The Aestheticization of Everyday Life: Wrap-Up
Design critic and instructor at the Design Criticism MFA program, School of Visual Arts, New York
Architect and critic; partner, Fake Industries Architectural Agonism
Artist and writer; coufounder of The Serving Library
Artist and writer; member of Bernadette Corporation, author of Rich Texts
I wanted to draw things to a close with a few thoughts on the Forum’s overall topic, the aestheticization of daily life.
But first I want to thank the other participants—Cristina Goberna, Angie Keefer, and John Kelsey—for making this such an interesting and enjoyable undertaking, and the Guggenheim for organizing the conversation and inviting us to participate.
And I wanted to mention the Gutai: Splendid Playground exhibition, which inspired the Forum but didn’t come up in our discussion. It’s a fascinating look at the way a collective of Japanese artists provoked and responded to dramatic social change in the post-WWII decades. Among other things, the exhibition shows how a small, dedicated group can invent new forms of visual expression. It’s at the Guggenheim for another few days, through May 8.
What I began to realize yesterday during the live online discussion was that we focused more on “aestheticization” and less on “daily life,” and that’s a shame. Also, it belatedly occurred to me that aestheticization is a strange word. It has a pejorative ring, and using it in context of daily life implies that something bad has been done to the fabric of the everyday. I’m not sure that’s entirely the case. For example, I see surprising new examples of urban (here comes another loaded word) beauty all over the U,S., even in cities that are not thought of as beautiful. I wonder what kind of discussion we would have had in a Forum entitled “The Beauty of Everyday Life.”
Implications of the title aside, I though this was a fascinating discussion, and I’d like to end by highlighting a few of my favorite points:
“It’s debatable whether the interface produces happiness,” wrote John Kelsey in Session 3. “I’ve heard the opposite: the same thing happens in our brain chemistry whenever a message pops on the screen that happened to primitive man when a tiger jumped out of the bushes: a surge of adrenaline. But now we get a thousand tigers per day.”
In Session 2, Angie Keefer posted a long quote from John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) in which Keynes likens professional investment to a beauty contest in which the judges are always trying to pick the faces that their fellow judges will find prettiest—a search for the average preference, or an average of averages. “We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be,” he wrote. Drawing on another study, Keefer concluded, “It is primarily economists who operate on the third, deepest level. Practically speaking, they know the metrics for beauty.”
“In architecture, for example, photorealistic images are automatically associated with corporate firms and market forces,” Cristina Goberna observed in Session 1. “If we look at young international offices, not the hallowed ones but those that are pushing the field and/or architectural representation further, we find hardly any trace of photorealism in their visual language.”