The Beauty Behind Automobiles: Cars and the evolution of aesthetics and consumerism

How does consumerism affect car aesthetics?


Scholars have been studying aesthetics (although not called aesthetics at the time) and its influence on different topics since Plato way back in 400 BC (Hofstadter, 1964). The study of aesthetics is still in practice today and some may argue its more prevalent than ever. Advertising agencies are spending over $450 billion a year on “aesthetics”, people want to live in beautiful places and let’s not forget the importance aesthetics in the car industry (Huma, 1999). The beauty of a product is usually the first thing a consumer uses to judge an item, and in a world of consumerism that puts a big emphasis on looks. Aesthetics in the 21st century plays a huge role in consumerism especially in the ever expanding car industry. In order to understand cars, consumerism and the aesthetics of the 21st century we will need to look back at the evolution of aesthetic theory from the time of Plato and the ever-changing form of the automobile over the last century and into the future.

An object or a scene can appeal to someone simply because of the shape or color, or the appeal can be much more complex such as stirring up emotion or nostalgia. These basic aesthetic theories have been an important factor in the evolution of the car and car culture. Cars have come a long way from Henry Ford’s first affordable car the Model-T, to Elon Musk’s first affordable electric car the Model 3. This evolution has been an outcome of technological advancements, increases in car popularity, and the aesthetic value of a car. Advertising is a huge part of car sales. In 2015 three of the top ten companies with the biggest advertising budgets were car companies. General Motors alone spent $3.1 billion on advertising campaigns in 2015 (O’Reilly, 2015). Just a few decades after the Model-T rolled off the line, cars were being produced for a variety of uses such as racing, luxury, and off-roading. Manufacturers realized each car style would appeal to different consumers and thus needed to appeal to the buyer’s self-image. In no time at all the aesthetic of the car was a huge selling point. Over time automobiles have changed and evolved their aesthetic to reflect and appeal to the ever evolving consumer.

The always changing form of the automobile brings up a good question. What will cars look like in the future. No one knows for sure but there are so who are already trying to guess. Core 77, an online blog wrote a great piece on “The Aesthetics of the Autonomous”. The article is a good look into the history of futuristic car models and how the autonomous car might look. Another good resource for more on this topic would be Wayne Hoyer’s “The Role of Aesthetic Taste in Consumer Behavior”. While not directly related to car culture, it does give good insight on consumer behavior. If you wish to further dive into the topic I suggest you look at Hofstadter, Albert, and Richard Kuhn’s “Philosophies of Art and Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger”. These reading are some of the first studies on aesthetics.

Author Bio: Chris Stone is a senior Environmental Studies student at the University of Vermont. Growing up in the Adirondack State Park, Chris learned to value the environment at a young age. Since moving to Vermont for school, the arts have become a huge interest of his. He hopes to blend his passion for the arts and environment into a future career.


Student Author: Christopher Stone (University of Vermont) 

Faculty Advisor: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)


Dutton, Denis. 2003. ‘Aesthetics and Evolutionary Psychology’ in “The Oxford Handbook for Aesthetics”. Oxford University Press.

“The Definition of Taste.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Ford, Henry, and Samuel Crowther. My Life and Work. New York: Arno, 1973. Print.

Green, By Richard. “The Aesthetics of the Autonomous – Core77.” Core77. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Hofstadter, Albert, and Richard Kuhns. Philosophies of art and beauty: Selected readings in aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Hoyer, Wayne D., and Nicola E. Stokburger-Sauer. “The Role of Aesthetic Taste in Consumer Behavior.” N.p., 2012. Web.

Huma, M. Z. (1999). Advertising expenses are paid by consumer

O’Reilly, Lara. “These Are the 10 Companies That Spend the Most on Advertising.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 06 July 2015. Web.

Zangwill, Nick. “Aesthetic Judgment”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 02-28-2003/10-22-2007.




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