A Year End Reflection...
Hello Fellow Aesthetics People!
People often share lists of top events at the end of the year, and I did that last year. This year, however, I thought I would end with more of a contemplation than a list of key moments. Over the course of the last 7-8 years, I have intentionally sought out people interested in aesthetics as well as different contexts in which aesthetics plays an integral role. The beauty industry, fashion, architecture, and business provide me with continued arenas for collaboration, writing, and speaking. Through these four arenas, I present some thoughts at this year’s end.
The Beauty Industry
The beauty industry inadvertently raises questions about beauty standards and the roles that cultures and companies play in nudging people to want to appear certain ways. Some beauty products can genuinely make us feel better, but as consumers, we are too easily susceptible to over-doing it. Finding a balance between our innate drive for beauty and an obsession is crucial for our well-being.
I write a monthly column for BeautyMatter, a resource for the beauty industry. In these essays, I explore some longtime beauty standards, like proportion, but also some more political aspects of beauty, like subversion. Any attempt to reduce beauty to simple ideas fails, even if it contains truth. Beauty is complex, mysterious, and wonderful. Seeking beauty, to varying degrees, is a core motivation for people. We cannot write it off, but we need to be watchful that it isn’t controlling us either.
I am a philosopher by training. Unfortunately, philosophers have largely neglected fashion in most of their theories and writings about aesthetics. The absence of fashion from philosophy seems strange to me. But it may have a long prejudice that goes back to ancient Greece, where many thinkers believed the body was the prison-house of the soul. In other words, one’s soul matters, and the body is not important except as bare survival to contain the soul. Adorning the body, therefore, is an unnecessary embellishment.
My co-edited book on digital fashion is coming out with Bloomsbury Visual Arts in June 2024. As fashion can be used to express ourselves, tell our narrative, and create a particular aesthetic, it provides an interesting context for studying people. And digital fashion, without the functions of physical clothing, adds to the possibilities of creating meaning and displaying aesthetics. It allows us to experiment with different looks without as many constraints. To develop and expand our aesthetics (and our taste), we should take a more active role in seeking out and experimenting with new fashion, art, natural environments, and so on. We might be missing out, if take a passive approach to our aesthetic experiences.
The built environment affects people for better and worse. Newer research in psychology and neuroscience (especially neuroaesthetics), using current technology, such as fMRI machines and eye-tracking, has begun to confirm the value of beauty that many philosophers have proclaimed over the centuries.
I was at the inaugural Intentional Spaces Summit in November 2023, facilitating discussions among participants. It is apparent that interest and desire for creating a built environment better suited for human well-being is becoming more prevalent and important. I wrote my reflections about this event in a previous post.
While data, science, and technology will surely play a role, philosophy is integral to asking questions, clarifying concepts, challenging assumptions, and drawing from the history of ideas. As one colleague once said to me, philosophers keep us honest. When planning your events this year, you may want to consider inviting a philosopher.
Marketing and product design represent two areas, where I believed companies would devote attention to aesthetics. While this may be true for some companies, aesthetics is not as foundational as you might assume. But beyond these expected areas, all aspects of business from product to place to people are affected (positively and negatively) by aesthetics.
I’ve teamed up with Bella Zhang, founder of Artful Banyan Tree, to create some programs that we will begin to advertise early next year. Briefly put, these programs will focus on using aesthetics to enhance your personal and professional lives.
Additionally, I am working on revising the manuscript for my new book, Is Your Business Beautiful? It will come out next year. In this short book, I hope to inspire and reorient people in thinking about aesthetics in their work. More specifically, I showcase ways that thinking about beauty (and aesthetics more broadly) can help to make your business better in the three broadest areas: product, place, and people.
I hope my brief reflections about these four arenas have given you some fodder to apply to your own arenas.
Looking to 2024
As we are about to begin 2024, I’ve excited thinking about doing some interviews with people from different sectors about how aesthetics contributes to their work. I plan to begin a history of aesthetics project on this Substack to show how the history provides many insights and practical applications for contemporary contexts. And my books will be out in the summer!
I have speaking gigs on my calendar and am looking to book a few more in the Spring and next Fall.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year!
Let’s look to a beautiful 2024!
Contact me [firstname.lastname@example.org], if you would like to discuss some possible dates and topics for me to speak to your organization.