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Earlier this year Ben Rackstraw asked me to write an article about the New Aesthetic for an upcoming issue of TBB (Tits Brains Balls/This Bourgeois Battalion). The issue isn’t out yet but my article has been published on his blog. Here’s an excerptthe full article:

New Aesthetic

When discussion around the New Aesthetic were taking place I initially took a stance against engaging in the conversations or reading anything about it, even refusing to read the original Tumblr blog by James Bridle or the essay by Bruce Sterling. This defiance was at times difficult as the New Aesthetic was invading all of my internet hangouts such as Twitter, Facebook and various mailing lists that I’m subscribed to (CRUMB, netbehaviour). I was even sent links to the essay and site directly, the assumption being that the ideas presented in it related to my interests. They were somewhat correct in assuming this, but my defiance still persisted.

Despite its sudden popularity The New Aesthetic is not actually very new. Bridle’s site was created on May 6th 2011, but it had gone largely unnoticed until Sterling’s essay was published. This sudden rise in popularity is similar to the way that memes develop. The rise (and fall) of a meme can be mapped out into very distinct stages:

  1. An original idea is formed and posted onto the internet
  2. The idea expands and develops
  3. People start to do their own interpretations of this
  4. The spike in popularity
  5. Repetition without context, alongside heavy criticism
  6. Overuse
  7. The fall of the meme and disappearance from the internet

I was less interested in taking part in the hype surrounding the meme, and more interested in its long-lasting effects on art culture. It could, like many memes, have its 15 minutes of fame and then disappear, or it could actually have a long-lasting effect on the arts in general.

When I finally relented and began to read the essays and resources surrounding the New Aesthetic I noticed an immediate problem: that of defining what the New Aesthetic actually is. Bridle, on the New Aesthetic blog, provides a vague definition on what the New Aesthetic is, as well as explaining briefly what his motivations are:

Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.

The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.

This definition still leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is a problem certainly echoed by many people, evidenced by the plethora of attempts by others, Sterling included, to define what the New Aesthetic actually is. A search on the ever-reliable Twitter revealed definitions and interpretations of the New Aesthetic that ranged from the insightful to the humourous to the downright idiotic. Some of my favourites include:

That last Tweet echoes one of my main problems with the New Aesthetic, and indeed any attempt to provide a definitive definition of any art movement that is still evolving: The ideas that the New Aesthetic are based on are already old by the time they are published. New artwork, technologies and theories appear each day, and with the always-on nature of the Internet, where a lot of this art/content is disseminated, it is futile to attempt to create a catch-all terminology to describe what has been produced and also what is to be produced in the future.

Bridle posts artefacts to the blog in an attempt to clarify what artwork could be classed as falling under the New Aesthetic. Aside from the very act of appearing on the blog alongside other artefacts, the artefacts are posted without explanation as to why they fall under this definition. The hope is surely to let the content speak for itself but, for me, it just led to more confusion. Is the New Aesthetic about digital art, hacking, glitch art or pervasive art? Is it a combination of all of them or none of them? Is the New Aesthetic, broadly speaking, everything that is new?

It seems Bridle is the only one that truly understands exactly what the New Aesthetic is, and that’s why it comes across as a personal project. The site and its blog posts are his attempts at comprehending what he sees. This may help him to see the digital/hacked/glitched world in a clearer way, but without explanation it just leads to more confusion for everyone else.

It is ironic that by the time you read this the New Aesthetic may have (hopefully) died and, like most memes, disappeared completely from our mindsets and browsing sessions.

Imperica has collated a great list of writing around this topic, should you feel inclined to learn more about it.