AUTO AESTHETICS | PERCEPTION IS REALITY
The philosophy of aesthetics is a human phenomenon that spans across 4 basic disciplines including imitationalism, formalism, instrumentalism, and emotionalism. Although many might consider this subject matter to be somewhat immaterial, the psychology behind aesthetics, as it pertains to our automotive desires, continually weaves and shapes an interesting path by which we perceive the world around us and our set of wheels, or vice versa. To the layman, aesthetics as it was interpreted after the late 19th century was simply referred to as the beauty surrounding virtually anything the human mind could interpret and judge.
Yes, you heard that correctly. Regardless of whether we choose to believe it, the human race has an irrepressible need to judge and assess people, places, and things. As such, this branch of philosophy is arguably one of the most highly debatable. It wasn't until the late 19th century that aesthetics took on a more scientific formulation when a German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) condensed the art form into one focal point that captures the essence of modern aesthetics as we know it "It is our faculty of judgment that enables us to have experience of beauty and grasp those experiences as part of an ordered, natural world with purpose."
ILLUSTRATION OF IMMANUEL KANT
The subsect which serves the most relevance within the world of automotive restoration would be that of emotionalism. The central element to that of emotionalism is that "a piece of art is the vivid communication of moods, feelings, and ideas." Of course, there's a strong correlation that can be drawn between this theory and how we experience ourselves in and out of our own set of wheels.
More importantly, everything that the human species exposes themselves to in this world is entirely subjective. As soon as the human race gives birth to a new invention or thing, one of the first things we do is assess its worthiness against something similar. As the automotive world continues to progress, the more confusing it becomes to our psyche. How does X, Y, or Z model compare to its counterpart? How does its successor differ in design against last year's design? What intuitive driving features have been changed? What has remained the same? What's different?
As a prime example, one might be drawn to a 1968 Aston Martin DBS, while someone else might consider anathema to the same make and model. Admittingly, I've never expressed a profound love for any make and model, but rather the objectivity of a particular vehicle's appearance. Much like that of any professional restoration, the final product is entirely predicated on the summation of all its parts. I'm the kind of guy who would rather be taken to an art institute rather than engage in small talk about what components are under one's hood.
When one views a piece of art, in this case a vehicle, you look at the object with a certain level of discernment (style, contours, color, age, materials, etc.) and you study it from a variety of different angles. The one pitfall of any detailer is becoming complacent with the way a particular make and model looks under certain conditions (overcast, dusk, dawn, etc.) and it's easy to find yourself stuck in a level of complacency when those conditions mask the unaltered, pure organic state of that object. The same concept rings true with virtually any other subject matter, but for the sake of automotive restoration, let's stick to vehicles.
ILLUSTRATION OF THREE TYPES OF REFLECTION
The most common or highest spoken language amongst all other forms of automotive restoration aesthetics is that of reflection. As outlined in the illustration above, you'll see that reflection comes in 3 different forms. From left to right, a mirror reflection will capture the image of any said area and will project it outward from the rays it had initially come into contact with, which will then bounce back and hit your eyes. A prime example of a mirror reflection is simply taking a collection of one or more images in a calm position, and watching it bounce off of a flat medium. At the point of execution, the angle of incidence will be equal to the angle of reflection, however, a mirrored reflection can have multiple points of origin.
Ancillary to a mirror reflection is that of a specular reflection. Okay, so what differs between a mirrored and specular reflection? Much like a mirrored reflection, a specular reflection casts that same said image, but with a specular reflection, the image bounces from a single angle and is then returned to the eye from its point of origin.
AN EXAMPLE OF SPECULAR REFLECTION
Now, when a human being is drawn to a mirrored reflection of any description, they immediately interpret it as beautiful. Why, do you ask? This boils down to one thing, symmetry. Symmetry, at least from the perspective of the human psyche, is a form of ordered simplicity. When an exact duplication of any said image projects onto another, the mind is only processing a small handful of objects, which, in turn, is easier on the eyes.
At one point or another, at least for those of us who aren't particularly fastidious with cars, we'll start to notice the inaccuracies as it pertains to reflection. When this happens, this is what's known as a diffusion of light. When this happens, many of the irregularities within our paintwork (swirls, scratches, love marks, etc.) will gather a number of rays, but when those same rays bounce off of that particular surface, instead of creating an equal angle of reflection, those rays will bounce in multiple directions.
ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT DIFFUSION TO AN UNEVEN SURFACE
This form of disorganized chaos is what differentiates a car enthusiast from a car owner. A typical driver will interpret their vehicle as a means of transportation and nothing more, whereas a car enthusiast will assess this diffusion of light, and will then interpret it as "ugly". Hence, is why when one person looks at a vehicle and immediately takes notice to the mirrored reflection, there's a certain amount of rarity to it. It's not everyday that someone should come across a virtually blemish-free vehicle, but when they do, those "feel good" receptors in our brain will find it remarkable. When you eliminate any level of visual distortion, that equates to something beautiful. In the case of reflection, less is more.
As a quick addendum, any skilled detailing technician should want to maximize this quest for aesthetic perfection by removing other undesirable blemishes including orange peel, overspray, dust nibs, swirls, scratches, etc. At the end of the day, there should be a healthy balance of objectivity and subjectivity to aesthetics. Some elements of aesthetics cannot be refuted (understanding the basic building blocks behind reflection, refining surfaces, etc.) but by and large, since humans are regarded as the most highly intellectualized creatures, there's nothing wrong with displaying a sense of subjectivity to the world around us.
As Plato once said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." My job is to ensure that your perception of beauty comes into complete focus, with the highest level of clarity and emotional understanding. Much like when I studied music back in graduate school, music is the expression of the inexpressible, and a lot of that can be translated into what I do when working on any vehicle.