It only took a year, but I’ve finally written about The New Aesthetic. What is it? Does it constitute a new movement? I tell you why I think this thing isn’t going anywhere valuable at The L Magazine.
It’s amazing how much talk an ill-thought-out concept can generate when it comes in the form of a PowerPoint lecture. That’s part of the appeal of “The New Aesthetic,” a term coined by designer James Bridle and discussed by thousands of internet nerds over the last month. Ever since SXSW hosted a panel on the subject and Bruce Sterling produced a 5,000-word response for Wired, a day’s hardly passed when I haven’t seen mention of this so-called burgeoning movement.
The New Aesthetic, as Bridle tells it, is the new merging of physical and digital, a kind of cybernetic vision with the sudden confidence to throw out all this nostalgia we’ve been trucking around for the past few decades. In truth, it isn’t so much a movement as it is a tumblr paired with a lecture circuit. I mean that literally: Bridle’s blog by the same name hosts image after image of supposed instances of the “New Aesthetic”, from pixelated giftwrap next to an unpixelated child to pixelated water spewing from a pipe on the street. The connecting thread is what Bridle sees as a reaction against nostalgia. “We need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder,” he explains in some of the sparse text provided. Bridle doesn’t notice that many of the images posted carry their own nostalgia for the 8-bit era.
Read the whole piece here, but don’t expect much on either the SXSW talk and Bruce Sterling response for Wired that seem to have popularized the term. I didn’t see the talk, and as a friend rightly noted over email, Sterling’s piece isn’t so much as an essay as “someone catching up on lecture notes after a session in the pub.” It’s best to focus on the source material. Those who don’t want to slog their way through Sterling’s piece can read artist William Powhida’s condensed version. I recommend it.