The Department of Aesthetics

What does the Future look like?

“There is a country. You don’t live there but someday you would like to and you want that day to come sooner.” 
— Morrissey

I’m visiting my brother-in-law at his house in New England. He’s a boat captain who spends most of his days out at sea or in the shipyards of Boston. He bought his house a couple of years ago and has been slowly fixing it up. He is building a life and shaping his future. My wife and I are helping him decorate because, although he enjoys a beautiful space, he lacks the visual confidence and design sensibility to create one by himself without defaulting to the bare-bones utility of a bachelor pad. 

It’s a common occurrence. Without a clear sense of what they should aim for, many people slip into replicating the default. As a result, the visual world that we occupy has slid into grey sweatpants and grey laminate flooring. Think Ivan Ilyich in Tolstoy’s novella looking around himself on his deathbed as he realizes he has wasted his life, but instead of the Russian hospital there is a modern-day grey shoe box house complete with poorly installed shiplap. 

Gone are the opulent homes once toured by Robin Leach in Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous. Kim Kardashian and Chrissy Teigan live in oversized soulless grey boxes. The default has been established and it has trickled down to a suburban home near you. The insidious nature of the default is that once it is established it becomes simply “what you do”. Patient Zero might be an L.A. realtor but trends travel fast and the contagion eventually reaches the suburban housewife. 

The default has been weaponized by our enemies. All of them are educated in a unitary doctrine to remove hierarchical value. They then head out into the world with this as their goal. The visual representation is an anti-aspirational aesthetic. A grey blob of shapeless humanoids in neutral dwellings that do not challenge the viewer to aspire to anything. We must swing the pendulum back.

The future must be aspirational. It must inspire many and shame even more. The shift has already started. Beauty will always have its admirers, but those shamed by beauty reveal themselves as the resentful bugs they are. These people can and must be shamed back into the shadows. 

To create a new world and a new future we first must lead by example. With this in mind, the first step is cultivating a beautiful body. I recently attended an art opening and despite high levels of hyper-specific fashion choices and affectations, the bodies wearing them mostly inspired disgust. But attending a young Republicans event can be just as soul-crushing; a sea of clean-cut men larping in the uniform of lifeless bureaucrats. 

The gatherings we want should look more like the streets of Pitti Uomo. Good taste can be infectious. Not only is it aspirational, but it exposes the cowardice and laziness of others. We must aim to be slick, effortless, timeless, and have a slight suggestion of danger. Ideas are great but unless those ideas manifest visually you are limiting their potential. Your garb reflects your tribe and you should inspire your fellow tribesmen.

Beauty and balance are two things we should strive for. Avoid following whatever the current society dictates is beautiful and learn to identify true beauty, whether or not others recognize it. Do not deny classical universal standards for what is appealing and beautiful. 

Clothing has always been a way of communicating what someone values, whether it be the uniform of Jacques Cathelineau of the Catholic and Royal Army or Aleister Crowley in a ceremonial robe. So the question is: what do you value? Take a moment to catalog those individuals in history, literature, media, heroes and villains whose personal style has inspired you. Maybe it’s Vincent Gallo, Steve McQueen, Salvador Dali, Boyd Rice, or William Burroughs. Gather these examples together and find the connecting elements. 

Remember, we are not cosplaying here. You are not wearing a costume, you are piecing together elements that will carry you forward and relay to the world what you value and how you see it. You are a one-man propaganda machine in motion. Even dressed in elements of traditional men’s style you will stand out. This is not about mere consumerism. Money can not buy taste. I’ve known cunning and vicious rightwing philosophy students in second-hand tweed who put most movie stars to shame when it comes to style.

The world can be a hideous place, so your home too has to show the way forward. The style of tomorrow has yet to present itself, so we must hobble it together with elements from the past. Your home must not be a sterile neoliberal cube, but a breeding ground for new ideas. What spaces inspire you? How are they arranged? What does your life look like in such a place? Demonstrate to yourself and those who visit your home that you give a damn. That more is possible. That the world around you can be shaped into something beautiful. Money is no replacement for good taste. Paint is cheap and facebook marketplace is your new best friend: indeed, nothing is more satisfying than shaming people who overpay over the odds for terrible disposable furniture with the value that comes from possessing a superior eye.

We must also bring back standards. In the name of acceptance and politeness, we’ve let too many things slide. We were encouraged to not pass judgment. The result is that our public spaces are eyesores and now our souls are suffering. The effects of our indifference are manifested in pajama-clad hordes boarding planes at every airport. It is not a coincidence that the current trend of wearing sweatpants and socks with foam slip-on sandals resembles the dress of a state sanatorium. A medicated shuffling mass moving through a grey world. For some an appeal to beauty will be enough to electro-shock them back to life but for others, shame and humor must be deployed. 

While in art school I attended a party at a neighboring college with a fantastically dressed man who looked like a mod right out of Quadrophenia. A frat brother at the party said to him: “Man I wish I could dress like you!” His only response was “What’s stopping you?”. 

When you lead by example you will naturally attract attention and criticism. But the point is that your style will influence your social circles. We are social creatures and if you have successfully cultivated a beautiful style your friends will ask for your aesthetic advice. Each time this happens is a step forward to shifting the norm and changing the default. Slowly but surely you can correct the status quo with criticism and an appeal to beauty. 

Humor must be used along with a guiding hand. What will quickly become blatantly obvious is the advantage we possess in the battle for aesthetic appreciation. An average person has only slipped into the default aesthetic regime because of its oversaturation in the world around them. When an alternative is presented that appeals to the natural hierarchy of beauty people can adapt quickly. 

We are setting a new norm and a new subculture that no longer tolerates ugliness. Be judgemental. Point out the visual offenses around you; whether it be a new building in your neighborhood, an art exhibition, or a  badly dressed co-ed at your local bar. The success of cancel culture was the weaponization of public shame. The difference here is that there is reconciliation and redemption from aesthetic sins. We must want something more for those we love, our friends, our families, and our children. We must inspire a love of beauty and the ability to recognize it. Know your audience and use good taste when approaching the subject. 

We have to set new standards for what we are willing to accept. Beauty does exist and should be upheld as a critical element of the public. You might be in a position to join your local zoning committee or town council and if you are, I encourage it. If you are not in such a position there are other means to our goals. Anonymous reviews on the aesthetics sins of restaurants, cafes, and apartment buildings are a great outlet for your rage but remember to always use humor and wit instead of just scolding. The most important thing is to contribute to ushering in a new age of beauty by living well, dressing well, and having fun doing it.

Zach Brown is a Pittsburgh-based artist. He can be followed on Instagram @zach_brown_art.

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