Someone call the aesthetic police, I’m having a meltdown by: Ashlee Ahn
Summer of 2016, it was a crisis. An endless internal agony that couldn’t be traced back to its origin and this is what I call the “Aesthetic Meltdown 1.0”. I went on to delete all my pictures on Instagram because I didn’t consider them to be, “aesthetically pleasing”. I couldn’t grasp what beauty was, I couldn’t narrow down a single, “theme” that would define me in a visual aspect. I went on to find the answer in Google. “How to make Instagram photos aesthetic”, “Aesthetic themes” and my questions were all focused on finding a single answer, but my question now is, “Was that the right approach?”. Was I searching for a personal answer, by asking no one, but me? My days spent crying and purchasing photo editing apps from the App store are now nothing, but regret, yet one thing I did surmount is that such agony stemmed from my false approach: I tried to limit my aesthetic and definition of beauty into one defining feature.
In order to find my aesthetic, I tried to create my personal definition of aesthetics. The dictionary definition of aesthetics is: an adjective, concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty. This definition gives off an underlying message that there exists a universal definition of beauty, but like 16th century philosopher, Descartes argued, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? Being the visually driven and avid photographer I am, I decided that a way to approach such dilemma was to find a correlation between all the photos that I took which I quite appreciated. Back then, my answer was something among the lines of, “they all seem to have a similar level of brightness and a reoccurring hue in its tint”.
Looking back at all the photos and now (hopefully) having a broader view of aesthetics, I believe that such photos were able to bring me back to the emotion in which I felt then, because there is a distinct similarity within the experience I had when taking them. The photos do not exist to be a beauty of its own, in the external world this may be true, but to me it’s a personal memorial that links me back to the emotions I once felt. The amount of contentment it brings me, I believe, has a direct relation to the beauty of the moment I shared with my loved ones in beautiful places. Like how aesthetics in Buddhism, the Zen art possesses central values of, “simplicity, the spirituality of the ordinary, and genuineness of heart”; they put the focal point on the mind of the maker much more than its finished product. In the end, the emphasis lies much on the nostalgia it manages to bring me, more than the way it’s edited.
I define aesthetics to be a choice; an aesthetic experience is highly dependent on the mindset of one. I previously focused on the physicality and the theme of the photographs I took when in reality, what was evoking me was the emotions it induced in me. An aesthetic experience was defined as a, “pleasurable and desirable experience” that is “[characterised] by a concentration originating in the organism causing it to perceive its environment” by Colin Leath, which I go in parallel to, with the addition of there being a definite intention. If anything that is “pleasurable and desirable” with there being absolute no intention to cause change, then it can be personally labelled as an, “aesthetic experience”. I will add on to such argument with some personal experiences I had over the winter break. I interned at a law firm located in Downtown for a week, and such experience was life changing. I got to meet highly educated people, broaden my perspective, and of course, enjoy the mesmerizing view of Robson on the 28th floor every day; that exact experience I would never trade for anything, nor do I wish it would have been any different. However, regarding the level of concentration and pleasure there was, I do not regard this to be an, “aesthetic experience”, because I believe there was no intention within me to seek a form of tangible and or, visually appealing factor. My intention was to grow as a person and to make lasting connections in the field of career I was interested in, not to create visually appealing keystones of what I considered to be, “beautiful”. To me, aesthetic, or an aesthetic experience can only exist when there is that internal consent; an agreement to either create beauty from an average “it”, or the pursuit of beauty.
Thinking back to my trip to Victoria with our close family friends, or one of the many photo shoots I went with my pals, I believe it is a perfect example of when my intention was the core of the aesthetic experience. I remember those moments to be the way they are today, because of my purpose to grasp beauty and make it last with my camera; with such purpose there was an absence of willingness to change the situation, and my emotions I still commit to memory. The Japanese philosophy, mono no aware: pathos of the awareness of surroundings; there is depth with their cultural appreciation towards the gratitude towards the moment. In addition to such belief, the intention of the experience when coexisting with the awareness of the environment is the distinction between what is an aesthetic experience versus a simply happy moment.
So why couldn’t I settle on one single defining theme of beauty? Because of the unconscious definition I had of aesthetics, or an aesthetic experience, I struggled to restrict my emotions into one physicality. My emotions, opinions, thoughts, style, and everything about me was constantly evolving and there was no way that my definition of beauty or what I consider to be beautiful to stay the same as well. Just like how the classical Japanese philosophy has a paradigm of our reality to be a constant change (Buddhist expression: impermanence), there was no stable answer to the broad question.
With my previous definition of aesthetics being on the final product, I failed to understand one of the main attributes that existed in all of my work: my fullest intent of longing to seek beauty, as well as the emotions I felt in that very moment. The Buddha once said that what you feel, you attract; aesthetic experience is a state of mind in which the person can conquer with the right approach.
(You probably don’t care, but if you were wondering, this is the very reason as to why I never post on my main Instagram account).
((all original photos, by me!))