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it’s for the aesthetic: so let’s begin
“…aesthetic communication is arguably a more powerful form of communication…”
This is a brief preparatory post, in which I talk about what I intend to talk about over the next little while. Aesthetic.
This is the path, a table of contents for the journey ahead. And it will be a journey. I never know where I’m going to end up when I start one of these. And when I think I do, I always end up going off-roading somewhere along the way. But this is what I’m attempting to explore.
i. what is aesthetic?
What does the word mean? Where does it come from and how is it used differently today than it was in bygone times? What ideas does it connote?
ii. aesthetic + authenticity
Any conversation about aesthetic is inherently a conversation about performance. Today, aesthetic doesn’t just happen. It’s a thing that is consciously crafted. And if we are crafting things—like a ‘cottage core’ aesthetic or a ‘dark academia’ aesthetic—we must consider whether the end product is performance or reality. Or if reality is itself performance, a conscious crafting. The desire for an aesthetic is naturally-occurring, but whether the end result is real—well, that’s where it gets tricky.
iii. aesthetic + the presentation of the self
We wear our bodies outside of ourselves and treat our physical matter like performance art. Not everyone all of the time, but all of us at some point in time. We tell stories with the mess that makes us up. Tattoos, make-up, hours in the gym. Hair dye, Instagram filters, suits and ties. Sometimes we question what beauty standards (an aesthetic ideal) are doing to the cultural psyche. But we keep performing on the stage that social media—and all media is social—has presented us with. (This is the part of the series that I am probably most excited about. What will I discover? Who knows?)
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iv. aesthetic + the individual as self-curator
We never reveal ourselves fully to another. If we are naked, we are shamed. We go through life hyper-curating for the audiences that we present to. We angle the story one way when we’re talking to our parents and another way when we’re relating it to our gossipy best friend. We post a snapshot of reality on private social media and recount the events of a vacation differently to our co-workers. We rapidly build aesthetic lenses around our existence almost without thinking. This self-curation is constant and exhausting, and hints of manipulation. So why do we keep doing it? And is the process redeemable?
v. aesthetic + space
I’m all about this life. I love a good, eye-pleasing, warm feeling-evoking area. I can walk into a room and quickly decide whether it’s ugly (aesthetically displeasing) and why. Either the chairs are too far apart or the lamp is too close to the edge of the painting or the lighting is all wrong. I could swing an interior design career. The point is: sometimes, we decorate spaces intentionally, so what are we saying when we build our little kingdoms everywhere?
vi. aesthetic + the mind
Bill Maher once said that the purpose of education is “to make your mind a more beautiful place to live.” I like that. But I’d suspect that most of us pay far less attention to the cultivation of a mental aesthetic than we do to other forms of aesthetic-crafting. What does it mean to make the mind aesthetically-pleasing, a homely house, weathered against the storm of the world?
vii. the aspirational aesthetic
I currently suspect that pursuing aesthetic is not actually a bad thing—even in some of the grossly vain ways in which this pursuit takes shape. I have my inklings, but I need to figure more precisely why after exploring the concept in the broadest way that I can conceive of. What are the positives of excessive aesthetic pursuits? What does the pursuit of aesthetic tell us about human nature? Is this pursuit misguided or redeemable?
I think that’s it. Aesthetic. Aesthetic. Aesthetic. And what that has to do with being the story-making, meaning-seeking creatures that we are. Unless I go off on essay-length tangents about other things.
asides + signal boosts
I’m finding season 3 of The Mandalorian extremely pleasing. I love the dichotomy of Din Djarin and Bo Katan both experiencing redemption, one because he pursued it and believed it was real, the other because she pursued him while disbelieving it. And they both end up, functionally, in the same place. And that’s all I’ll say about that for now because it might become one of the aforementioned essay-length tangents. It’s reminded me of this article about how The Mandalorian is essentially a story about religious fundamentalism.
The quote in this post’s subtitle—“aesthetic communication is arguably a more powerful form of communication”—is from Jessica DeFino’s substack about Madonna’s new face. If you want some starter insight into the sticky-icky issues we could cover in part vii, “aesthetic + the presentation of the self,” you could give that a read.
I’ve been pretty slammed lately, stretching my bandwidth to max capacity, so I don’t have much else to recommend this time around. But I did get to see Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Exhibit at Tate Modern in London. It had been recommended to me before and tickets were selling out weeks in advance. But it was simple and beautiful and enrapturing. It was aesthetically pleasing. If her works are ever on display near you, go see them!