Reflections on Aesthetic Life and Why It Matters

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Aesthetic Engagement in Everyday Life:

Reflections on Aesthetic Life and Why It Matters
by Dominic Mclver Lopes, Bence Nanay, Nick Riggle


Zhou Caishu


The book, Aesthetic Life and Why It Matters, written by Dominic Mclver Lopes, Bence Nanay and Nick Riggle (Oxford University Press 2022) invites anyone interested in philosophy to think about what life should be and why aesthetic life is important. It is divided into three chapters: “Unlocking Experience,” “Aesthetic Lives: Individuality, Freedom, Community,” and “Getting into It: Ventures in Aesthetic Life,” which emphasizes experiences, community, and diversity. The authors offer an account of aesthetic life, the modes of aesthetic engagement, and what aesthetic engagement contributes to a life. Readers can obtain philosophical insights and utilize their associative connections as a foundation for their own aesthetic projects by focusing on the related phenomena discussed by the philosophers and effectively employing their imaginative and cognitive abilities.

The main aim of the book is to explore beauty in life and why it matters. The authors’ understandings of beauty are broad and open, and they give a kind of action-oriented aesthetic practice aiming at beauty in daily life. Beauty is at its core what we respond to in our learning, appreciation, and also in cooking, eating, dressing, and other daily actions. Aesthetic life is surrounded by beauty, which is diverse and practical. For someone who thinks he doesn’t have an aesthetic life, the key reason for this might be that he has a narrow understanding of aesthetic, or he thinks of ‘aesthetic’ as ‘art.’ Analytic aesthetics, which dominated 20th century Western aesthetics, had tended to discuss the aesthetic in relation to art. In this book, there has been a remarkable expansion of ambition in the aesthetic beyond the confines of art, notably in the aesthetic appreciation of our life. For the authors, aesthetic does not mean high art, and aesthetic life is not constrained to elite taste, but for everyone.

Aesthetic engagement plays an increasing role in determining everyone’s aesthetical life. Arnold Berleant established the notion ‘aesthetic engagement,’ which is considered to involve active participation in the appreciative process both by overt physical action and creative perceptual involvement. For Berleant, aesthetic engagement emphasizes the holistic, contextual character of aesthetic appreciation, but does not treat aesthetic experience as the subjective appreciation of a beautiful object, which inherits the traditional accounts of aesthetic appreciation influenced by Kantian aesthetics. The notion of aesthetic engagement connotes a range of appreciation involving the aesthetic experiences besides art and nature, expanding the meaning of engagement to understand aesthetic life.

This book delves into specific details of aesthetic engagement in everyday life. Lopes suggests that aesthetic engagement is well-suited to satisfy a quest we have for difference, which is not limited to the ‘fine arts,’ and engages members of different communities who coordinate with one another. Riggle argues that aesthetic engagement cultivates individuality, allowing us to access various forms of community. The authors propose that aesthetic engagement contributes to a good and meaningful life by fostering individuality, promoting diversity, and facilitating pluralistic practices. They view aesthetic engagement as an achievement that enables exploration of diverse perspectives and practices.

The aesthetic concerning our daily activities plays an increasingly important, indeed, crucial role in our lives. Building upon practical reality, everyday aesthetics discourse is flourishing today, which is consistent with some views in this book. ‘Everyday aesthetics’ refers to the possibility of aesthetic experience of non-art objects and events. Bence Nanay opens a discussion on the unlocking experience and gives a generous way of thinking about aesthetic experiences, such as staring at a painting in the museum, going to a favorite restaurant, and buying new shoes. The examples used by Nanay to define aesthetic experience include artworks and daily events. Similar to everyday aesthetics, Nanay widens the scope by including objects, events, and activities that constitute our daily life. As Yuriko Saito states, everyday aesthetics aims to illuminate the rich aesthetic dimensions of daily life that have been neglected in the modern Anglo-American art-centered aesthetic discourse. Everyday aesthetic attitudes and judgements lead to consequences that go beyond simply preoccupation with and fussing over the surface. They affect the quality of life and even the state of society and the world. ‘Everyday aesthetic’ and ‘aesthetic life’ are helpful ideas in sharpening our aesthetic sensibility, while there are differences between them. Lopes points out that some discussions of everyday aesthetics mark an activity as an art in order to attract attention, but it is dangerous to denature the stuff of everyday life to treat it as art, so in this book they do not treat everything in life as art but point out where beauty exhibits and how to aesthetically appreciate in regard to life.

Aesthetic Life and Why It Matters is suitable for newcomers to philosophy, providing an accessible analysis of aesthetic life. Readers may be inspired by the book to pursue a more beautiful life that is civilized, diverse, trans-tribal and where people enjoy sharing their tastes with each other and forming a healthy relationship between individual and community. Moreover, this book is a contribution to the study of aesthetics, which widens the scope of aesthetics and goes beyond a narrow understanding of aesthetics. A broader understanding of aesthetics encourages scholars who protect art-centered aesthetic discourse to rethink the aesthetical reality and get out of an institutionalized and hierarchical aesthetics. What still needs to be explored is how this broader understanding impacts the development of the discipline of aesthetics in the university, the role of art as a field with a stubborn art-centered tradition, and the way art is produced, disseminated, and consumed.

Zhou Caishu

Zhou Caishu is an associate professor at Nankai University (Tianjin, China). Her research interests include aesthetics, film and media study, literary theory and criticism.

Published on June 6, 2023.

Cite this article: Zhou Caishu, “Reflections on Aesthetic Life and Why It Matters,Contemporary Aesthetics, Volume 21 (2023), accessed date.