January 9, 2019

Aesthetic Arrest

I love this term—‘Aesthetic Arrest’. It best describes the feeling we have when in the presence of a work of art, or any object of beauty, that has that ‘wow’ quality, that stops us in our tracks. We feel somehow altered by the encounter, taken outside of ourselves, elevated somehow. Robert Rye best expresses it here:

“The contemplative instant at which (an artwork) is appreciated by the mind, which has been arrested by its wholeness, and fascinated by its harmony, is the luminous, silent stasis of aesthetic pleasure.”

I’ve always pondered what, if any, is the mysterious ‘recipe’ for creating work that resonates in this way. It’s a bit of an elusive thing, very much the result of letting go and really leaning in to the process of making art. Intention is just the jumping off point. ‘Rules’ tend to get in the way. Yet there are some aspects that ‘arresting’ works share. Sir Thomas Aquinas does a pretty good job of getting close with these suggested attributes for beauty:

WHOLENESS (integitas): the unity of the whole.

HARMONY (consonantia): balance, fitness, symmetry, rhythm of structure.

RADIANCE (quidditas): a unique product of your thinking, or ‘quintessence’ of a thing.

I like this framework because it doesn’t imply rules, rather useful criteria that can be applied to any creation, visual or otherwise: anything in existence, whether man, woman or nature made. It speaks to the soul of a thing; it allows for the inexplicable, yet gives us some standards to aspire to.

When was the last time you were arrested?


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Nancy Ney
9 years ago

I love the term aesthetic arrest. Just driving in my neighborhood here in Coconut Grove has me in that state. The banyan trees are so majestic and old that my jaw is always dropping at the site of them and I never get tired of looking at their beauty. Thanks for this wonderful post!!


[…] short animation When Lilly Laney Moved In A pure mind observing nature The dynamic of the Aesthetic Arrest and does art posses a soul Philosophical questions about life, human suffering, conformity, our […]

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