What do we perceive as aesthetic and why?

This question has been asked by philosophers and thinkers throughout history, but the answer remains elusive. Many experts agree that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, while others believe that there is an agreement on what can be judged as aesthetic based on certain universal principles. In this new series, we will explore what (minimalist) aesthetics is and why we consider something beautiful.

The concept of aesthetics and the different perceptions of beauty

But first, let’s get to the theoretical side of things: Aesthetics is the study and appreciation of art and beauty. It originated in ancient Greece and the term derives from the Greek word “aisthetikos,” which literally means “perception” and “sensation” or “perceptible to the senses.”

It covers a wide range of topics, including the nature of art, its experience and interpretation. But it applies not only to art, but also to other fields such as architecture, design, fashion, food, and nature.

Minimalist aesthetics are often considered elegant, sophisticated, and timeless. Minimalist art and design celebrate the beauty of simplicity and often encourage the viewer to look at the work more consciously and appreciate the details.

Minimalist photography by Joe Fletcher | Aesence
A minimalist photography by ©Joe Fletcher.
A photograph I call beautiful and aesthetic.
Minimalist art by Anthony Pearson via Aesence
A beautiful and aesthetic composition. Art by Anthony Pearson. Image via © Marianne Boesky Gallery

Why we find something aesthetic

So far, so good. But why do we find some things beautiful that others find ugly? Surely beauty is totally subjective?

Well, it’s not quite that clear-cut. There are many factors that can influence our perception of beauty, including our culture, personal experiences and environment, and our own values. Most of this happens completely subconsciously.

Our personal values shape our perception of aesthetics. For example, someone who has tradition as an important core value will prefer different art, design and architecture than someone whose core value is freedom.

Another important factor in today’s world is the media. They have an enormously strong influence on our perception of beauty and aesthetics. In recent years, bubbles of aesthetics (as I like to call them) have formed, especially on Instagram, where a certain type of aesthetic is posted and celebrated over and over again. The so-called Mere-Exposure-Effect, a psychological phenomenon in which people tend to develop a preference for things simply because they are familiar with them, shapes and changes our perception without consciously noticing it.

Can something be aesthetic without also being beautiful?

This question has been on my mind for a while. There are things that I personally don’t consider “beautiful” even though I like their aesthetics. So I would say, yes – a coherent overall concept can be aesthetic regardless of whether we find it beautiful or not.


So our perception of aesthetics is fundamentally individual and depends largely on cultural, personal, temporal, and media influences. Individual perception is difficult to describe – but the moment it occurs, everyone feels it intuitively. It touches you. And that, in my opinion, is the most accurate answer to the leading question.

So when it comes to the question of what we consider aesthetic, it should not be about what we consider beautiful or not, but about what we feel when we look at art and design. So beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, but in his or her emotional perception.

Further reading



About Exploring Aesthetics:

Sarah loves asking questions and exploring the things she interacts with on a daily basis. Exploring aesthetics is her column which discusses art, design and aesthetics to explore, inspire and to question the status quo.

Aesence is a creative studio and digital design magazine with a high curatorial approach. Founded by Sarah Dorweiler, a creative mind and entrepreneur from Berlin, her goal is to capture the feeling of harmony, balance and inner peace in her curatorial work and photography.