What’s “New Aesthetic”? Nobody knows, exactly, and to read Bruce Sterling’s take you might think it’s about fashion and absurdism while Remus Shepherd calls it a sort of art realism, such as finding beauty in geo-satellite images, for instance seeing with human eyes as if we were digital devices.
You might be able to call [the] New Aesthetic “the digital becoming real,” but that’s not encompassing enough, while also perhaps being far too grandiose for something that simply means “People find these internety, informationy, squidgy bits of organizational detritus to be appealing for the moment.”
What New Aesthetic definitely is is something a lot of nerds of all disciplines are starting to call a thing. So at least there’s that.
In order to muddy the waters ever so slightly more, I kept looking at some of the examples of New Aesthetic fashion, with all its accompanying description of what it isn’t–not retro or backwards-looking, specifically–is actually quite obviously influenced by video games. And not the flat, 2D, 8-bit or 16-bit “pixelated” look of the ’70s and ’80s, the era of Nintendo’s Mario and old Amiga games. New Aesthetic is clearly inspired by the first 3D video games.
New Aesthetic is Playstation. Or at least the fashion is.
New Aesthetic clothing is low-poly, just like the early 3D games, powered by graphics hardware that could only render a few polygons (often triangles) at a time, were made up of so few polys you could see each distinct shape. Sometimes to the point of a glitch (a glitch). Or it’s low-poly plus gradients, just like early 3D rendering. Or it’s raster texture mapping on real low-poly cuts, referencing the first times when programmers were able to paste digital photos or paintings on top of the simple shapes to give the illusion of greater detail.
I mean, whatever. Maybe everyone already knows this? Perhaps I’m simply sharing something that is blindingly obvious to designers involved. But look at these blue jeans:
Nope. They’re “cotton-linen trousers with a high-res digital print of ‘real’ used Levi’s.” And that they probably don’t look perfectly like real jeans when seen in real life only makes them cooler–they’ve got the post-modernistic reference built right in. It’s cooler to wear a texture of blue jeans than blue jeans because it makes you seem like a character in a video game wearing 3D shapes that are textured with an image of blue jeans. (For some values of “cool”. I’m ignoring how this stuff slips into the stream of public acceptability/mainstream fashion.)
A couple years ago I was chatting to a friend about the indie video game movement and its obsession with 8-bit pixel art for its creations. While pixel art is often cheaper to produce than 3D art, it also comes with a certain aesthetic payload. Pixel art is clean–cleaner than it was even back in the original 8-bit era because our screens are crisp and digital, not analog; play Super Mario Bros. on a hacked iPhone and it will look better than it did being piped onto an old CRT tube television–and it also denotes a certain scope of ambition for the player. (You don’t feel ripped off if your $1 iPhone game isn’t as deep or long as, say, GTA4 if it doesn’t look anything like a “modern” game.) And word to pixel art. It’s lovely and hope it lives forever.
But just by simply following the trend line, it seemed clear to me that the next retro aesthetic to be embraced by indie video game creators would be early ’90s low-poly. The sort of grungy look from early Playstation games like Resident Evil or Battle Area Toshinden, too, not the cleaner, cartoon look of Super Mario 64. And it turns out I was right, but just about the wrong thing: it’s fashion, not video games, that are copping the 32-bit look.
(Except when they aren’t, because who knows what New Aesthetic is? Only Glitch Jesus.)