So I haven’t really bothered following up the responses to my Furtherfield article earlier this year, where I, kind of, lamented The New Aesthetic. That was in the middle of April. It’s been 3 months since then and a few things have happened.
First of all, James Bridle, the linchpin of the whole thing, shut down the Tumblr site a month later.
Secondly a whole book titled “New Aesthetic, New Anxieties” has been released on the subject. It’s written as a book sprint – which is basically seven authors (David M. Berry, Michel van Dartel, Michael Dieter, Michelle Kasprzak, Nat Muller, Rachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente) wrote a book very quickly in four and half days.
Now on the first point, I’m not really in a position to start saying the New Aesthetic (NA) has died down or anything like that. Bridle obviously had his reasons for shutting it down, and those reasons are his own. From my own perspective it seems to me that the direction of NA went off in an a completely different manner than he intended – and this isn’t Bridle’s fault. If anything, it was Bruce Sterling’s fault for sexing up what was originally an initial project about design, first and foremost.
Regarding the second point, I’ve been cited on p.21.
“Meanwhile, in a highly conservative response to the term, Robert Jackson drew a line between Bridle’s ‘low’ social media and ‘high’ media art practices, noting “the triteness of using Tumblr as the ‘official site’” (2012). Immediately evident in the title of his contribution, ‘The Banality of the New Aesthetic’, Jackson stated explicitly: “memes require instant satisfaction. Art requires depth” (2012). “
Lets put that first quote in a bit of context. I never explicitly stated that using Tumblr was trite – (I didn’t endorse it either to be fair – but I certainly don’t think of it as “low” art). It was a commentary on NA internet discussion in fact.
“Indeed, internet discussion has been rife with such criticism, from the triteness of using Tumblr as the ‘official site’, to quick dismissals concerning the New Aesthetic’s distinct lack of any historically serious ‘substantial practice’ – not that it wanted it in the first place[.]“
Even though I’m a big fan of reintegrating Greenberg formalism, I’m not someone who wishes to set up some divide between the high arts and and po-mo -reveral-kitsch. That’s never been the end goal (I’ve not even published anything saying this). In all fairness, the article may have insinuated this view, but I can justify another view which avoids the privileging of high ‘art’.
What I did say was that NA in it’s current iteration, i.e. at present, is emblematic of the over networked, compulsive, always-updating digital culture which we need less of. Others may turn round and say ‘yes – but thats the point!” – but I, for one, think a stand should be taken against this hyperactive, mode of living. And getting to the point of this – art must subvert the contradictory nature of this compulsion. For want of a better word, art should have standards and conviction against this mediated, decidable meme-led mode of capture.
NA may come up with something that does this of course. But at the moment, theres achingly little to suggest that the mode of delivery will end up being as subversive as it’s endorsers make out. I’m not having a go at design or blogs or ‘low’ media of whatever – I follow Thomas Hirshhorn here. When he was asked why he makes political art, he famously uttered ‘I don’t make political art, I make art politically“. Art doesn’t operate within a media, or within a collection of pieces that bankers purchase with their pocket money, it’s intrinsically located in every unitary morsel of existence.
And here’s the thing. I liked some of the stuff that Bridle put on his tumblr site. Some of these works are amazing. But the mode of delivery ruins any depth they may have, by immediately updating the contents and distracting attention emblematic of the ever-connected hipster. Art should strive to be more than a simple ‘image of the day’ update. And thats why art requires depth.