must be expressive.”
-The Principles of Aesthetics, by Dewitt H. Parker
I do not find beauty in rainy days or classical music or renaissance art. I may not find beauty with a hundred dollars in my wallet, or in the Louvre, or in the company of someone who so desperately seeks beauty in this world as much as I do. I will not find beauty from a sunset on a Monday morning in March, nor in the hallways of my high school on a Friday afternoon. You, on the other hand, may love rainy days, classical music, visual art, good company, early mornings, and the end of a work week. You may also find what I perceive to be beautiful completely horrendous. Have you cried while thrashing in the beautiful chaos of a punk band’s mosh pit, or drove for miles in the weary night for the person you believe to be the most beautiful on earth – with curly brown hair who refuses to dress in anything other than tie-dye and suits? Can Dexy’s Midnight Runners force you to drop everything anywhere and dance until their song ends? Is your perfect night one filled with cheap tea and chemistry problems? Because those things are what I find beautiful; they are my aesthetic experiences.
The aesthetic experience can be defined as a “pleasurable and desirable experience… which gives life worth and meaning”, and penned by Nietzsche as something we use in order to cope with existentialism (partially the awareness of how meaningless our being and this universe is). It seems to act almost as an analgesic, or painkiller, to the realization we have of how little we know, and how little we are in this universe. Do the aesthetic experiences which I have change the reality in where my existence is virtually meaningless to this universe? Well no, they do not. However, they null the existential thoughts in my mind which if I were to dwell on, could very well lead me to insanity or suicide. In this sense, one could argue that the aesthetic experience is what keeps us alive.
The aesthetic experience is one we do not wish do change. We have control in these experiences, however decide to not change what it is we are experiencing, because we find what is happening to be pleasurable. Rephrasing, the aesthetic experience brings us a state of content. So are art and aesthetics necessary for the our survival? Well one could argue no, that aesthetics do not fulfil our fundamental bodily needs, however, do they fulfil our fundamental psychological needs? Once again, without aesthetics and art, we would be left in a state of sobering existentialism. But is this bad? If we lived in a society where existentialism was the dominating philosophy, would people be more productive or more stagnant? And so I prose the question, how necessary is the aesthetic experience for the development of humanity, both on a personal and a global scale?