Aesthetic emotion is inherently connected to what psychologists and philosophers call the aesthetic experience. At its core, an aesthetic experience is one that pertains to the appreciation of aesthetic objects and resulting pleasures. Such pleasure is not extracted from the usefulness or utilitarian qualities or relationship with an object, but the result of the feelings and sensations we experience when we glean the intrinsic qualities of aesthetic objects and experiences themselves. So, essentially what we feel when we experience a piece of visual art, music, dance, or any other object or experience our mind deems as aesthetic.
Now this is where things get really interesting to me. Scientists, mostly neuropsychologists who study aesthetics and the expanding field of neuroaesthetics, have discovered that we can experience an aesthetic emotion from any object that we the viewer deem to hold aesthetic value. So while that might be fashion for me and poetry for someone else, they both can be received in our brains the same way. It is the interplay of our own unique perception and cognition that results in an aesthetic experience that is completely unique to each of us. In other words, we like what we like and it’s not always universal. Aesthetic objects or experiences either light up our pleasure center or not and that's how we experience them as aesthetic- by a release of pleasure center chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that trigger sensations of pleasure and super fun emotions.
Going back to the 1790’s philosopher Immanual Kant created a set of criteria that were necessary for something to be considered aesthetically pleasing. It tickles me to discover now, through neuroscience that where Kant originally felt constricted in his own criteria is exactly the same place that has only been recently illuminated through our study of the brain. While there is a set of characteristics that most people find aesthetically pleasing, when we take a look at the brain and see that some people experiencing a lighting up of the pleasure center and a release of feel good chemicals when confronted with a piece of art and some don’t comes down to this intricate combination of the co-mingling of the sensory and cognitive functions.
We can set a criteria, but when it comes down to it, everyone can have their own unique turn ons so to speak. What I love about all this as an artist is that it strongly points to the idea that artists and those who make the appreciation of art and or the creation of art an important part of their lives, actually have a great capacity to experience a greater number of aesthetic responses than if they didn’t. In short, want to live a happier life? Get out there and see some art. What seals the deal for me, is that research shows that even if the art we are experiencing is disturbing, sad or seemingly in opposition to those feel good pleasure center chemicals, our brains still release those chemicals, if we deem something to have aesthetic value. So if we love movies and are watching a horror movie, we love to read and are reading a scary suspense novel, our minds get the signal to be empathic, but also have the distance to understand it is not happening to us. The distance that comes with seeing something under an aesthetic examination is what allows our pleasure center to light up even if the subject matter is sad or disturbing. Yes, we feel the sadness, but also appreciate the creative approach or artistic value of what we are experiencing.
We all have what speaks to us, and I don't think it comes as a surprise that I rank high on what could be called the aesthetic appreciation scale. Lots of experiences get to my pleasure center. But none more than fashion. Like to the point that I actually salivate and have a cortisol response. Right now that’s Gucci. Dapper Dan’s use of fabrics, texture and pattern lights up my pleasure center to the point of feeling high. It’s magic and silly but important. Because if we are going by the research, this response and appreciation actually opens me up to having more of these emotional responses. And that’s a good thing.
For more on AESTHETIC EMOTION listen to JOY IS NOW Episode 24 with Michelle Pattee.