T H E   C U R I O U S   A E S T H E T I C




  • The study and purposeful communication of signs and their processes/visual language.

Almost everything we see and understand in our daily life has a process and hidden or visible context attached, which allows us to sub-consciously understand the idea of it’s purpose.

For example, a sign with the word ‘open’ with no context, could have multiple and conflicting ideas. However if this sign is placed within a building, outwards facing on a shopfront window, this indicates a particular trade is ‘open’ for business.


Film, posters and other forms of fictional advertising displays a prime example of challenging and clever semiotics.

Shown below, the James Bond franchise and movie poster for Skyfall (2012) depicts the main protagonist James Bond. He is characterized as a skilled, flirtatious and witty British Secret Service agent with power and authority. The skyline image of London in the background is overlapped with a cut-silhouette vortex-like shape. This spiraling image is a physical representation and play on the film title, as if exactly the sky was falling (Apocalyptic in nature).

Semiotics can sometimes be hypocritical and have multiple meanings, where the vortex can be seen as outpouring, a manifestation of the characters appearance walking towards us thus centering our attention and signifying his importance, rather than the ‘vortex’ theory.


‘Skyfall’ poster (http://the007dossier.com)

Aesthetic Theory


  1. The branch of philosophy dealing with such notions as the beautiful, the ugly, the sublime, the comic, etc., as applicable to the fine arts, with a view to establishing the meaning and validity of critical judgments concerning works of art, and the principles underlying or justifying such judgments.
  1. The study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.


‘Aesthetics’ as a word has come to be used as a designation for a variety of values, experiences and attitudes as well as objects and judgements.It is mainly used for the critical understanding of art, culture and nature.


Formalism is used within the philosophy of art, the idea that something or a ‘work of art’ is judged based upon the aspect and the ‘rules of that form – the way it is made and its visual elements. Developed within Britain by critic and painter Roger Fry, a painting would be formalistically judged based upon it’s qualities and use of colour, composition, form, line etc. Rather than its previous association with representation.


A belief that art should serve a purpose to have the power to make a ‘change’ in society. The ancient Greeks had no word for art, therefore the most equivalent was the nature of craft, this way objects always served a purpose. Which asks the question can the purpose of an object give aesthetic pleasure?

The Guerrilla Girls are anonymous radical feminists, below their poster was a fight against the MOMA’s exhibition “An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture”, which claimed to survey the eras most prominent artists from around the world, none of who were women.

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? 1989 Guerrilla Girls null Purchased 2003 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78793

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum? (Guerrilla Girls, 1989)

Situationism is similar, however is the more direct way of Instrumentalism, acting out e.g. protesting the message or purpose.

Realism & Truth

The idea of this theory is to the understanding of art, people and reality, and that reality has a structure that is of absolute beauty. The concept was developed by Eli Siegel.

Natural ⇨ Beauty ⇨ Realistic ⇨ ‘Good’

A good example is hyperrealism/-reality, where a new social reality is created from models and other materials. It has implications from the idea that it is ‘too much’, everything lyes on the surface without fault or mystery, too perfect to be ‘real’.

In art, it is used to describe high-fidelity realism, which erases the boundaries between reality and art.

Social realism is associated with conveying the idea of the way the World and society is today. It isn’t necessarily ‘real’ but it discusses ideas occurring within real-life.


This theory refers to the art of which is the artist and his inner feelings and/or ideas. It is the most emotional theory, as it concerns the mind and how one is understanding feeling. It asks the question if you can judge based upon an opinion or uncontrollable emotion? Is the judgement quantifiable to the work?


The idea that the meaning and outcome of a work defined purely by the artist’s original intent. This leaves little for others to to understand and interpret by, for this reason the term is often called ‘intentional fallacy‘ – where the belief that the intended meaning of the author is not the only or most significant meaning.

An example of this its the Manifesto of Futurism, which launched the movement Futurism, it spoke of rejecting the past and looking forward to the future, embracing speed, the age of machine, pollution and city environments.

Visual Language

A system of communications and understanding is woven throughout the World. Specifically shapes and colours, these elements are manipulative and persuasive, usually subtle and unnoticed. Sometimes we can fail to recognize visual signals, that in turn affect out preferences and values. If one understands these complex systems, they can utilize them to their will and to suit their purposes.


Shapes depending on the viewer, can convey a varied, instant message or idea. Similar to body language our personal perception of a gesture, movements or lines can simulate to a feeling, mood, or even a personality.

For example, a column signifies tall, powerful and of importance, representative of posh/solidity, whereas the road sign below, a diamond shape signifies unstability/attentiveness which could indicate a warning or hazardous message.


Furthermore, the shapes have also been combined to create more diverse and complicated ideas, which display further emotional and heightened qualities. the building below was designed by Zaha Hadid, which arguably unites all of the above. A fluid and uncertain form that screams nonconformist, however rounded edges for soft impartiality. Additionally the sinuous design suggests dynamism and activity.

Zaha Hadid Architects was appointed as design architects of the Heydar Aliyev Center following a competition in 2007. The Center, designed to become the primary building for the nation’s cultural programs, breaks from the rigid and often monumental Soviet architecture that is so prevalent in Baku, aspiring instead to express the sensibilities of Azeri culture and the optimism of a nation that looks to the future.

(Zaha Hadid Architects, www.zaha-hadid.com)



Colour Theory




Red – the hottest of the spectrum, an advancing/stimulative colour. Relative to fire, desire, lust and sex. Also energy, war and danger. Emotionally intense unlike blue, enchances metabolism and blood pressure. Highly visible hence used aon road signs and to attract attention. In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage.

Blue – The cold colour, a room of this colour would appear receding. Relative to water, ice and the sky, hence connected to spiritualism and the infinity. Considered beneficial to the mind and body and produces a calming effecta nd slows metabolism. Also used as the ‘blues’ e.g. depression/down. The colour you see in the distance as it emerges e.g. mountains/city landscapes. In heraldry, blue is used to symbolize piety and sincerity.

Yellow – An almost neutral colour, representative of the young and lively, the Springtime/Easter (the colour of chicks). Or intellect and energy, similar to orange as stimulative and fresh. In heraldry, yellow indicates honor and loyalty.



Orange – mixed via red and yellow, a warm colour. Represents a zingy nature. Sunshine or the tropics. Enthusiasm and stimulation.

Green – mixed via blue and yellow, of a coolish tone. Also zingy, but represents nature e.g grass. Good health, neutral PH. Is a balanced colour, can been see as the new life, but also as mould/decay. In heraldry, green indicates growth and hope.

Purple/Pink – also subdivided into indigo and violet. Cool and warm colours, are sensual and decadent – royal/of importance. Can also relate to magic and mystery e.g. the universe/spirituality. A rare colour within nature and considered by some to be artificial.



Black – is associated with usually negative connotations e.g. power, death, evil and mystery.  Associated with fear and the unknown, also gives a perspective of depth. Not usually considered  formal and elegant. In heraldry, black is the symbol of grief.

White – The purist colour, associated with light, good and innocence. The colour of perfection? Can also relate to safety and cleanliness, great for use in advertising of modernity and hospitals. In heraldry, white depicts faith and purity.

Architecture: A History

Building and structures past to present have chronologically gone through multiple changes reflecting religion, practicality, aesthetic, ideas and innovation.

Arranged by styles and periods, a type of architecture can be identified by key elements including:

  • Form
  • Construction methods
  • Material
  • Aesthetic

Classical architecture has dominated and been adapted throughout history,  originating within ancient Greece and Rome. Every section of a Classical structure is mathematically related, using the golden ratio, which is why aesthetically the style is known for it’s proportion and harmony. Look for elements of repetition and conventionality, the use of columns.capture13

The Romanesque style was strongly influenced by Classical architecture, with elements of Byzantine and Islamic art. During the late Medieval era , rising buildings distinguished a grandiosity of scale, expressing the stability of the era. Key features are round arches and vaults, bulky walls and carved geometry.


Église Notre-Dame la Grande Church (Poitiers, France)


Gothic Architecture produced solutions, creating more scope and potential than what was achievable in the Medieval period. Originating around 12th Century France, it created light, bright and majestic spaces, becoming practical as well as beautiful.

Common features of this style such as the flying buttress, made it possible to produce (for it’s time), sky-scraping, grand designs; spreading the weight of taller walls. Hence why the buildings could reach towards Heaven, ideal for Churches and Cathedrals. 

Every element, corner and finishes were elaborately lavished in Gothic design, giving it a grandeur. Other key features included pointed arches, vaulted ceilings , which was used to again produce this idea of reaching, also it helped to spread weight and force from the floor above.


Photograph of Reims Cathedral, 1914 (Author Unknown)


The Renaissance was a pivotal moment in architecture, standing for the ‘rebirth’ and revival of the ancient Greek and Roman material culture. Architects of the time rejected the intricate and monumental Gothic style for the clean, balanced proportions of classicism, combining this with principles of humanism, creating ideal measurements for a building to match those of the ideal human body.


Florence Cathedral (Florence, Italy)

Baroque Architecture followed, taking the Roman Renaissance language and giving it a theatrical and lavish characterization. It was seen as the act of bringing heaven down to Earth itself. Known for being sensual and exploring light, form and intensity.

The late Baroque style is referred to as Rococo which was light, airy and graceful compared to it’s early form. It was also very elaborate and colourful, you could say turning Baroque ‘feminine’.


Rococo Style

Neo-Classical once again revived classical architecture and Roman and Greek antiquity during the 18th and 19th centuries, as a reaction against the ostentatious Baroque and Rococo styles which were associated with the Monarchy and the Church. Unlike the revivalism it is characterized by the structural order of elements rather than decorative, and this revived style is still used today but referred to as New Classical. The style uses the original classics of columns, domes, round arches and simple forms.

The Victorian era was identified by the multiple revivals and interpretations of historic styles, looking to the past for inspiration. The Great Exhibition in 1951 showcased Britain’s efforts, the building’s geometric design can be seen as a nod to the symmetry of the classics.

Moving into Modernism, where architecture began to incorporate new technologies and processes, rejecting the constantly revived classics for new materials such as glass, steel and reinforced concrete. The style opened up to structural innovation showing commonfeatures such as cubic or cylindrical shapes, flat roofs and the absence of ornaments with open plan settings, unlike various styles before the era.


Seagram Building (Built 1958)




The British Empire

With more than a fifth of the world once living under it, you can see why the British Empire left a vast cultural and lingual legacy. From the many countries that Britain conquered, we took and applied influences as our own. It seems this amalgamation of varying cultures, visuals and thoughts has clouded the origins of British values and the meaning of What does it mean to be British?

The mass colonisation has shown the convenience and consequence of power. Throughout this time and towards the end of the empire attitudes towards Britain and it’s methods were questioned. Many documents recording the atrocities and violence that occurred were hidden or destroyed, one of many reasons why negativity surrounds the subject.


This became a study of how the colonisation of societies has since affected and responded to the changes (particularly how European nations overtook ‘third-world’ countries. The general theory around post-colonialism is said to occur in three stages:

  1. An awakening in the realisation of being in a colonised state, resulting in social and psychological inferiority.
  2. The battle for political and cultural independence
  3. The growing understanding of hybridity and cross-culture exchange

Artworks created around the empire depict the truth of it’s unmoral history, a dangerous offence, considering the injustice and lives given by the colonised?

Barker, Thomas Jones; 'The Secret of England's Greatness' (Queen Victoria presenting a Bible in the Audience Chamber at Windsor); National Portrait Gallery, London; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-secret-of-englands-greatness-queen-victoria-presenting-a-bible-in-the-audience-chamber-at-windsor-155152

Barker, Thomas Jones; ‘The Secret of England’s Greatness’ (1863)

This painting depicts Queen Victoria handing over the Bible to an African diplomat. He questions the secret to Britain’s success, to which she responds by giving him the Bible; a disguise to exploit the further colonisation.

“When asked by a diplomatic delegation how Britain had become powerful in the world, ‘our beloved Queen sent him, not the number of her fleet, not the number of her armies, not the account of her boundless merchandise, not the details of her inexhaustible wealth … but handing him a beautifully bound copy of the Bible, she said ‘Tell the Prince that this is the Secret of England’s Greatness’.”

(http://www.npg.org.uk, 2016)


Notebook Research