This chapter is dedicated to both my mom, Dana, and my twin brother, Brent. My mom and my brother are my support system and have helped me through some of the hardest points of my life. Thank you for supporting me as I grow into the woman I am today, and for always ‘walking me home.’ At the end of the day, aren’t we all just ‘walking each other home?’
Keywords: Aesthetics, Beauty, Nature, Psychological, Humanity, Prismatic Ecology
Aesthetics are a powerful rhetorical tool, and do a lot of things for humanity, both on an individual level and on a collective level. Aesthetics invoke emotions, influence moods, provide a source of inspiration, persuade us, move us, heal us. Aesthetics also influence cultural and social norms, and impact community satisfaction on a collective level. As I dive deeper into analyzing aesthetics and how exactly aesthetics operate within a rhetorical framework, I must, firstly, provide the definition of the term. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘aesthetic’ as “concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty,” specifically as, “giving or designed to give pleasure through beauty.” This is the beauty-centric definition of aesthetic, which is the definition of aesthetic I focus on, as opposed to the scientific definition of aesthetic, which is more concerned with “the perception and evaluation of art.” Beauty is all around us, as human beings on planet Earth, but it is the conscious acknowledgement of this beauty and the aesthetics given off or perceived by the individual (or the collective) that I believe to be the most influential from a rhetorical standpoint. Because aesthetics are so powerful and transformative to and for our human experience, I argue that aesthetics go beyond just influencing our attitudes and behaviors; I believe that we can use aesthetics as a rhetorical tool to influence states of mind, or, more specifically, our mental health.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a scholar who is most recognized for his transcendentalist theory, turned to nature in order to make sense of the world in a time when the world was a very structured, irrational place. Similarly, to Emerson, I decided to turn to the nature around me to make more sense of my experiences and my thoughts. When I was a junior in high school, I desired to find a place I could assign personal meaning to, a safe space where I could just be present and exist, in the simplest way. In the midst of high school, I needed a space to clear my mind, a place for me to explore my creativity, my free self. The first example that comes to my mind is rather personal: in high school, I often felt trapped, confined within the walls of my classroom, learning and engaging in rigorous coursework, just to go home to be confined within the walls of my bedroom for hours on end completing that night’s homework assignments. I found myself desiring an escape from the walls I had felt so confined to, a physical escape, but also a mental, psychological escape. Later, I started to notice the negative effects of feeling physically and mentally confined on my mental health. I became severely depressed, as I was no longer able to enter many spaces that brought me joy or allowed me to explore my creative, free self.
In order to demonstrate the rhetorical influence of aesthetics impacting and influencing mental states, I first discuss prismatic ecology as it relates to aesthetics and analyze how this discourse brings to light just how powerful aesthetics are in regard to influencing the human psyche. Then, I relate my interpretation of nature and the psychological influence of beauty in the form of aesthetics in my own life to that of a Turkish writer from the 1890’s. Finally, I extend my thoughts to the collective level, and discuss research that demonstrates how beauty in the form of aesthetics influences the human psyche, so much so that aesthetics have been proven to impact collective societal satisfaction.
Aesthetics are, in fact, an extremely influential rhetorical tool for humanity. Beauty not only can help us to make sense of the world around us, but it can provide humans with what may feel like mental nourishment and influence our morality and overall happiness. Known as the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, the Fisherman’s work brings about a new ecocritical discourse, which has been coined as “prismatic ecology.” Oppermann introduces the discourse of prismatic ecology, the umbrella, so to speak, under which the influence of aesthetics is found and understood more closely. Prismatic ecology is in and of itself rhetorical. Oppermann notes how the discourse emphasizes:
…nature’s polychromatic richness and vibrancy. [Prismatic ecology] investigates the material vitality of colors in affecting the cognitive, perceptual, aesthetic, ideational, and cultural experiences of human subjects and the ways in which such experiences are related to the moral appreciation of natural environments. (Oppermann et. al, 158).
Aesthetics can be created through, and are heavily influenced by, vibrant colors and the natural world around us. Colors have been proven to evoke a variety of emotional responses and powerful associations, for example: yellow happiness, red urgency, and blue calming or peaceful. Aesthetics of the natural world, as well as the manufactured world (such as a classroom setting) heavily influence and shape our experiences as human beings. Depending on whether the aesthetic be positive or negative, these experiences help shape our interpretations of our surroundings, and are thus “relayed to the moral appreciation of natural environments” (Oppermann et. al 158).
Through a closer analysis of the Fisherman’s work, worldly beauty, particularly in the form of aesthetics, has, in a way, been thought and felt to provide sustenance and mental nourishment for humanity. This particular example illustrates how nature, and this particular aesthetic, plays a larger role in shaping humanity than one may expect. In the Prologue of A Flower Left to the Aegean Sea, the Fisherman writes,“This deep blue sky of southern Anatolia, its violet sea, light and land, has nourished various trees, fruits, flowers, human beings and civilizations…I dedicate all the stories to them” (Fisherman & Oppermann, 158). Through the personification of southern Anatolia, specifically the “deep blue sky,” the “violet sea,” and the “light and land,” the Fisherman emphasizes the power of nonhuman, natural elements to influence humanity and in this specific example, the Fisherman goes as far as saying that [the sky, sea, light, and land] have “nourished” both human beings (on an individual level) and civilizations (the collective). Additionally, in highlighting the influential aspect of nature as it relates to humans, the Fisherman alludes to nature’s rhetorical essence.
Transcendentalism gives us a sense of alterity in an increasingly controlled world, which Emerson strongly theorized and supported throughout his scholarly life. An important distinction that relates to seeking out beauty to human psychological and behavioral processes is as follows:
To recover beauty, it is necessary to recover its aspects of creative involvement and alterity. Alterity can be understood as a sense of the unconstructed, nonfunctional, oppositional, different, imaginary, utopian, and inhuman aspects of the world. Beauty, then, is found not in a construction of reality but in a common engagement with alterity. (Oppermann et. al 159)
Oppermann illustrates the ability of nature here to influence humanity and highlights its rhetorical, active nature by stating that it has “creative involvement.” Beauty functions as though it is a living thing; beauty has the capacity to influence, move, inspire, and heal people; beauty in the form of aesthetics is a rhetorical tool that is indeed therapeutic, and can allow people to free themselves from psychological feelings of restriction and limitation. Have you ever felt the need to step outside for a while and just breathe? Let go of your expectations, worries, and put your mind at ease by becoming one with your surroundings? This is all part of the human experience, and the Fisherman emphasizes the rhetorical side of nature discussing its alterity.
The influence of aesthetics extends beyond the individual level and is transferable to the collective society. Being surrounded by those who are happy and satisfied in their community and environment lifts others up and makes them feel as though they are supported. Beauty in the form of aesthetics is highly associated with community satisfaction. A survey of 28,000 people across all 50 states and 800 various communities nationwide was conducted by Florida et. al to investigate the hypothesis that beauty is positively correlated with community satisfaction. In the survey, participants were asked to rate their levels of satisfaction in their communities on a scale of 1-5. A score of 1 meant that the participant was not satisfied with the aspect of community in question, whereas 5 was extremely satisfied. The results of the research revealed that beauty, or physical setting, was ranked highest among individuals in terms of community satisfaction (mean = 4.06/5). The next highest scoring category of the participants’ communities was outdoor parks, playgrounds and trails (mean score of 4.14/5). Overall, the aspects of one’s community that served to provide a beautiful aesthetic or environment for the inhabitant were ranked the highest; they are the aspects of the community that provide the most satisfaction, in a psychological manner, for the community. Beauty in the form of aesthetics has been proven to not only influence the emotions and levels of satisfaction of the individual, but also on a community and collective basis.
As humans, having and maintaining creative freedom is important. Humans want to be creative beings that are free to develop perceptions of the world around us that serve us in a positive way. I believe that aesthetics help shape our perceptions, both positive and negative, of the world around us. In times of confusion and psychological disorientation, we often ask what the purpose of life is and what meaning it holds, or, what meaning we can give it; these thoughts, subsequently, cause us to turn outwards. As such, if we are lacking beauty in our daily lives, or failing to appreciate our surroundings, it can impact us in many severe, negative, psychological ways; dullness and sameness in environments can cause one to feel trapped, isolated, and depressed. For example, I felt trapped and depressed in high school because I was failing to explore and appreciate the beauty that lied right outside my front doorstep-a great walking path surrounded by an aesthetically pleasing river and trees that soon became my ‘escape’ place. For me, my interpretation of nature and the psychological influence of beauty in the form of aesthetics in my own life is similar to that of the Fisherman’s. Through the analysis of prismatic ecology as it relates to aesthetics, the rhetoric behind aesthetics is brought to light; aesthetics are in and of themselves a rhetorical tool that is capable of shifting human psychological states. Finally, through the extension of my thoughts to the collective level and the analysis of research that demonstrates how beauty in the form of aesthetics influences the collective human psyche, it is further illustrated how aesthetics are active, influential elements of our lives that have strong capabilities to influence humanity as a whole. In conclusion, increasing one’s conscious focus on beauty in the form of aesthetics in the natural world that surrounds us will lead to a more fulfilled and happy life. As humans, we can feel more grounded and increase our overall levels of happiness and satisfaction when we take time to pause and make sense of our surroundings and appreciate the beauty that lies within them.
Campbell, I. (2021b, June 27). How art can help relieve stress. Sage Neuroscience Center. https://sageclinic.org/blog/art-relieve-stress/
Florida, R., Mellander, C., & Stolarick, K. (2011). Beautiful Places: The Role of Perceived Aesthetic Beauty in Community Satisfaction. Regional Studies, 45(1), 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1080/00343404.2010.486784
Kuipers, G., Franssen, T., & Holla, S. (2019). Clouded judgments? Aesthetics, morality and everyday life in early 21st century culture. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 22(4), 383–398. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367549419861634
Quigley, P., Tangney, S. A., Slovic, S., Berleant, A., Gaard, G., DeBaise, J., Luccarelli, M., Miller, C., Nickl, T., & Oppermann, S. (2018). Ecocritical Aesthetics: Language, Beauty, and the Environment. Indiana University Press. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/wfu/detail.action?docID=5327250
Samaritter, R. (2018). The aesthetic turn in mental health: Reflections on an explorative study into practices in the arts therapies. Behavioral Sciences, 8(4), 41. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/bs8040041