Pop culture has given us many inevitable attributes that have become a part of our daily life. It has evolved because of the internet. And, continues to amuse the audience by giving them packets of treats in the form of content or information. Be it the older generation or the new one, pop culture references are an inevitable part of their life. Our article, however, is not about the effects of the internet or the boom of pop culture. It is specifically about aesthetics, a pop-cultural jargon.
We associate aesthetics with forms of visual media. We all understand when a person talks about the aesthetics of their Instagram feed. But most of the time, we use the term without really understanding its meaning.
Let’s take a semantic trip through history to understand possible versions of aesthetics.
Roots of Aesthetics
The etymological traces of the word ‘aesthetic‘ shows that it has its roots in Greek. It arises from the Greek word aestheticas which means sensitive or pertaining to sense perception. However, the word got its big break in the 18th century. Joseph Addison, a prominent journalist talks about aesthetics in his series of articles titled The pleasure of Imagination. But, if you were to meet the German philosopher Alexander Baumgartner, he would give you a different idea of aesthetics. For Baumgartner, the definition of aesthetics is the experience of art as a means of knowing.
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From the 18th century, let’s move to the latter part of the 19th century. If you could run down the alley and ask any of those French chaps about the word aesthetics/aestheticism, they would probably reply “art for art’s sake”. Aesthetics then evolved into a phenomenal European movement called aestheticism. It has its influence on both natural and artificial things, right from our taste in music, lifestyle, reading a book to even taking a walk in nature.
Early 20th Century
I hope that you’re still there with me as I hop into the modern English period – The early 20th century. A quick inquiry with any dreaded person of the modern world (who is probably having an existential crisis) would tell you how aesthetics is used to refer to the set of principles. This set of principles can underlie any form of art (pretty capitalistic of him) comprising the renaissance aesthetics.
2000s and Above
Moving down; let’s meet the two generations; the Millennials and Gen Z . A Millenial’s opinion about aesthetics would be of a broader spectrum. The core of it leans towards pleasure and enjoyment.
This whole description in terms of semantics takes a different turn as we come to Gen z’s opinion. One can probably hear terms like Dark academia, cottage core, grunge, etc. as the answers. Aesthetics tends to be viewed as a lifestyle, a community, etc. Though these aesthetics existed much before, it took the onset of Pinterest, Tumblr, and TikTok to add to pop culture.
As we come to the end of this trip, there is a realization of how all these interpretations are connected. Aesthetics, therefore, tends to be a big wide umbrella accommodating all sorts of components and imagery. Our discussion today is the Gen Z version of aesthetics that has influenced many of us.
The aesthetics we are discussing now are a form of lifestyle. Though the popular ones are dark academia, light academia, cottage core, grunge, minimalist, etc, presently there are 100+ aesthetics to choose from. The world has undergone changes along with its ideologies. It, therefore, becomes difficult to understand it to its fullest potential.
Here we try to take some common queries and comments regarding Aesthetics and try to make sense of it.
Is Aesthetics About Escapism and Romanticizing life?
This is one of the age-old discourses that are still left unanswered. Let’s answer this question by going back to the very basics.
How did these aesthetics receive much popularity amongst our generation?
The answer would probably be because of the natural instinct of human beings to belong to a community. While this answer has its own implications, a scientifically processed argument could easily deconstruct it. This idea of belongingness becomes the initial spark followed by the idea of romanticizing life. The latter could be a response to hide from reality. From these points, it becomes almost clear that aesthetics are a possible way of escapism and can be toxic. For example, dark academia and chaotic academia is known for romanticizing messed up sleeping schedule, excessive coffee consumption, etc.
However, from a different perspective, it could also be an honest attempt to change their lifestyle. But the chances are rare and depends on the type of aesthetic one has chosen as it requires an effort to follow a lifestyle. Sometimes these aesthetics tend to be therapeutic as well (kindly note that we are not meaning this as a substitute for medical help).
For example, there is a popular aesthetic called the trauma core which has mood boards that are infantilized and contains aesthetic mood boards related to images of childhood. While some make these mood boards solely as a form of art to express their trauma (more like art journaling), some romanticize their trauma and uses these to fish for attention. One should therefore set a boundary between being inspired and being blind.
Influence of Eurocentrism
As one slides through the Pinterest feeds of their favourite aesthetics, 1000’s mood boards (A collage of pictures that are arranged to suit the mood of the aesthetic) are available for our reference. However, it’s often hard to relate to them. It is mainly due to the Eurocentrism that makes it almost difficult or expensive to attain that particular aesthetic. If we consider the example of Dark academia with its brown, black-toned cardigans and sweatshirts, it sets an unrealistic standard to look up to. Of course, the last thing you want is to wear layers of clothing in this humid weather.
But within the past few years, aesthetics have been ‘deconstructed’ (Derrida says Hi) to be applied to the people of color. The community has tried to give it a spin-off with representation from different communities. Desi dark academia, Desi cottage core, black academia, etc are some of the common spin-offs. The idea is revolutionary not only in terms of representation but also in reinstating the core idea of aesthetics that lies in the ideas and ‘vibe’ rather than in the clothes they wear or the filter one uses.
People using Indian versions of the different aesthetics and reclaiming the long-lost art forms like bhakti poems, ghazals, etc is a political statement. Franz fanon, a prominent figure in post-colonial studies would’ve never thought that we could decolonize the mind by using their own aesthetics (that’s Uno reverse).
Inclusivity of the Aesthetics
The question of inclusivity was rather difficult to answer a few years back. However, with the onset of POC (people of color) Aesthetics, inclusivity has steadily increased. The cottage core aesthetics is lgbtq+ friendly and is especially popular amongst the lesbian community. There has also been the addition of different aesthetics within the past few years that tend to accept the grey side. For example, chaotic academia is a response to the elitist, Eurocentric dark academia. This aesthetic focuses on the process of learning rather than stressing over the looks or perfection of doing things.
Traditionally many aesthetics are considered feminine due to their portrayal. However, aesthetics that are relatable to men also exist like metrosexual, brocore, etc. However, it’s still underdeveloped as the focus is only on the binaries and also due to the lack of certain communities to accept the gender-neutral version of it.
Does one really need Aesthetics to live?
The answer is up to you. This might sound like a first-world problem but beauty and pleasure is a part of living and these aesthetics instils the lost idea of ‘wait and observe’. Many might not agree with the categorization of human beings into boxes. Some might even feel like taking up calligraphy inspired by the dark academia or diss capitalism and lead a life in harmony with nature akin to the cottage core aesthetic. Sure they are potentially toxic and a source of escape but if it can inspire you to be a better version of yourself, it’s a good deal. We would like to keep this question open-ended as it pertains to individual tastes and decisions.
The age-long discourse of aesthetics and its interpretation are numerous and probably might evolve soon. Adopt it or not, these aesthetic-inspired mood boards and videos are a treat to the eyes. With a spectrum of identities and ideologies, these are likely to evolve and inspire generations to come.
Hope you had a good read. You may now go back to reading the secret history as you sit in your dimly lit room or take a walk to your garden and hug the tree.