Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


The Aesthetic Experience™ is when you can sing every single part to Rose Gold by Pentatonix at once -Benedict Mendes

Aesthetics. It’s a word that, before the philosophy unit in this class, I didn’t have a lot of experience with. It was, for me, associated with heavily filtered images of snow on Tumblr blogs and “oddly satisfying” videos of bath bombs, but after learning more about this topic in the philosophical sense it became infinitely more interesting.

So, the question here is, what is my personal aesthetic. Well, as it turns out that’s a pretty good (and complicated) question. As you might have seen in Katie Crompton’s post (shout out) I was a part of her aesthetics photo shoot, and in that we were asked to choose the first word that came into our head when we heard the term “beauty”. My word was “Flow”, and here’s the picture:

Photo creds to Katie Crompton (Ignore the fact that I look like I have just unashamedly killed someone)

Now, it was pretty difficult to find a single word that encompassed what I found to be aesthetically pleasing, but I feel like this does it some justice. The reason I picked “Flow” is that I find any kind of art most pleasing when each part of the art piece meaningfully and effectively leads to the next. It keeps you enticed into continuing to immerse yourself into the art piece, whatever it may be. Pieces of art that are disconcerting and jarring take you away from the actual art and back into the real world, which for me devalues the experiment. It’s almost like the way we view the world is completely different from the way we view art, and that they can be separated from each other which leads to authentic aesthetic experiences. Which leads me to a more clear definition of what is aesthetic to me, an experience that evokes emotion and keeps you immersed and attentive which can be appreciated separately from the “real” world around you. As for the purpose of art, it can be whatever the artist intends it to be, but it can also be whatever the observer wants it to be. These two things are not mutually exclusive, as it can satisfy both the purposes that the observer and the artist have for it at the same time. This means art is extremely diverse, and also that art cannot be objectively judged because everyone will experience different emotions when exposed to it.


This can be boiled down to “art must make you feel something, must keep your attention, and must be considered separately from everything else”. This view is similar to Kant’s view that art is autonomous and should not be judged in comparison to anything else, which I agree with. Comparing pieces of art to anything else is not doing the piece itself justice, because they were not created (usually) to be compared to anything. In terms of art being valued by how it captures your attention, this is supported by the paper “The Aesthetic Experience” that we read by Colin Leath, in which he states that “Concentration is the only universal defining characteristic of aesthetic experience”. I perhaps would not fully agree with it being the only universal characteristic, but I would agree with it being an extremely significant part of one’s experience with art.


Now, how does all this tie in with my winter break experiences? Well, not over winter break, but a tiny bit before, I went to see the annual Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Christmas Concert and it was absolutely fantastic. I was amazed by the quality of the players in the orchestra, and of course of the singers in the choir as well. The music was of course excellent, but what elevated the entire experience even more was that the transitions between pieces were smooth and kept the audience enthralled. The host was Christopher Gaze, an amazing actor and artistic director, and also apparently an exceptional host. Between each song he would read short Christmas stories, or excerpts from them and they seemed to pair together with the music so well that the experience was never truly interrupted. There was never a moment in which I was detached from the experience and more invested in the real world rather than the music, it was a truly satisfying experience. Also, as an additional note, the VSO actually played the same arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” as our school did last year, of course they absolutely obliterated us, but there’s something very satisfying (at least I think) in hearing a professional group play a piece you have played before, because it’s almost like “wow that could be me one day”.


But that pretty much sums up what I think about aesthetics and the way I approach it. It’s something I could talk about forever really, but there has to be a limit somewhere. I will leave you with one of my favourite songs, as per the title, Rose Gold by Pentatonix:




Would You Like To Hear Me Stumble Over My Words Over A Bad-Quality Recording? Here You Go!

Here is said recording for all your listening pleasures.

And this is the painting I mention:

View post on imgur.com



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 InchHedwig 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.



Aesthetic Day Off – Sydney

After reading a bunch of different works by different people, I found myself picking pieces from different perspectives that I thought makes sense to have while experiencing an aesthetic event. One of the components is that during the experience, I am focussed on the activity itself and the feelings that I receive from the event, whether they are positive or negative feelings. Concentration on the activity leads to the second component of an aesthetic experience: having momentary release from concerns of past or present. This component has been especially important to me lately because of how everything from school has been piling up and creating more stress. As a result, this component is pretty important part of having an aesthetic experience. Through a combination of these two components, I would find success when I find I’m enjoying myself, not necessarily “winning” at whatever activity I’m doing.

For my aesthetic experience, I chose to do two main things: play guitar and watch “Scandal.” My goal was to just enjoy myself and not worry about anything else. I wanted to focus on the activity, not if I was any good at it (In regards to playing guitar, that is. I know I’m extremely talented at watching “Scandal”). But when we’re talking about watching “Scandal,” similar to when I was playing guitar, I just wanted to enjoy myself – not be watching the episode and halfway through thinking, “Oh no, do I have any biology homework?” Fortunately, I was able to reach these outcomes; I successfully enjoyed myself when I played guitar and watched “Scandal.”

Despite my success, there are some things that I would do differently next time around. Firstly, as I found it helped in the epistemology unit, I would definitely want to go out on my aesthetic experience with more intention and purpose. I might have set out more specific, designated times for me to play guitar or watch “Scandal.” As well, I might want to do an even more aesthetically-pleasing event – such as going somewhere to watch a sunset or something. Because playing guitar and watching “Scandal” are things I do somewhat regularly, I feel like I didn’t appreciate these aesthetics to their full ability.



My (David’s) Aesthetic Experience over the Weekend

What I did for my Aesthetic Experience:
So for my aesthetic experience, I went to an annual conference that I was apart of organizing. The conference itself was about gang violence, specifically how it impacts youth and our society as a whole.  I didn’t conscientiously try to enjoy myself but I kind of knew I was going to. I was looking forward to the conference for about two months and I was pumped to see all the work pay of (hopefully).

My Initial Thoughts:
Because of the fact that I had gone to the previous year’s conference and had enjoyed it very much, and because this time I was part of the organizing team and was looking forward to see how it would turn out, I was pretty excited and at the same time nervous. I knew I would enjoy the conference because of past experiences but the whole “Youth Leader” title also was a new thing for me. With all that said, I thought that I would enjoy myself.

Well it was an awesome conference. About 40+ youth attended (which was less than we wanted it to be, but it was still good) and the conference itself went smoothly and calmly with no complications. I, as expected by myself, enjoyed it thoroughly and was a very happy lad. Getting to meet friends that I hadn’t seen for quite a while, meeting new people and gaining knew friendships, and just having a great time made that weekend—an incredible aesthetic experience.



“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.” ― Sophia Loren

Why are we drawn to aesthetics? After researching I believe some truth can be found in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Yet many could insist that there is a difference between good/bad taste,that there is something defective about the aesthetic enjoyments of one who claims that the music of one Britney Spears is of a higher quality than Beethoven. At the very least, we must consider the possibility of aesthetic development (improvement in one’s taste), as a direct correlation of experience or lack there of. We have all had the “epiphany” experience of finding and appreciating aesthetic qualities to which we were previously blind. “Practice makes perfect,” for the audience as well as the performer. But with progress comes an ideal; not just any change will do, it must be change in the right direction.

In order to avoid subjectivism, it need only be the case that some perspectives are formally superior to others, thus paving the way for idealization. We may then secure objectivity by noting that our actual opinions may not aline those we would hold under idealization. If reality could grant individual ideality without convergence, this means that aesthetic values are both objective and relative.

Not all that related but interesting: Last night I sat down and watched a video called “Cat Poem”, in short it describes how great cats are as well as the science behind why people find them so lovable and cute. To sum up what was said; cats have evolved to be adopted by us (their meows even have evolved to imitate a human baby crying so we have the need to give them attention! Behind aesthetics lies a variety of scientific, psychological, and human nature entities but in conclusion “cats have lil squishy paws” so we love them.



Beau·ty: a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses…

Beauty: noun (plural beauties)

[MASS NOUN] A combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight: ‘I was struck by her beauty’ or ‘an area of outstanding natural beauty’


But why does beauty exist? What’s the point of marveling at a Gogh masterpiece or a orchestration by Beethoven?

“Starry Night Over the Rhone”

To paraphrase Auden, beauty makes nothing happen. Unlike our more primal indulgences, the pleasure of witnessing beauty doesn’t ensure that we consume calories or procreate. Rather, the only thing beauty guarantees is that we’ll stare for too long at something aesthetically pleasing. I tend to view beauty as a branch of curiosity that exists only in response to sensation, not just input information. It’s the click that happens when we glance at something and, even though we can’t explain why, want to see more. But here’s something I learnt in my time researching today: the hook of beauty, like the hook of curiosity, is a response to an incompleteness within us. It’s what happens when we can’t help but feel something missing, when there’s a unresolved gap. Like when a puzzle is almost complete, but you can’t find the last piece. In relevance to this sense I’d like to quote Edgar Allen Poe: “Beauty of whatever kind, in it’s supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”

Violino Sonata No. 1

Although the aesthetic emotion might have begun as a cognitive signal telling us to keep on looking, because there is a pattern here that we can figure it out; it’s a sort of a hunch, a response to complexity that isn’t incomprehensible. Although we can’t quite decipher the purpose behind this sensation – and it doesn’t matter if the sensation is a painting or a symphony – the beauty keeps us from looking away, tickling the parts of our brains that give us pleasure. Like curiosity, beauty is a motivational force, an emotional reaction not to the perfect or the complete, but to the imperfect and incomplete. We know just enough to know that we want to know more; there is something here, we just don’t what. That’s why we use the word: beautiful.



“Pics or it didn’t happen”

Image via MemeCenter

The mantra of the Instagram era:

Think about the pictures of a horde of tourists assembled in front of the Mona Lisa, their cameras clicking away. It is the most photographed work of art in human history. You can see it in full light, low light, close-up, far away, x-rayed; you can find parodies of parodies of parodies; and yet, seeing it in person and walking away does not suffice. The experience must be captured, the painting itself possessed, a poor facsimile of it acquired so that you can call it your own – a photograph which, in the end, says, I was here. I went to Paris and saw the Mona Lisa. The photo shows that you could afford the trip, that you are cultured, and offers an entrée to your story about the other tourists you had to elbow your way through, the security guard who tried to flirt with you, the incredible pastry you had afterwards, the realisation that the painting really is not much to look at and that you have always preferred Rembrandt. The grainy, slightly askew photo signifies all these things. Most important, it is yours. You took it. It got 12 likes.

This is also the unspoken thought process behind every reblog or retweet, every time you pin something that has already been pinned hundreds of times. You need it for yourself. Placing it on your blog or in your Twitter stream acts as a form of identification – a signal of your aesthetics, a reflection of your background, an avatar of your desires. It must be held, however provisionally and insubstantially, in your hand, and so by reposting it, you claim some kind of possession of it.



Hedonism in moderation

What better life is there to live than a life of indulgence? What better reason yo live than for pleasure?

Hedonism is the belief that pleasure is the only intrinsic good in life and to maximise pleasure is the only thing worth working for.

To soothe our existential nausea we look to many things, but what better way is there to find happiness than to do what makes you happy? If we are left to make our own meaning for life than what better meaning is there than to enjoy ones life. But is to simply indulge your desires non stop the best way to maximise your pleasure, the best way to enjoy your life? I would argue no, drugs can bring you immense pleasure but overuse can bring you great pain, both physical and emotional. Eating unhealthy food may bring you pleasure in the short run but the long term detriments are well known, And is that momentary pleasure really worth it? If our goal is to maximise our pleasure them should we not do things to better ourselves overall, to maximise our pleasure overall and reject things that bring us only momentary happiness? Should we not make ourselves into an aestheic phenomenon not for the mere sake of it but to best enjoy our lives? To exercise and eat healthy may bring displeasure in the short run but in the long run will you not feel much better?



Aesthetics and Symmetry

Which face is the most aesthetically pleasing?

Julian Wolkenstein’s “Symmetrical Portraits” project (click on for a closer look)

Which face is most aesthetically pleasing? Human nature tells us that we would not pick the face on the far right, which is asymmetrical. Facial symmetry is associated with beauty and is aesthetically pleasing to look at. Even babies are more attracted to and will look longer at people with more symmetrical faces than others. So why is symmetry so beautiful?

On a biological level, there are many reasons why humans are attracted to more symmetrical faces. Facial symmetry is associated with stronger genes and a healthy well-being. Asymmetry on the other hand, indicates aging and stress. Therefore, on an evolutionary scale, being attracted to those with symmetrical faces would help humans procreate with those who can create even stronger genes.

Even though facial symmetry is considered most aesthetic, when looking at completely symmetrical faces, humans feel that they are freakish and abnormal. Closely symmetrical faces are considered the most attractive.