In this context, aesthetic relates to the sensory qualities of carved stones as experienced by individuals, something that relates strongly to a sense of well-being. It is an art-historical appreciation of an object as a thing of beauty and/or power, but extends beyond the visual qualities. Certain types of forms, designs and motifs on carved stones easily lent themselves to early visual appreciation, notably of some early medieval carved stones, whereas this did not apply to other categories, such as rock art. This begs the question of how aesthetics have an impact on what we choose to research and how we choose to do this. A superficially unpossessing carved stone can have many and important stories to tell (Auchnaha: Case Study 39). ‘Art’ can also be conceptually complex while poorly executed (cf. Pulliam 2015, 211 on the Book of Deer).
Aesthetic appreciation of carved stones is of course very much bound up with their immediate contexts and landscape or museum locations, as well as the materiality of the stones, how they have been worked and how they have aged (Figure 82). The emergence and legacy of the different approaches of archaeological and art-historical disciplines is something to be aware of (e.g. in listing designation criteria). This was not necessarily always an issue in earlier scholarship, with archaeologists recognizing both the art and archaeological aspects of carved stones (see e.g. Hawkes 2009), and archaeological museum curators recognizing the value of the carved stones as, for example, a resource for artists (Anderson 1881a, 134).
Aesthetic considerations stray into artistic (in a historic sense) and indeed into other values. Certain artistic traditions were appropriated, refashioned and revived in later times. An example is the legacy of Celtic traditions in the art in all media of later medieval times (when they were expressions of powerful heritage and ancestry) and subsequently the Celtic Revival of the 19th and early 20th century, when political and nationalist agendas came to the fore (Pulliam 2015; Fowle 2015). This interest is very clearly seen in our Victorian and Edwardian graveyards (Figure 83; Celtic Revival: Case Study 15). Notable Celtic Revival exponents in Scotland with a particular interest in carved stones and the design on them include Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie (Iona Celtic Art: MacArthur 2003) and George Bain (Seright 1999).
An unknown is the ways in which modern conservation and presentation methods impact on aesthetic values and other values (e.g. the redisplay of the Nigg cross-slab (Figure 84) or The Brodie Stone: Case Study 33; Douglas-Jones et al. 2016). Related to these is the ability to see and value the age of something and how the qualities of what Holtorf (2013) calls ‘pastness’ impact on the sense of authenticity (see Section 5.3.4).