The Aesthetic Mind (according to Schopenhauer)
The best way to analyze what constitutes an “Aesthetic Mind” is through the work of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, someone that really influenced my thinking – a master of the aesthetic mind.
If you are too lazy to read his book:
, check out these videos:
According to Schopenhauer in his masterpiece “Will and Representation”, he stated that the world is consisted of a duality – that between WILL or IDEA…or WILL and REPRESENTATION. Similarly, the self or the mind is divided into these two parts as well – between WILLING and PERCEIVING.
Although Nietzsche would disagree, Schopenhauer thinks WILLING = bad PERCEIVING (or thinking) = good.
In our everyday experiences, our consciousness is perpetually in the state of WILLING. In other words, as human beings we are always in the state of perpetual desires, as the mind is designed to seek after things that would satisfy our needs or interests, either biologically or socially for us to survive as a specie.
This willing part of consciousness is always subjective, meaning that we are always feeding our own egos with the stuff we see around us…asking how this and that can be beneficial to our own needs and desires, and etc.
For instant, when we see a beautiful body, we want to fuck it. When we see food high in calorie, we want to eat it. When we see money on the floor, we want to steal it, and so on.
This state of mind can be full of suffering because the desires are endless.
(He was influenced by the Buddhists and Eastern philosophy).
Schopenhauer suggests that to be enlightened and be fully human, we need to transcend the wills – to transform our normal state of consciousness and reach a higher level of thought.
How? through acquiring an aesthetic mind aka aesthetic contemplation.
All of us have the ability to experience this transcendence from time to time with the aid of aesthetic contemplation of art and music.
However, only rare individuals, the so-called the “Schopenhaurerian genius” can elevate their minds to this mode for a prolonged period of time – long and skillful enough to transform these perceptions into the material world through the arts, so that the rest of us who aren’t as fortunate to have this gift can contemplate the work the geniuses created for them and be temporarily enlightened.
(This is kind of like how the Shamans were thought to be the only ones who could speak to God directly, and others can only learn about the Gods through their visions…only they ate mushrooms and Cactuses instead of talking to actual Gods).
Fine art then allows us to become detached from our ego, and rest our willing subjectivity and for a moment, cease our desires.
When we look at Michelangelo’s sculpture, our minds are fucked so much by the aesthetics that we lose ourselves in the work.
When we watch a mind-blowing movie, we experience the same thing.
Or when we listen to a symphony.
Read a poem or a book.
Or when we ingest large amounts of psychedelics and experience “ego-death” and become insignificant in the face of all the beauties that unfold in front of us.
This state of mind, for Schopenhauer, is the highest mode of being – pure contemplation for the sake of contemplation within the tranquillity of aesthetics AKA art for art’s sake. Only when we are in this state of pure contemplation can we forget about the WILLINGNESS of life – the desires, the sufferings, and all that dirty baggages of everyday human existence.
This state of contemplation goes beyond Reason or language or even mathematical or rational calculation, and cannot even be measured using standard intelligence test that we associate with IQ. I think we can all agree that all of us have experiences where something is so beautiful and profound that we can’t put the experience in words or numbers.
So Schopenhauer places artists on top of scientists in this regard, but I’m going to be fair and say that mathematically equations can also have a sense of aesthetics. Einstein always compared himself to artists in the way he works, and said that physics equations and the structure of the universe is very much like music. People speak of the “elegant and beautiful equations” in science, and even the title of the movie about John Nash is called “The Beautiful Mind”.
So an aesthetic mind to me isn’t just about producing something that is pleasing to the senses, but it also has to struck a chord cognitively and emotionally. It’s not just that the ideas have to be good, but for something to be truly aesthetic, it just has something MORE, something beyond words, intelligence, or even creativity – a certain element of poetic and artistic “feel” that is missing in stuff like a Michael Bay or even Spielberg movie (looks good, stories aren’t bad), most of mainstream music videos (a lot of them are very creative), advertisement and commercials (for obvious reasons).
Using the body as an analogy, a beautifully sculpted body won’t be fully “aesthetic” unless it also has some kind of functionality, power, grace in their movements – stuff that goes beyond how much you can lift. Think of it like the “charisma” of a person.
-A word on the “hierarchy of arts”.
For Schopenhauer, not all arts are equal. Some arts are higher than others.
3. The plastic arts of sculptures and painting are considered the lower of the arts for aesthetic contemplation because they aren’t fully abstract and still represent something else other than themselves.
Let’s face it, how many times have you seen a nude sculpture of say, Venus and maybe even for just a second or two, through the will, imagine how you would fuck that ass. Or when you look at a Michelangelo sculpture and your eyes become fixated at the genitals despite its overall beauty?
2. poetry or literature. Although they are less material and more abstract than plastic arts, they still represent and describe something else using words.
1. Music is the pinnacle of arts. It is the most immaterial and most abstract art form in the sense that it doesn’t represent anything else but itself. A lot of composers including Richard Wagner adored Schopenhauer because he thought so highly of music. Music was THE direct manifestation of reality itself.
This makes sense if you think about how music only exists in the listener’s minds. It’s the only art form that you can’t see or touch or taste. If you destroy every brain on the planet, the statue of David would still technically exist, even though nobody can perceive it. But with music, if you erase human consciousness, you erase its very root of existence. And if you read any of the string theory stuff, all the physicist use the vibration of music to describe the nature of “strings” – the fundamental makeup of our universe.
-A word on the difference between “the arts” vs “the attractive” or the “charming”.
True art should exist outside the will, where “the attractive”, although it can be beautiful, can still excite the will – turning us on.
In fact, the “attractive” can be the exact opposite of the “arts”.
When you watch porn and see all the beautiful bodies in there and fapping to it, that is WILLING at its best.
-A word on uselessness.
We all know the cases where bodybuilders pride themselves on the way their bodies are built “just for looks”. They have a point there.
The highest form of any art or thought should be useless in the sense that they serve nothing else but themselves – status symbols that displays how much above and beyond basic needs and wills you really are.
So in a sense, building an aesthetic body for the sake of looking good and nothing else is exactly like thinking abstract thoughts or making art that serve no purpose other than “art for art’s sake”. They are both about pushing the limit – one physically, one mentally.
A lot had changed in the art and music world since the days of Schopenhauer.
For instance, would he consider conceptual or even pop art to be “art”?
what about pop music?