For some people, it’s pink, puffy clouds at sunset. For others, it’s ripped jeans and choker necklaces. And whether we’re reaching for sunglasses with colorful lenses or a tweed blazer, we utter those three words: “for the aesthetic.”
But society sometimes downplays our fascination with aesthetics as a fad reserved for Pinterest. But if you dig a little deeper, it speaks to the human desire for beauty and our search for identity. To explore this idea, I’m looking at the question, “What is an aesthetic, and why is it important?”
What Is an Aesthetic?
In art, aesthetic refers to the principles associated with an artistic movement. In other words, the things that make up the “look” of an art style. For example, the aesthetic of the impressionist movement emphasizes light, colors, and light brush strokes.
The modern idea of aesthetic uses the same idea to discuss images associated with different styles: black clothes for a goth style, letterman jackets for a preppy style, etc. But an aesthetic can go further, describing all the images that evoke an experience.
Why Do They Matter?
Since we tend to follow the mantra, “It’s not on the outside, but what’s on the inside that counts,” we often view beauty as shallow and unimportant. But the scientists behind one study found that they could change one’s perception of beauty by altering the brain’s reward system—the part of the brain that controls pleasure.
This shows that even on a biological level, beauty draws us in. In other words, our Pinterest boards and interior décor relate to our happiness. And in a world where we constantly look for sources of happiness, that is worth noting.
Beyond simple happiness, our exploration of aesthetics directly relates to our exploration of identity. In another study, researchers asked people how their perception of themselves would change if certain aspects of their lives changed. Here, people ranked changes in their aesthetics as being as significant to their identities as their political parties.
In other words, our exploration of aesthetics is an exploration of ourselves.
Examples of Modern Aesthetics
When we say people build aesthetics around experience, we mean any experience. There are aesthetics built around styles, hobbies, fictional genres, music genres, time periods, locations, and philosophies. Here are a few common “aesthetics” and the images that characterize them:
- Grunge: Grimy scenery, band logos, oversized shirts, flannels, ripped jeans, combat boots
- Cottagecore: Early-to-mid nineteenth-century English imagery like long skirts, vintage furniture, nature, and self-sustainability
- Lo-fi: Muted colors, imagery that harkens back to anime from the ‘80s and ‘90s and urban settings
How To Explore Aesthetic
Once you know what an aesthetic is and why it’s important, you can use them to help solidify your sense of self. Look at visual styles you already enjoy and try out new ones. Try thrifting for clothing pieces you wouldn’t normally buy or adding accent colors to your interior décor.
The more we feel free to “try out” different aesthetics, the easier it is to identify what is important to us as individuals. That way, we can more effectively make choices to benefit the world around us.
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Erika Marie is a fashion and beauty writer as well as a hardcore vintage clothing enthusiast. In her free time, she can be found thrifting for hidden gems to add to her collection.