The term “aesthetic” and its original concept began in Greece. It started out as a philosophy and that philosophy was beauty. Because, you know, Athenians were well known for their art and culture and their beautiful aesthetic, if you will. Aestheticism to them was the study and theory behind beauty and all that encompassed it. They sought to understand why something was beautiful and why people thought it so. People like Plato and Aristotle, two of the only people we ever talk about when referring to old Greece, defined beauty and aestheticism in their own fanciful ways. Plato had a sort of absolute beauty which meant that there was beauty in all existing things. So, everything was pretty. Beauty is an experience felt within the soul. It cannot be described other than being what it is. Beauty is beauty.
Aristotle, on the other hand, treated beauty more rigidly. Beauty lacked lust or desire. His beauty was order, symmetrical, and definite. It was a stricter concept to him that had specified beginnings and ends. It related to his study of Man and goodness. Beauty was good. Men liked beauty. Men were good. It is an odd thought process but no one really questions the great thinkers anymore. Thus, Aristotle’s beauty was in itself a study just as much as Plato’s, but it was also a study into the nature of man.
Aestheticism 2: Aestheticism Strikes Back returned in the 18th century with men like Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. Burke and Hume took a more empirical view towards beauty and aesthetics, instead focusing on reactions and responses in relation to beautiful things. With that, they were similar to Aristotle. Kant developed a theory of pure beauty and this theory had four aspects: “its freedom from concepts, its objectivity, the disinterest of the spectator, and its obligatoriness”. He, just as wholly, studied the individual’s response to something beautiful. Thus, these gentlemen developed their idea and definition of aestheticism or beauty based off of the individual. If a lot of people liked the same thing, then it had to be beautiful. Plato’s aesthetic, beauty as its own concept, became overshadowed by beauty to the individual, ultimately forming the aestheticism we know today.