Aesthetic vs. ascetic

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Aesthetic relates to beauty and works of art. Ascetic relates to self-discipline and self-denial. Each works as both an adjective and a noun. An ascetic is a person who renounces material comforts and lives an ascetic way of life. An aesthetic comprises the guiding principles behind a work of art or the appreciation of art. The plural aesthetics refers to the philosophy or study of art and the appreciation of beauty.

Both words come from Greek, but their roots are separate. Aesthetic comes from aisthetikos, meaning sense perception. Ascetic comes from asketes, denoting a monk or hermit.


Partly because of its deep Shinto and Buddhist roots, Japanese culture exhibits a distinctive aesthetic relationship to nature. [Los Angeles Times]

Propaganda apart, supporters admire Gaddafi as a man of the people, an ascetic who can live off dates and milk. [Guardian]

It’s good to know it has value beyond the aesthetic, but to flog my vinyl for spare cash seems the height of desperation. [New Zealand Herald]

There is an ascetic quality about the 44-year-old, with his shaved head and little spectacles, that can make him seem a little stiff. [Sydney Morning Herald]

In the grape debate over which aesthetic reigns supreme, South Africa is the land of wine détente. [Globe and Mail]

An irony shapes this pursuit, and Press’ movie—one that’s based in the gap between Cunningham’s lush work and his weirdly ascetic life. [Slate]

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