3 problems I have with the ‘New Aesthetic’

My post yesterday about the New Aesthetic was positive – I don't like being snarky on my weblog. But, after speaking to my housemate, I thought I should list a few issues that I have. I'm not saying these are novel or particularly inciteful, but they may be of interest.

Note that I've not spent a great deal of time looking for evidence to back-up or refute these issues. They are simply some misgivings I had while researching yesterday's post. It may be best to look at them as comments on my response rather than the 'New Aesthetic' itself.

1 - There is something elitist about the New Aesthetic. It's almost always unintentional, but it is there. Re-reading Sterling's essay, there is a constant separation of people into those who will get it and those who won't. His essay is explicitly aimed at "you" – "the people who marinate themselves in 5,000-word critical exegeses about contemporary aesthetics" – not the ones who get distracted by tumblrs. He talks about "attempted imposition on the public" of the term.

There is something interesting about the way 'you' and 'we' are used when talking about this New Aesthetic. I loved James Bridle's talk, We Fell In Love In a Coded Space. However, at one moment, he shows some graphs, and says that 'we all know what this is'. Who is the 'we'? I certainly didn't recognise the image, and also had to google Kevin Slavin. While a talk is aimed at a physical audience, watching on video the question of who 'we' were was more pointed. Who is the New Aesthetic for? Who does it belong to? (UPDATE – see below)

Also, most of the articles I've read seemed to focus as much on the personalities as the aesthetic. In addition, Sterling's essay seemed somehow paternalistic – there is something odd about how the 'Viridian pope' sets out to canonise Bridle as the "Andre Breton-style Pope of the New Aesthetic".

2 - Something Sterling points out is the risk of anthropomorphising technology. Are the machines and spambots really our friends? How do the politics of the New Aesthetic respond to surveillance culture, and Britain's export of it? What does the New Aesthetic mean for people with less access to technology? It's a fairly obvious point – I'm sure that the politics of the New Aesthetic have already been discussed and will be in the future. (UPDATE – see below)

3 – Most important, what is the New Aesthetic for? The term groups together some interesting things, but people like Kenneth Goldsmith have been exploring these areas for some time. The New Aesthetic will ultimately be judged in how good a tool it is – what can we do with it?

One last issue I have: should the term New Aesthetic be capitalised? In quotation? Maybe I should use a monospace font? To avoid any further risk of faux-pas, I'll stop now.

UPDATE (11/4/12) – Adam Rothstein has written about the politics of the New Aesthetic, with a response by James Bridle here: "I’m disappointed that the politics of NA… have not been so evident that those interested should think they have to start that “module” from scratch

Also, the Kevin Slavin graph that Bridle refers to in his Lift talk was featured in Slavin's talk at Lift, so it is fair to expect the physical audience to recognise the image. 

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One thought on “3 problems I have with the ‘New Aesthetic’”

  1. I am still struggling to respond to what the New Aesthetic is. There’s an elitism and slight whiff of manufactured hype for a small group of designers around it. Of course all art movements are about that to some extent, but the ones that survive longest, have impact, seem to have something new to say about the world at their centre. I’m not convinced by the New Aesthetic yet, so I’m cautious.

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