You know that art has changed when a new aesthetic movement announces itself not with a manifesto, but with a tumblr. Manifestos offer their grievances and demands plainly, all at once, on a single page—not in many hundred entries.
“Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy, and slumber,” wrote Filippo Marinetti in his 1909 Futurist Manifesto. “We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.” The stakes are clear: out with idleness and chatter, in with speed and violence.
You’ll find no such gripes or hopes in James Bridle’s modest microblog “The New Aesthetic,” which has recently enjoyed considerable attention thanks to a panel at the SXSW interactive conference, a Wired essay response by Bruce Sterling, and a series of responses to both at The Creators Project—not to mention dozens more replies all around the web.
Recent noise and attention notwithstanding, compare Bridle’s original, phlegmatic blog post on the New Aesthetic to Marinetti’s feverish immodesty. “We want to glorify war,” the latter writes, still proudly ignorant of the Great War that would turn the Dadaists against art entirely. Bridle, by contrast, doesn’t exalt or rebuff, but opens up a file folder: “For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future.”
Bridle’s initial collection included satellite images, superimposed digital and physical maps, physical goods that look like pixel art, and real shoes made to look as if they were low-polygon 3D renders. His tumblr—the closest thing to an official record of New Aesthetics—offers even more curiosities.
A screenshot of a Flickr search for broken Kindle e-readers. A list of tweets announcing the surprising discovery that the Titanic was a real ocean-liner and not just a film. A histogram of player moods while playing Xbox Live. A Wells Fargo ATM that laments having missed a customer’s birthday.
What is the New Aesthetic? One accurate answer would be: things James Bridle posts to its tumblr. Another doubled as the subtitle for Bridle’s SXSW panel, and it amounts to a generalization of the same thing: “seeing like digital devices.” Pixel art, data visualizations, computer vision sensor aids—these are the worldly residue that computers have left behind as they alter our lived experience: “Some architects can look at a building and tell you which version of autodesk was used to create it.”
Marinetti discovered Futurism after driving his car into a ditch outside Milan. Avant-garde art used to work like that, as exception, rupture, dissidence. When it wasn’t formalist, it was political—for better and for worse: Marinetti was an early affiliate of the Italian Fascist Party, while Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball, and their Dada compatriots made anti-art that rejected the nationalism and colonialism that they perceived to be the root causes of the Great War.