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This is a strange thing. This is a look, a style, a pattern that didn’t previously exist in the real world. It’s something that’s come out of digital.
April 9, 2012 1:19 PM   Subscribe

"Above all, the New Aesthetic is telling the truth. There truly are many forms of imagery nowadays that are modern, and unique to this period. We’re surrounded by systems, devices and machineries generating heaps of raw graphic novelty. We built them, we programmed them, we set them loose for a variety of motives, but they do some unexpected and provocative things." Bruce Sterling (Previously) writes about the New Aesthetic movement in Wired magazine.

The New Aesthetic (previously) is a phrase for the burgeoning artistic relationship to machine-processed images. The phrase was coined by James Bridle who maintains a tumblr of links to projects, art, news stories, and discoveries that match that description. The idea is further elaborated in this short essay and image gallery. Bridle goes in to more detail with his talk at Web Directions South in December of last year (text transcript). There's also this round-up of a recent NA panel at SXSW, to which Sterling refers in his Wired essay.

Some examples (culled from the Bridle's tumblr) of NA in online performance art, video art, comics, glitches, fashion, commercial design, advertising, warfare, more fashion, relationships, photography, poetry, entrepreneurship, homelessness, erotic dancing, glitches, and humanity. And that's just within the last month.
posted by codacorolla (49 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, come on, "new aesthetic"? It's only going to be "the new aesthetic" for a year or two, and then it'll be the old "New Aesthetic" not to be confused with the *new* new aesthetic, or the post-New Aesthetic, etc. See "Modern".
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:30 PM on April 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I fully expect this movement to provide me with prime snark opportunities and exciting new challenges in lawn evacuation.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:33 PM on April 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, come on, "new aesthetic"? It's only going to be "the new aesthetic" for a year or two, and then it'll be the old "New Aesthetic" not to be confused with the *new* new aesthetic, or the post-New Aesthetic, etc.

And next is "old and busted" and then "new hotness".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Sterling article is really annoyingly written, but I like this Rev Dan Catt take on it (via Waxy).
posted by hyperizer at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, come on, "new aesthetic"? It's only going to be "the new aesthetic" for a year or two, and then it'll be the old "New Aesthetic" not to be confused with the *new* new aesthetic, or the post-New Aesthetic, etc. See "Modern".

Isn't the unifying motivation in the handle itself?

'neo-nu-SthtX'
posted by methinks at 1:47 PM on April 9, 2012


Two entire screenfulls and I'm still not sure what Sterling is talking about.

WANTED: Three sentence summary, 420 characters or less.

Is this something real, or is this just Californian Internet Elite Litterati Wankery? I thought we all agreed that SXSW2012 was deeply uncool and irrelevant.

What an unfortunate name for what I thought was just "cyber punk internet art".
posted by pmv at 1:51 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bruce Sterling's behaviour has, sadly, inspired me to revive a key retroculture term: "Sell out."

Basically, this stuff is reactionary Modernism that was originally set up to refute the social criticisms of "Left Bank intellectuals" about such ephemera as class, discrimination, colonialism and the rest. Like Sterling's previous affectations around pseudo-environmentalism, it basically exists to deprive what capitalism does of contexts that make the bosses feel vaguely guilty.

So: Sell out.
posted by mobunited at 1:53 PM on April 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


Mars Saxman: Oh, come on, "new aesthetic"? It's only going to be "the new aesthetic" for a year or two, and then it'll be the old "New Aesthetic" not to be confused with the *new* new aesthetic, or the post-New Aesthetic, etc. See "Modern".

Yeah! Art Nouveau? More like Art Oldeau.

Describing a current artistic movement in a time-sensitive sort of way is not novel, but the names stick, and people generally agree on the aesthetic of said movement. The trick now is that trends change so quickly, forming sub-groups and altered versions of the original new style, that any attempt to name a movement is almost futile. But it's harder to discuss a movement if there is no short-hand to name it.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2012


filthy light thief is exactly right about the perhaps unfortunate title, and the guy who coined the name (Bridle) has said that it's 'rubbish.' It's just what's stuck, for better or for worse.

WANTED: Three sentence summary, 420 characters or less.

So far as I understand it: advances in human computer interaction, have lead to machines gaining more autonomy to produce images, texts, and artifacts (Google street view, word-salad spambots, face recognition being common tropes) and have lead humans to become more nostalgic and emotionally invested in machine produced images of the past and present (wireframe graphics, animated gifs, pixelated images, glitched out media being common tropes). These two things have lead to a lot of collection of material (mostly in content-stream style tumblrs) and a decent amount of art projects which use these ideas as a starting point. Sterling is talking about the potentials and problematics of this movement which falls under the umbrella term: New Aesthetics.

I also sort of agree with mobunited, but the worrisome parts of the aesthetic don't make it any less interesting.
posted by codacorolla at 2:07 PM on April 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is this something I'd need a New iPad to understand?

I'm generally interested in what Sterling has to say. When he's on, he's ON. When he misses, though...
posted by b1tr0t at 2:20 PM on April 9, 2012


Worth it for the link to Garkov.
posted by jquinby at 2:51 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every opportunity to look at the world from a new perspective is good.

It seems that James Bridle is saying that they are "looking for a new aesthetic" rather than "We have found one". Sterling is adding that they may have touched one but not grasped it.

Since the people who are exploring it don't claim to have found anything yet, all the condemnations falling from the snark set feel a little premature. Can't you hold the snark until there is something to snark about?

Meanwhile those who are venturing on new ground have all my respect.
posted by bru at 2:53 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Brett: Over there's the remains of the Old Bridge, demolished to make way for the New Bridge in 1963. Funny thing, the Old Bridge used to be called the New Bridge. Funny thing that.

posted by Sebmojo at 2:54 PM on April 9, 2012


I feel like this is less about nostalgia (though a lot of that exists in pixel art stuff at least) and more about communicating through a new shared visual language. Something like this could have been produced a while ago, but nowadays we instantly understand that a computer was definitely involved and are comfortable with the concept of pixels and pixelization, not to mention an immediate ability to understand and identify what is going on in the underlying photo.

So I don't think "nostalgia" is really a driving force; I think part of it is using the digital concepts that exist in our day to day experiences to communicate new ideas. Art like American Gothic is almost completely foreign to us now - the pitchfork means nothing personal to most people, the house in the country is something most of us haven't experienced in a real way, but this stuff pulls from those quaint 8-bit roots and feels exciting, in a way. Not sure where it's all heading, but I'm certainly glad for these ideas to be coalescing into something.
posted by lubujackson at 3:13 PM on April 9, 2012


I think there is a trend here... how about "an aesthetic based on the secondary characteristics and artifacts of algorithmic processes"?

Or the blending of reality and simulacra.
posted by Wemmick at 3:20 PM on April 9, 2012


The aesthetic is really the least interesting part of the process described, which is what William Gibson has been calling the digital world everting back "onto" the real. Pretty much the the theme of his last three books. The interesting consequences are geographical, political, environmental - be they good or bad.

I think obsessing over the aesthetic features of the art is problematic insofar it obscures, rather than highlights, the consequences of the underlying trend. A movement which is obsessed with pixellated Predator drones is obviously self-aware and interested in its uncomfortable links to capitalism and militarism, and following that, the seemingly inescapable relationship between technology and oppression. But as mobunited notes, Sterling's flight into the aesthetic does speak to an unwillingness to fully interrogate the consequences of the art.
posted by mek at 3:30 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Eh, I'm an amateur at best, but I've been enjoying the evolution of distinct looks that'll date the era. I remember watching the sleekness of the first matrix movie and feeling "this will look SO dated in such a short amount of time", and enjoying illustrator birthing a neo-cutwork look into things like book covers for a while (I feel the trend for 'minimalism' is helped by reliance on vectors). The oompa-loompa male actors who are all orange, something the female actors seem to have given up much more quickly, and the over colour worked orange and blue movies, or the sharp grey concrete and fake realism in current AA/last night's party style photographs all feel like we're getting ready for another generation's rake over of the "it defined the decade!" discussions.
posted by Phalene at 3:35 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm strangely reminded of his (Sterling's) short story "The Beautiful and the Sublime", about a post-engineering age in which a new aestheticism is ascendent, particularly among the young. It's at least borderline satire: reading between the lines it is not very sympathetically depicted. Substitute "iPhone" for "ward" and we're definitely getting there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:40 PM on April 9, 2012


Next, the New Aesthetic is culturally agnostic. Most anybody with a net connection ought to be able to see the New Aesthetic transpiring in real time. It is British in origin (more specifically, it’s part and parcel of a region of London seething with creative atelier “tech houses”). However, it exists wherever there is satellite surveillance, locative mapping, smartphone photos, wifi coverage and Photoshop.

I'll add that this passage should give everyone pause. This trend under discussion is absolutely not culturally agnostic, or at the very least it is not obviously perceived as such. Take that pixellated Predator drone - that art object is very obviously culturally specific, and means very different things depending on where in the world you are, as that changes how you relate to "satellite surveillance, locative mapping, smartphone photos, wifi coverage and Photoshop." Obviously there are issues of class and ability, too. This kind of facile egalitarian thinking is painfully 90s, and Sterling should know better.
posted by mek at 3:48 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can I be "post-new"? Has that been done yet?
posted by speicus at 4:07 PM on April 9, 2012


I'm not sure the phrase "New Aesthetic" will have as much longevity as "The Steam-Grommet Factory Tour", but maybe I just like saying "And HERE is where we make the grommets!" the way my English professor used to.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:26 PM on April 9, 2012


On the other hand "The New Aesthetic" fits in quite well with "The New Cruelty" as practiced at L'Idiot. (Assuming you can get a table there.)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:28 PM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


WANTED: Three sentence summary, 420 characters or less.

Our interdependence with computers is shaping human culture in radical ways. Up to now, the “hip” attitude to this was rejection, seeking to preserve or recover the analog world, an obsession with authenticity: Vintage, retro, crafting, foodways.

The New Aeasthic folks say fuck that, we should embrace and explore this change; they're making a lot of art which attempts to do so, to make real and physical the invisible unreal Net and the machine intelligence it contains: An actual standpipe which leaks a pixilated "splash" of blue cubes, for example.

Sterling’s critique is that, for all that the NA peeps are obsessed with stuff like “machine vision,” an art movement is by definition by and for humans. It’s not enough to simply throw up a tumblr of pics and call it your manifesto, to have a proper art movement you have to have a set of ethics or values that give meaning and coherence to your work. “So get on that, boyo,” Sterling says.

Considerably over your limit, but the best I can do.


Oh, come on, "new aesthetic"? It's only going to be "the new aesthetic" for a year or two, and then it'll be the old "New Aesthetic" not to be confused with the *new* new aesthetic, or the post-New Aesthetic, etc. See "Modern".

This is metafilter, and there are a lot of posts I've used as an excuse to lay in a good snark right off the bat. And I think Sterling desperately news a good editor. But I'll say this: If you truly believe there is nothing --- no line or shade, no texture or flavor --- which will enable you to look at an object 20 years from now and say, "Ah, that's got to be from the 2010s," then I'd be interested to read the argument. But if our era, like 17th century Flanders or 19th century Paris, has identifiable characteristics, then I think trying to figure out what they are and what they mean is worthwhile.

Sorry, not to pick on you; I just get so weary of this immediate, kneejerk, "this is meaningless trendy bullshit and everything it talks about has been around forever" reaction any discussion of art or music or literature seems to generate. Either things are some ways and change sometimes or there's no culture.
posted by Diablevert at 4:40 PM on April 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Regarding Rev Dan Catt's response to Tom Coates, also - I think it's worth mentioning that the set of people represented by Tom there are users of high-end consumer computing products, and also generally people with a well-developed aesthetic sense when it comes to products and applications; they look for and get lots of pixel density and smoothness in their everyday usage.

However, at the trailing end there are opportunities for pixellation and blockiness and naked wireframes - which may look retro, deliberately or coincidentally, but are actually just exercising a different use value. We're getting to a point where it is trivially simple and inexpensive to make digital visual stuff, but the extra level of smoothness and beauty is, as RDC says, something people use computers to create, but for the benefit of people, and primarily for commercial audiences. There's a deep well of modern but unbeautiful implementation out there, also...
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:13 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


WANTED: Three sentence summary, 420 characters or less.
It is a thing happening now that Sterling, James Bridle, and others are taking note of and trying to understand. Sterling's article attempts to describe what it is and isn't.


I'm not sure I agree with Sterling's claim that this is a birth of a new Avant Garde. It may be, but I see echos of a lot of early '90s Clifford Pickover here too. Perhaps it is an avant garde that has a particularly long gestation.

I do think this is one of Sterling's better essays. It is worth taking your time to read through it, check some of the links out and try to poke holes in his theories. Maybe there is nothing here, but it is worth taking a few minutes to be sure.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:13 PM on April 9, 2012


That’s the big problem, as I see it: the New Aesthetic is trying to hack a modern aesthetic, instead of thinking hard enough and working hard enough to build one. That’s the case so far, anyhow. No reason that the New Aesthetic has to stop where it stands at this moment, after such a promising start. I rather imagine it’s bound to do otherwise. Somebody somewhere will, anyhow.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:19 PM on April 9, 2012


I don't think you have to go back earlier than the postwar era -- say the 50s through the 70s, to find the previous eruption of essentially this same phenomenon; when the visual language of made things and public communication became the new landscape for art. I think Sterling is right that this is a distinct pulse and that they don't happen as such every year or every decade with this degree of freshness and an integrated, perceptible commonality of aesthetic, but they do seem to have been happening at pretty regular intervals for at least the last 150 years.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:24 PM on April 9, 2012


However, at the trailing end there are opportunities for pixellation and blockiness and naked wireframes - which may look retro, deliberately or coincidentally, but are actually just exercising a different use value.

I agree with that, but I think there's something more to it, too. The 8-bit look is in a way "retro" but at the same time it also seems to represent the last moment when you could have something that looks recognizably "computer-y." The Net is invisible, and that's a core problem when you're trying to create visual art that in someway evokes or reacts to or comments on it and its power....

Take the Pirates of the Caribbean pics that Rev Dan Cat uses to illustrate his point. I don't think we're quite at perfection yet; I wouldn't take the finished pic as an actual photo. But a lot of that has to do with this fact that it depicts a bunch of guys with tentacles for faces. In terms of the aesthetics of that image, the whole point is to mimic nature as accurately as possible, even when attempting to illustrate the supernatural --- dudes with tentacles for faces, and the tentacles glisten and writhe like real tentacles, the sunlight and shadow dapple them as they would, the wrinkles in their clothes shift as they ought to....I know that that image is a computer-generated image because of its content, not because of its style. If the picture was of a forest or a stone wall I'd likely be entirely unable to say whether it was a film picture or a digital one. If you could somehow take a standpipe and put beneath it a physical "splash" of equivalent rendering to this image, I think I'd have to be standing pretty darn close to say that it looked odd --- there would be no sense of doubletake, no joke, no absurdity, no uncanny-ness to the idea of the digital world invading the real if depicted with that level of detail. It doesn't work. You could maybe go 16-bit or even 32-bit, but beyond that and things stop looking so weird, and that's a huge part of the point.

It's the stupid green numbers in The Matrix --- when Neo "sees" for the first time, he sees the world made out of that primitive green-screen-terminal font with the sqaured-off zeros....that's what visually says "computer" to us. We're still reliant on those old symbols. Which now that I say it seems likely to change....
posted by Diablevert at 5:42 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Diablevert: I'm casting no aspersions on the project, merely criticizing their choice of name. "The new aesthetic" is new right now, but it will not be new forever. If the name sticks, a generation from now people will be stuck calling it "the new aesthetic" despite the fact that it will actually, to them, be "the old, busted, played-out aesthetic".

As filthy light thief pointed out, we're still stuck with "art nouveau" a hundred years after the art so named has ceased to be anything remotely "nouveau". You'd think people would have learned this lesson already.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:02 PM on April 9, 2012


This kind of facile egalitarian thinking is painfully 90s, and Sterling should know better.

Totally agree, but I think the belief in the universal ubiquity of "satellite surveillance, locative mapping, smartphone photos, wifi coverage and Photoshop" is a more recent phenomena, because communications technology feels more ubiquitous even where it's gotten more insular. Why this is I'm still guessing more or less blindly. Part of it may be that communications technology is becoming more global, but the technologies and the way they're used vary wildly from region to region; cell phones and dial up internet access in developing countries versus smartphones and broadband in developed, for instance. The handful of bridges built are really interesting and definitely outside the US/Western cultural POV, which is hardly the universal human experience it thinks it is, even within its own frame of reference.
posted by byanyothername at 6:15 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the stupid green numbers in The Matrix --- when Neo "sees" for the first time, he sees the world made out of that primitive green-screen-terminal font with the sqaured-off zeros....that's what visually says "computer" to us.

Old symbols? Dude, I'm sitting here at work with a 21" monitor full of "that primitive green-screen-terminal font" right now, and as I look around the office I see similar terminal sprawls on all but one of my coworkers' screens. It may be an old symbol but it's also daily life in the software industry.
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:16 PM on April 9, 2012


Im slightly involved and interested in this, I can't read the whole article but I will say it is very,very,very difficult to get coders and artists working together. Also there's a whole aesthetic with things like processing, max etc that are a bit too prog rock for me. I've been thinking a lot recently that process and goal oriented people can't synergise. Anyway, something is happening for sure.
posted by sgt.serenity at 6:19 PM on April 9, 2012


Funny thing, the Old Bridge used to be called the New Bridge. Funny thing that.

In the other direction, how did the Pre-Raphaelites know who they came before?
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:28 PM on April 9, 2012


I'm sitting here at work with a 21" monitor full of "that primitive green-screen-terminal font" right now

But is it on a CRT with visible raster lines, or is it a font in a terminal emulator displayed on an LCD with sub-pixel rendering? I'd have to agree with Diablevert -- the symbology of rasterization is becoming meaningless: it may have no significance whatsoever for anyone now in adolescence or younger, and as they grow up it's going to date any graphic design that echoed it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:41 PM on April 9, 2012


I'm casting no aspersions on the project, merely criticizing their choice of name.

Well, then I misread your comment. I'm sorry.

Don't know that they can do much about the name, though --- usually the way those things work is that someone makes an off hand comment once and it just sticks. If I dimly recall that one college art course correctly, the futurists named themselves in their manifesto, but I can't think of any other examples.

Old symbols? Dude, I'm sitting here at work with a 21" monitor full of "that primitive green-screen-terminal font" right now, and as I look around the office I see similar terminal sprawls on all but one of my coworkers' screens. It may be an old symbol but it's also daily life in the software industry.

I'm sure that contributes to why it still has currency. But it used to be every computer was like that, and few people worked with computers; now, everybody's got several computers, but very few of them look like that. I dunno, maybe that's just the way of symbols, to some degree; say farm and people'll draw a plow and a cow and not a combine harvester and a feedlot, and kids today know the funny square means save though they've never seen a floppy. But inasmuch as this art is trying to embody the current era, it still seems weird to some degree to rely on symbols that look nothing like the computers most people use today.
posted by Diablevert at 6:43 PM on April 9, 2012


Oh God. This is even worse than the time he discovered computer viruses (by catching several of them) & gave an hour long drunken rant about how "information wants to be free, it doesn't want to be fucking infected" at Hohocon.
posted by scalefree at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2012


I still like it better when this aesthetic expresses ambivalence about our machine-mediated reality, rather than unquestioning acceptance. ActualPerson84 is still the best example of this I can come up with.
posted by speicus at 7:20 PM on April 9, 2012


I like to think of dubstep as music by computers, for computers.
posted by benbenson at 7:30 PM on April 9, 2012


Via the New Aesthetic tumblr: Holy shit, Orbital has a new album? Talk about burying the lede!
posted by en forme de poire at 7:57 PM on April 9, 2012


What, another aesthetic movement?
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 10:19 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I kind of want to read this so I can snark about it, but I don't want to give WIRED any pageviews.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:49 AM on April 10, 2012


Finally, an aesthetic that tells the truth! Not like those liars before.
posted by rhizome at 4:58 AM on April 10, 2012


The New Aesthetic is a genuine aesthetic movement with a weak aesthetic metaphysics. It’s sticky with bogus lyricism.

I'm not completely sure what this means. The problem, though, is that it appears to be intended as a criticism, but it sounds awesome. If someone was offering a seminar on how to make my writing "sticky with bogus lyricism," I wouldn't even ask the price. I'd sign up and wait in the conference room at the Best Western in Bay City, Michigan until it was over, through weddings and proms and quit-smoking hypnotisms. I couldn't be moved. "Sticky," I'd say to no one, "with bogus lyricism," while the mariachis from Detroit struck up a fanfare for Mr. and Mrs. Gary Romirez in their first appearance as husband and wife.
posted by LiteOpera at 5:32 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the New Aesthetic will be as influential and as long-lasting as Viridian Design.

Here's a Bruce Sterling story that was told to me. Some people were meeting Sterling for dinner, and they went to a conveyor-belt sushi place. One of them nods to the coloured sushi plates going round on the conveyor (each colour denotes a different price) and says "so, spimes, huh Bruce?".

Sterling gets up, and walks out.
posted by The River Ivel at 5:59 AM on April 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


and says "so, spimes, huh Bruce?".

That was an awesome burn!
posted by jayder at 6:09 AM on April 10, 2012


It's the stupid green numbers in The Matrix --- when Neo "sees" for the first time, he sees the world made out of that primitive green-screen-terminal font with the sqaured-off zeros....that's what visually says "computer" to us.

See also beeps and boops for "computer" sounds. Until recently you'd see movies where characters were playing a PS2 game but the audio would sound like an NES or Atari 2600.
posted by straight at 7:12 AM on April 10, 2012


To briefly step outside the snark on this one -- I think Bruce is right, even if he is a little elegiac over the details. The 'new computing' -- gigantic farms of clouds, incredible power, subpixel detailing, sleek smooth tablets, personal companions with voice recognition, unmanned drones, paperless encyclopedia in the space of your pinky nail -- is a future that we looked forward to, but now have no idea what to do with artistically now that it's actually here. That people are starting to portray how impactful these advances are in our daily lives is a good thing, even if they do have to attach a bad title to it.

I find it interesting that much of the art has to do with artifacting or system failures, which represent poor or broken mappings of the computer onto the real world.
posted by felix at 7:56 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think you're right Felix, nobody knows what to do with it. A first step might be to not foreground the use of technology so much. But technology has increased while ethics have shrunk, so there's this articulation of a vacuum which leaves the tech the only thing to talk about, which is a bit modernist really.
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:19 PM on April 10, 2012


Pffft. Can't believe no one mentioned Legos in this thread.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:14 PM on April 26, 2012


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