Connecting Aesthetics, Beauty, and Psychology
by Jim Aldrich
Before venturing forth I think it’s important that we are all on the same page as far as what it is we are talking about. For this reason I begin with a section on definitions. No big deal, there are really only three words to concern ourselves with: Psychology, Aesthetics, and Beauty.
Psychology: For our purposes here, let’s keep this simple. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary psychology is, “the science of mind and behavior” or a means for empirically testing certain processes or theories. Its value lies in being able to point out how the mind functions in certain areas.
Aesthetics: The collection of those factors which, when combined determine the beauty of something or a lack of it.
Beauty:”… a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction.” (en.wikipedaa.org/wiki/Beauty)
So why should you care one iota about this topic? First, you are here for a reason. You probably weren’t web site surfing, there was a reason for your madness. Stick around and you may find that the topic has many applications. For example, it wasn’t until I began studying this topic that it had ever occurred to me to view art as a form of personal and cultural communications. Or the possibility of expanding your appreciation of different art forms.
The question here is this: “How does the science of psychology influence the use of aesthetics in creating a beautiful form of art?”
The Answer: the Mona Lisa
Let’s try and make sense out of this. But, before providing a possible answer we need to account for the role of personal and cross-cultural factors.“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Well, yes and no. If asked to view a work of art each of us will react to it. Depending on the piece some may really be taken by it, some will accept it as OK, while others may reject it. These are our personal responses.
How then do we account for broad cross-cultural acceptance of a particular work? Psychology informs us that we humans share from the same pool of emotions. Every culture responds to or feels happiness, sadness, empathy, pain, loss, and so on. There are numerous studies that support that there are common human expressions understood by all.
I‘d like to begin by applying these aspects of art to what has been identified as the most popular piece of art in the world: Leonardo da Vinci’s the Mona Lisa. How do the three categories above, psychology, aesthetics, and beauty contribute to its popularity over time and across cultures? It is in the common areas of cross-cultural beauty that a piece of art can become universally accepted. How else to explain the attraction of the Mona Lisa
When da Vinci undertook painting his masterpiece he didn’t grab a model, a canvass, his paints, and start. He went through a process. That process remains much the same for most of us even some 600 plus years later. He began with a vision, an idea of the finished work. I‘m sure he did measurements, scales, and perspectives until he had a final idea in his mind to go with. Certainly, da Vinci understood the human reaction to beauty. Now, how to capture that.
Leonard da Vinci had his claim to fame at hand. His next challenge was to interpret and define the aesthetics of the Mona Lisa and then translate them into something of beauty. In his mind there was something present in his model that transcended it being just another painting. There was something about her that he had to communicate.
It was in his application of aesthetics that the countenance of Mona Lisa came to life. Every detail, every expression had its own message. Her eyes almost seemed to follow you. That smile, if it is a smile at all leaves the observer wondering what is going on in her mind. Every aspect of the painting contains da Vinci’s message about her. The beauty of the Mona Lisa lies in its symmetry of her expression. There is balance, recognizable expression, and universality in her presentation.
Why the Mona Lisa? The easy answer is that it strikes an inviting chord in all that view it. This is why the psychology of aesthetics and beauty is important. When combined, it provides us with a different way of interpreting and experiencing art. Art is brought to life.
Growing up the mantra of many a young person is “I can do that!” Usually these exclamations come right on the heels of someone saying “I dare you….” Typical conversations go like this:
- “I’ll bet you won’t do it even once.”
- “Boy, will you be in trouble if you get caught.”
- “You’re a chicken.”
Sometimes we went for it, sometimes not. Fortunately, most of us outgrow these daredevil moments. Or do we? Today, those devil may care incidents have been replaced by an idea that is a whole lot less scary: a bucket list.
I am a writer. This was on my bucket list of things I wanted to try. So, try I did. I’ve been writing for about ten of so years. Recently, I was asked how I would feel about writing a short article on the topic of the psychology of aesthetics and beauty and their relationship with art. Having never thought about the topic before, it didn’t take long for me to respond: “Huh, the worth of what and what?”
Long story short, after due consideration, I decided to do it. So, here you are. I hope it makes sense to you and you enjoyed reading this piece.
About Jim Aldrich: As a professional writer little did Jim Aldrich realize the ways that his diverse background would contribute to his passion for the written word. Through his earlier years he was involved in broadcasting, the political arena, medicine, community organizing, and entrepreneurship. Later in life than usual for most, Jim went on to earn a master’s degree. He then spent the next 30 years as a professional social worker, therapist, and a sometimes writer.
Throughout all of this Jim has emerged with a unique perspective on life. That perspective calls him to strive for living a balanced life in mind, body, and spirit.
Jim continues to put the final touches on a guide for people seeking to change their own lives, that is to develop habits of the mind that brings true contentment to them.
Jim and his spouse live on the high plains of Wyoming.