By aesthetic enrichment, we mean an experience that comes through the senses that is special and outside the everyday. This might include being moved or challenged through feelings such as beauty, awe, discomfort, joy or wonder.
Full description and underpinning theory
This outcome is about how aesthetic enrichment, from pleasure to challenge, can result from cultural engagement. Aesthetic enrichment is experienced through the senses, elicited by aesthetic qualities perceived in the artwork or experience, through properties such as harmony and form. It involves experiences outside the mundane, of beauty, awe, joy and wonder; potentially offering a sense of escape or captivation, or feelings of being moved, challenged or transcending the everyday, extending to deepest experiences of a sense of flow, or the numinous or spiritual realms.
This outcome can include enjoyment from participation in arts experiences that are familiar, known as aesthetic validation, or unfamiliar, known as aesthetic growth or challenge. This outcome is not necessarily a shared sense: it can be experienced and enjoyed alone, unlike Outcome 5, which is about how cultural experiences connect people to each other. A desired endpoint is more and deeper experiences of aesthetic enrichment, as these are unlimited and can be continually generated. Further engagement with similar or other enriching cultural activities may be inspired. This outcome corresponds to UCLG’s cultural element of ‘beauty’ (UCLG, 2006), but is broader, in recognising that cultural enrichment can also come from experiences that are not beautiful, but challenging or awe-inspiring.
Theory underpinning this outcome
This outcome corresponds to UCLG’s cultural element of ‘beauty’ (UCLG, 2006); beauty created through human activity and enjoyed by audiences or participants (UCLG, 2006); aesthetic characteristics including harmony and form (Throsby 2001). Definition of beauty: it has to be interesting, have a memorable form and promote a desire to revisit (Gardner, 2011).
Aesthetic enrichment: the extent to which the audience member was exposed to a new style or type of art or a new artist (aesthetic growth), and also the extent to which the experience served to validate and celebrate art that is familiar (aesthetic validation) (WolfBrown, n.d.).
Aesthetic enrichment may come from enjoyment of exposure to style of art or artist that is familiar (aesthetic validation) and/or enjoyment of exposure to a style of art or artist that is new (aesthetic growth or challenge).
Evidence that this outcome occurs
Visitors experience high levels of aesthetic enjoyment in modern art museums (Mastandrea, Bartoli & Bove, 2009); Stendhal syndrome, a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations has been documenting as occurring when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art (Nicholson et al, 2009). Attendance at music concerts engenders feelings of enthusiasm, joy, happiness and excitement (Evans et al, 2016).
The value of literature is its capacity to compensate for loss: “Through art we can feel, as well as know, what we have lost; in art, as in dreams, we can occasionally retrieve and re-experience it.” Literature also has a capacity for immediacy, an ability “to transmit sensations and sentiments”. Its “directness to life” draws from a commitment to the rightful labour of writing, and to its veracity, “a responsibility to the accurate word” (author Shirley Hazzard).
Some people talk about the spiritual value of art, but it is generally not something that most people can articulate. More likely, people talk about “being transformed” or “renewed” or “energized” by an arts experience (Brown, 2004).
Activities and processes contributing to this outcome
Activities that could contribute to this outcome include (but are not limited to):
- Visual art exhibitions
- Photographic and video art exhibitions
- Film screeings
- Stage productions
- Music performances
- Dance performances
- Mural creation
- Heritage walks
The same cerebral areas involved in emotional reactions are activated during the exposure to artworks (Claudia, et al. 2014). While researchers Evans et al (2016) determined that ‘immersion’ was an outcome of audience members’ attendance at classical music concerts, it could be seen as a process towards the actual outcome of ‘enrichment’. By enabling audiences to become deeply immersed, the music then was more likely to enrich them. Other causal factors identified in this study include the ‘uniquely intimate, relaxing and comfortable environment’ of the venue.
Experience of aesthetic enrichment
Brown, A. (2004). The Value Study: Rediscovering the Meaning and Value of Arts Participations. Hartford CT: Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism.
Claudia, I., Giulia, F., Raffaello, S., Carlo, F. (2014). The Stendhal Syndrome between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience. Rivista di Psichiatria. 49(2):61–6
Evans, J. McFerran, K., White, T. & Yue, A. (2016). Investigating Wellbeing Outcomes: The Melbourne Recital Centre, Melbourne: University of Melbourne.
Gardner, H. (2011). Truth, beauty, and goodness reframed; educating for the virtues in the twenty-first century. New York: Basic Books.
Mastandrea, A., Bartoli, G. & Bove, G. (2009). Preferences for ancient and modern arts museums, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, 3(3), 164-173.
Throsby, D. (2001). Economics and culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) (2006). Agenda 21 for Culture. Barcelona: UCLG. Retrieved from http://www.agenda21culture.net/index.php/docman/agenda21/212-ag21en/file
Wolf, D. & Holochowst, S. (n.d). Investing in the long view. Sounding Board 31 http://wolfbrown.com/images/soundingboard/documents/WB_SoundingBoardv31_online.pdf