Aesthetics: Relatable Beauty & Esoteric Beauty

This is an exploration of a principle of aesthetics: it traces our appreciation for beauty as it relates to our understanding. 

We have an aesthetic experience when something resonates with us emotionally. We attribute that emotional response to the beauty of an object, an environment, a person. An aesthetic experience is beautiful when it leaves a lasting impression.

Our understanding of something governs our perception of its every aspect. Beauty is often a function of our comprehension, or lack thereof. We respond to our environment with the empirical knowledge we have about it - sometimes our expectations are satisfied, sometimes they are contradicted. Both provide an emotional response that constitutes our aesthetic appreciation of a space, object, or experience. Aesthetic appreciation can be found all across this spectrum of comprehension. 

Relatable Beauty

We often find beauty in repetition, transparency, and familiarity; themes we find easy to understand. 

A familiar object not only asserts its own presence, but also calls upon past experiences, emotions, or beliefs. It satisfies our expectations. When we see this object, we appreciate it for what it is, and everything it reminds us of, and all the relevant knowledge we have about it. This aesthetic experience manifests in us as nostalgia, comfort, or intuition. We like thinking about the past, we like to see what we expect, we like to understand. 

Where is this seen?

Folk art, for example, is a visual realm built on a history of aesthetics; this history brings back past enjoyments, it is a reference to the viewer’s past. 

This sense of “relatable beauty” can be found in understanding how a watch mechanism works by eye, seeing an edge sweep across the body of a car, marveling at the accuracy of a marble sculpture, watching time pass in an hourglass, hearing a song from your childhood, admiring the historic folk art. We appreciate these things for their clarity, accuracy, consistency, and history. 

How is this useful?

Beauty is found in this consistency: satisfying predictions. Relatable beauty is less about self-expression and becomes a proxy for an experience. In this experience, we are less likely to notice/think about the creator or even the object itself. Relatable beauty provides comfort and avoids surprises. 

Esoteric Beauty

While relatable beauty is significant to our appreciation of things, we also find beauty in the abstract, the intangible. People enter a fine art museum and come out perplexed, in awe, with questions of why and how something came to be, or why we felt the way we felt. Esoteric beauty and meaning can be found in admiring something bigger than us. We find beauty in the unachievable and the foreign, admiring this unreachable state of beauty, admiring the skill, creativity, and wisdom that brought it to fruition. These experiences resonate because they are humbling. This aesthetic experience manifests in shock, awe, or humility. 

Where is this seen?

This sense of “esoteric beauty” can be found in being lost in an abstract painting, admiring the unfathomable intricacies of a piece of architecture, appreciating the great human feats behind the great pyramids, 

How is this useful?

Beauty is found in the striking nature of the unique. this sort to uniqueness demands attention as viewers ponder the meaning of a certain object, or how that object came to be.

Because of its unreachable status, esoteric beauty separates itself from the everyday. Esoteric beauty is more notable than comfortable. Esoteric beauty often puts more emphasis on the intent and achievement of the creator, an individualistic expression, an exposition of competence or uniqueness. 

A Mixture of the Two

Upon observing an object, each element either fulfills or goes against expectation. When they do fulfill expectations, they provide clarity/comfort/nostalgia in tandem with the exoticism/awesomeness/mystery provided by the parts that go against expectations. 

These intersections of esoteric and relatable beauty constitute the “loudness” of a design, an experience, a space. Harnessing this distinction allows artists and designers to pick and choose when to satisfy predictions, and when to contradict them. The nuances of aesthetics and beauty lie in these small points.