There’s only one problem with going to a musical about an East German drag queen and that’s when your dad and brother think its about Harry Potter.
My aesthetic perspective is more or less that people find things beautiful if they can relate to them and they elicit an emotional reaction. This is sort of similar to Descartes in that he said “beauty pleases” meaning things that please are beautiful. I kind of disagree with him in that I think things can be pleasing without being beautiful. I also agree a bit with Baumgarten and his statement that called aesthetics the science of sensitive knowing, basically meaning that beauty is found at an intersection of knowledge and emotion. That viewpoint came up a lot over my winter break and with the main three aesthetic experiences I had.
The first aesthetic experience was brought to me by my brother, fresh back from university, and a documentary on netflix called Valley Uprising. Valley Uprising details the history of rock climbing in the Yosemite valley (and outside of it once populatiry grew) from the 50s to the present and if you havent seen it I highly reccomend it. But of course, you may not enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve been rock climbing for about a year now and I spend a lot of time at the gym, discussing technique for different routes, and setting goals for my personal fitness in relation to rock climbing, so when I watched Valley Uprising I was enthralled with the tales from climbers through the ages from the first ascent of half dome to the modern climbers free soloing, base jumping, and slacklining in and around the valley. Even details of living conditions for the dedicated climbers (things like sleeping in caves to avoid rangers and eating cat food because thats what they could afford) which should have been disgusting were understandable to me because these were real stories from real people doing what they love. Anyone not dedicated to rock climbing would not have found some of these things beautiful but thats where my aesthetic perspective came in. I found this documentary and the stories inside it beautiful bcause I know rock climbing and I’ve formed an emotional appreciation of the hard work it takes to be good at it.
A few days later me and my family drove down to Seattle for the weekend and while we did many things (watched Rogue one, shopped for climbing gear, went to the zoo, and the flight museum) the most prominent aesthetic experience was when we went to a showing of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Hedwig is a rock musical set as a concert being performed by the band Hedwig and the Angry Inch, throughout the “concert” Hedwig (lead singer) provides stories from her life, starting in Communist East Germany, her marriage, move to America, and subsequent divorce from an American GI, and the sex change that allowed her marriage to be considered legal (to be clear, Hedwig was born male, had a botched sex change, lives as female but doesn’t really identify as either). Now, there was a lot of things loved about this show, the theatre we watched it in, the plot, the singing, costumes, music, lighting, and set design (to name a few). But while I had an intense emotional reaction to the show, the rest of my family walked out of the theatre with the only review being “it was okay”. A very “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” type gig. I suspect that while I, a trans kid who is very into musical theatre, found Hedwig, a musical about a trans person, to be just groundbreaking, my family, cis people who kinda like theatre (I wasn’t kidding, my dad and brother walked into the theatre thinking this was a Harry Potter show), did not because our knowledge and emotion appreciations are different due to our life experiences that make up who we are at our cores. Sidenote: while I’m not going to tell you to illegally watch a show that is no longer running performances if you happen to stumble across a good bootleg or some tickets then go for it because DAMN it was such a good show.
The final aesthetic experience I’m gonna talk about from break was more of an “active” experience where I was creating art as opposed to watching art. So I’ve played ukulele for almost a year now and my brother picked up mine over the summer which made it hard for me to practice so I bought him a ukulele for Christmas and he solidly didn’t put it down for three days. SO after Christmas dinner me and my brother were playing around on our ukuleles and the family was all kinda sitting around listening and eventually they started putting in requests for songs they wanted to hear (Mostly Johnny Cash). And it was a very pure aesthetic experience in that I was conscious of the past and future but the most important part was the present and not messing up my chords. I think in this case it would be harder to find people who wouldn’t appreciate the moment but I know that if I had less knowledge of ukulele playing, or I didn’t like Johnny Cash songs, the pleasure I derived from the event would have been lowered.
So basically, I think that we find things beautiful if we understand them and have emotions in relation to them. And I found beauty in a documentary, a staged rock concert, and a two man ukulele jam.