Do you know the feeling of being struck by beauty? Of walking down a well-known street in your city, when suddenly the sunlight reflects in a window and your well-known surroundings momentarily appear enchanted, or of drinking your morning coffee out of your favourite cup (like every other morning), and all of a sudden feeling filled up by the beauty of the moment; the roughness of the ceramics against your hands combined with the warmth of the coffee, the morning light in the kitchen, the smell of candles and bread, or of sitting on a beach suddenly feeling struck by the sublime sensory bombardement that arises from the combination of sand sticking to the skin, the cool, fresh salty breeze that greets your face, the sunlight’s glitter on the waves accompanied by the sound of seagulls screaming above, or of exploring a new city and instantly feeling pleasurably overwhelmed and momentarily thrown off course by the challenging combination of unfamiliar sounds, smells and colours.
The capability of having beauty-experiences is a part of human nature, and moments of beauty are a part of human life and play an important role in relation to our potential for feeling aligned and in harmony with our surrounding world.
A sublime colour-cocktail. Exploration of the streets of Marrakech
The importance of aesthetic nourishment is always at the core of my research, as I am convinced that aesthetic experiences are crucial for our well-being. Furthermore, aesthetic nourishment plays an important role in relation to sustainable behaviour (more heron at the end of this post).
When we experience beauty we feel at home in the world. Suddenly things are experienced as aligned and in harmony; everything momentarily falls into place. Our worries disappear, our discomfort or dissatisfaction (with whatever we are not content with in our lives) vanishes, and we are instantly “forced” to be present, both mindfully and sensorially.
The aesthetically nourishing beauty-experience has the power to turn an otherwise meaningless walk, morning or beach-moment into a significant, almost spiritual, experience.
Aesthetic nourishment involves being pulled out of our everyday grind, if only for a moment. We feel aesthetically nourished when we are (able to get) moved and overwhelmed by beauty, this being both in the context of new or familiar surroundings or objects.
The Greek word aisthetikos, which is the origin of “aesthetics,” actually means sense perception. Hence, the word originally contains more than a visual apprehension of the world. An aesthetic experience is partly a visual experience, but it is also a tactile, an olfactory, and an aural or an atmospheric experience. This is rarely conveyed by the word “aesthetics” today, as it is usually associated with a visually beautiful or picturesque experience.
Underlining the tactile element of the aesthetic experience in relation to design objects makes a lot of sense. A design object is used and worn, and thereby closely connected to our sense of touch. I usually use the term “texturesque” as a counterpart to picturesque, as I find it important to underline that the nourishing aesthetic design-experience consists of more than visual pleasure. The texturesque design-object is characterised by tactile stimulation that awakens our senses.
A texturesque design process photo by designer Susanne Guldager
Aesthetic nourishment is nourishing in the sense that it is “stored up” in our bodies and minds, and thus “builds us up”. The more aesthetic experiences we have, the better, as aesthetic experiences are accompanied by a great feeling of harmony that can be described as edifying; they momentarily remove our critical filters and allow us to “meet” the world with an open mind and open senses.
Our subsequent encounters with the world are coloured by our nourishing experiences of beauty. The next time we walk down that well-known street in our city, or the next time we travel to an unknown region, we will remember the beauty that previously filled us up – and hence open our minds and senses to being aesthetically nourished once again. Aesthetically nourishing things or phenomena can be “satisfying” in a nearly spiritual way, or in a manner, at least, that cannot be termed purely physical or purely reflexive.
Red okra at the Green School‘s Farmer’s Market
Some people are more disposed to or more open to having aesthetically nourishing experiences than others. And some people are, by nature or due to their upbringing, conscious of how important beauty-experiences are. Some people notice the beauty in everyday situations, environments and objects, and others don’t. Not because they don’t want to, but because their minds and senses are not open to beauty. But, as I am convinced that that ability of having aesthetic experiences is a part of human nature, this ability can be cultivated.
I have exercised my aesthetic capability to an extend that I find beauty everywhere. And the more beauty I experience, the more able to embrace my surroundings I am. Surrounding ourselves with aesthetically nourishing things and placing ourselves in aesthetically nourishing surroundings as often as possible can be hugely beneficial for our well-being.
Designers can help rouse the recipients’ senses and minds by creating products that are sensorially stimulating and durable in the way that they have the potential to be experienced, continually, as beautiful, pleasurably challenging or comfortable to use or “to be around.” Aesthetically sustainable products are precisely characterised by, time and again, providing the recipient with aesthetic nourishment. Aesthetically nourishing things satisfy us in a way entirely different from food, physical comfort, or products designed to support our identity and status. Aesthetic nourishment makes us feel at home in the world
And, feeling at home in the world encourages us to take care of it. Only alienation and misalignment will lead us to unsustainable behaviour and ruthless exploitation of natural resources. Being open to beauty-experiences; allowing ourselves to get filled up with awe when we encounter our natural environment and interact with the objects within it, makes us more inclined to take care of and sustain our surrounding world.