On the New Aesthetic

April 12, 2012

After Bruce Sterling published his essay on the New Aesthetic last Monday, the topic exploded and responses to that essay were as quick as they were plentiful (see below for links). Suddenly it became a hotly debated subject on Twitter, so I thought what everyone desperately needed was - yep - yet another blog post on the New Aesthetic.

Gerhard Richter, 4096 colours, 1974 Gerhard Richter, 4096 colours, 1974

Last week I’ve been to Michelle Kasprzak’s brilliant talk about new artistic frontiers and works made possible by recent leaps in technological advancement. It included a critique of the New Aesthetic as an art movement, pointing out its main flaw: that much of it is not new. She presented evidence of works of art from the twentieth century that could easily be thought of as belonging to the NA, but predating it. One of the examples was Gerhard Richter’s painting resembling pixels today (as we’ve learned to understand a grid of squares), painted in 1974. It’s true that some of the visual language present in items collected on the NA Tumblr existed before. What’s really been bothering me is that I don’t think that NA is an art movement at all.

Sure, some of the things in the NA collection are undeniably works of art (like this, this or this). But what this collection says to me is this: we already live in the reality where digital and physical are beginning to blend. The visual language of the machines we built is seeping into our consciousness and affecting our aesthetic preferences. We see beauty in limitations of visual artefacts produced by our tools. We already share a world with autonomous machines, and we adapt it so they can survive alongside us. It’s a body of evidence not only that the future has arrived already, but that we are already so familiar with its visual representations that we almost don’t notice there’s anything odd with it entering the physical realm. It’s inevitable that an art movement (or maybe a number of them) can be found within the collection, but as a whole it’s bigger than this - it covers a much broader cultural area. It’s as much about art as it is about the everyday.

Of course, in itself, this isn’t anything new. Similar shifts in aesthetics have happened before, time and time again, because our technologies, as they become prevalent, always make their mark on our aesthetic sensibilities and our understanding of the world. Yesterday it was the industrialisation, today it’s computing. We always see the world through our tools. Today it’s through the eyes of tools that begin to see for themselves.

  1. The New Aesthetic of the male gaze - by Madeline Ashby
  2. But it moves: the New Aesthetic & emergent virtual taste - by Matthew Battles
  3. The New Aesthetic, and what’s next - by Remus Shepherd
  4. In Response To Bruce Sterling’s “Essay On The New Aesthetic”