Creative producers regardless of their genre, are consistently working with aesthetics. Aesthetics are a set of principles concerned with the nature of beauty, or a particular style, especially in art. An aesthetic experience is affected not solely upon the content presented by the artist. Instead we blend our own inferential interpretation towards the work and this affects our overall experience. Aesthetics is the form, or perceptible features of a creative production, action or object. (Rugnetta, 2016.)
The aesthetic features of a work of art whether that be a film, a photographic installation or a song have the potential to make us feel. Depending on the quality of the artwork and how this is interpreted by the audience, aesthetics create moments of intensity a reaction in/on the body on the level of matter. This is known as affect.
Affect: What does the art make us feel on an emotional level? Affect’s are what make up life and art. We cannot deny them. Deleuze and Guattari say that Art is a bundle of affects, a bloc of sensations waiting to be reactivated by a spectator or recipient. (O’Sullivan, 2001.) You cannot read affects, you can only experience them. It is in this experience that audiences and consumers of art feel certain emotions and the artist is the curator of the aesthetics that govern how we feel.
The difference between the artistic experience and the aesthetic experience is something that needs clarification to further understand affect. Where the aesthetic value is represented by it’s perceptible features, the artistic value is governed by its content, it’s connection to the zeitgeist and how this affects the way meaning is made through its interpretation.
“Art is less involved in making sense of the world and more involved in exploring the possibilities of being, of becoming, in the world. Art celebrates experience, in pushing forward the boundaries of what can be experienced. Art is less involved in shielding us from death, but indeed precisely involved in actualising the possibilities of life.” (O’Sullivan, 2001.)
Cinema as an artform has the ability to cause affect through the manipulation of temporality. Within cinema the “flux of consciousness is a contraction of time, cinema can trigger this process of adoption in which my time, during the time of the film, becomes the time of an other and another time”. While watching film, the temporal experience of the viewer is mapped onto the time of the film itself.” This suspension of reality provides us with a break from everyday life, where the emotion of wonder can be enticed in an exaggerated mimesis of life through the film medium. (Shepard, B.)
Looking further into the affect of aesthetics and the emotional impact that they evoke; we must be aware of the universe of emotions, the interplay and interconnectedness of these states of feeling and being.
Within this universe of emotions the 6 major galaxies are:
As a Photographer, Filmmaker and transmedia artist I use the aesthetic technique of montage as a way of creating affect. My work celebrates The Search for Meaning through travel and intercultural making as well as the freedom of expression. For this reason the emotions that I am interested in making my audiences feel are found within the emotional galaxy of Joy yet traverse depending on the projecting I am working on.
Image Via: The Universe of Emotions.
What are the qualities of JOY?
Through the analysis of JOY we can see the emotions that are closely related and fall within the same galaxy. Joy is interconnected to Pleasure, Humour, Euphoria, Optimism, Thrill and Wonder. It is interesting that within this universe we are also able to feel Uproar, Exhilaration, Jubilation, Frenzy and Thrill.
Located closely to JOY is the emotion of Humor. Film directors Charlie Chaplin and Aki Kaurismaki use a combination of filmmaking techniques, characterisation and the montage of visual and audio juxtaposition that affects a dark humour. In doing so the audience walks a tightrope between anguish and joy.
So how does this happen? We experience Charlie Chaplin Eating his boot during “The Gold Rush.” A downtrodden character, un rested with black bags under his eyes is shown wearing one shoe. In the kitchen he stirs the pot, and serves his own boot at the dinner table sharing this with his larger framed friend. Where this scene should ooze with sombre sentiments, the juxtaposition between the visual imagery and the up tempo classical music creates an absurdist humourist tone where the reality is suspended and the scene makes us feel a sombre joy.
This dark comedic aesthetic is akin to the work of Director Aki Kaurismaki in his film “La Vie de Bohème. The following scene is the depiction of a failing composer who is performing his new work in front of his friends. Through this film we are given an insight into the world of the starving artist stereotype in Paris. Shot in the 1990’s the choice to shoot on Black and White film sets the tone of the subculture it is representing.
In this particular scene “My New Composition”, The music and the visuals depict the anguish of the situation and reiterates the downward spiral the characters are taking. The final shot of the scene cuts back from the hyper serious nature of the composition to a shot of a hotdog sitting in banality upon a plate. This image helps cure us from our anguish and results in a optimistic yearning that everything is going to be ok and a wonder of what is to come. It releases the audience from the deadlock of the characters situation.
In contrast to the work of Chaplin and Kaurismaki who share a similar visual aesthetic. Photographically the images of Ryan Mcginley provoke a sense of Joy through their colour filled aesthetic of youth roaming free in exotic landscapes.
It is interesting to note that the emotion of Wonder is in fact an outlier within the universe of emotions. It is not directly connected to Joy but it exists in close proximity to it. The emotion of wonder is the key to art. Wonder is also an emotion that comes from a religious context, it comes from Islamic mosques, Hindu temples. Art oriented, go to museums like they are churches and art is viewed with reverence. (Prinz, 2015)
Ryan Mcginley’s work is diverse in aesthetic value and technique however there is a consistency in its affect. Where his work represents naked youth in exotic locations. He uses colour, at times double exposing his images. There is a repetition of symbols , people captured floating, smoking with their eyes shut, naked and free. It is in his representation of the natural that creates a calm sense of wonder, joy and optimism.
Image Via Ryan Mcginley
Within his series Moon Milk, Mcginley uses coloured gels to create highly stylised dream worlds set within caves as naked figures are represented as surrealist gods. Or children of gods exploring other worlds. Mcginley approaches the naked body openly, and doesn’t shy away from it. His approach, combined with casting, setting and lighting choices allow him to manipulate the image and how it is perceived. There is a break in reality, it is similar to real life but it blurs the lines between documentary and recreation.
Image Via Ryan Mcginley
Within my own practice, I look to create wonder. To inspire. I feel that Mcginley being the contemporary exemplar is most successful in this regard where the work of Chaplin and Kaurismaki involve a deeper investment in the medium. They require investment from the audience so that they can absorb the full effect of their aesthetic value. Mcginleys work due to its strong visual cues and colours can be seen and set off to inspire instantly.
To impact and create the most profound affect on an audience, I believe the key lies in authentically finding the perfect balance between critical concepts and aesthetic devices. The montage of aesthetics representing these ideas holds the key for profound affect.
Montage is seen as the epitome of avant-garde and experimental art. The technique of montage offers a kaleidoscopic vision which, by collapsing many views into one, suggests an experience unfolding in time. In this new space genres are merged, through geometry and symbolic representation, where technological knowledge is the tool of individual and collective beliefs.
Montage provides society with the sign of an old world shattered and a new world in construction, of the fragmentation of the once-reigning unities of life and an everyday reality that has suddenly burst the frame of experience. (Scheunemann, 2005)
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O’Sullivan, S. (2001). The Aesthetics of Affect: Thinking Art Beyond Representation. Angelaki: journal of theoretical humanities. Retrieved From:
Prinz, J. (2015). Art and Emotion. Philosophy Bites. [Podcast]. Retrieved From:
Rugnetta, M. (2016). What is Aesthetic Experience? PBS. Idea Channel. PBS Studios. [Video File]. Retrieved from:
Scheunemann, D (2005). Avant-garde/neo-avant-garde. Brill. (2005). Retrieved from:
Shepard, B. (2018). Affect. The Chicago School of Media Theory. Retrieved From:
Sideways. (2016). How Pixar uses Music to Make You Cry. [Video File]. Retrieved From: