The concept of beauty throughout history has been a force for creation, inspiring mankind to reach the pinnacle of civilization. From men accomplishing great things to win over a lover, the beautiful female as a muse for the artist, religions building great temples and cathedrals to attract worshipers, kings and emperors building monuments to demonstrate their greatness, and businesses using aesthetics in architecture and advertisements to attract more consumers.
In today’s society aesthetics serves primarily as a force to manipulate people to keep them striving and conforming to the liberal capitalist system. Advertisements use aesthetics to create a vision of a product to consume; not just the product itself but an overall aesthetically pleasing scene involving beautiful women, luxurious furnishings, great architecture, natural scenery, and music to create the mood.
Aesthetics then become a mechanism to keep people enslaved to the system in hope that they can one day date or marry an attractive woman, buy aesthetically pleasing merchandise, vacation in aesthetically pleasing locals, and live in an aesthetically pleasing community.
If aesthetics are used to keep people constantly striving and conforming to both the economic system and cultural norms, then aesthetics are no longer the positive cohesive force that should bring a society together to strive for greatness.
In reality most people don’t have access to aesthetically pleasing things due to both the high cost and the lack of cultural emphasis on aesthetic values.
Going back in history, many ancient civilizations, such as Rome, were based on a grande aesthetic vision. While there was an element of exploitation, the aesthetics are what made one proud to be a citizen of Rome and created a cohesive identity. This is one of the reasons that Roman imagery is so popular in Vaporwave and Alt-Right Fashwave.
With the rise of the Abrahamic faiths, with Christianity replacing the Roman Empire in Europe, Judaism also spreading into Europe, and Islam replacing the Ancient Civilizations of the Middle East, grand aesthetic visions became viewed as a form of Idolatry.
However, magnificent aesthetics managed to thrive both as a result of religious institutions wanting to demonstrate their power and the failure to crush the creative spirit within mankind. And even within the Abrahamic faiths there are rifts with Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Shia Muslims, and Reform Jews being more tolerant of the value of aesthetics than Protestants, Sunni Muslims, and Orthodox Jews.
Like with religion, aesthetics managed to survive the rise of both capitalism and communism. Even though both capitalism and communism place economics over aesthetics there is still the creative potential within mankind that existed in both the Capitalist West and Soviet Union.
The rise of capitalism also meant the rise of a mercantile elite primarily focused on economic gain using aesthetics as a tool to win over consumers.
Ray Sawhill was a culture journalist for Newsweek in New York. In my interview with him, his observations based on his experiences with the economic and cultural elites is that they “form taste in consensus.”
If the elites form taste in consensus rather than create original visions for taste are they truly the elite?
This goes back to Aleister Crowley’s concept of Aristocratic Radicalism or Aristocratic Communism. In his essay The Whole of the Law: The Political Dimensions of Crowley’s Thought Keith Preston points out that “though of bourgeoisie origins, Crowley regarded the commercial values of capitalism to be incompatible with genuine elitism. Like others who shared a similar critique of modernity, Crowley regarded the elevation of the business class to the status of the ruling class as a form of social degeneration. Like Nietzsche and Junger, he championed the decline of bourgeoisie society and hoped for its replacement with a new kind of nobility.
Like many intellectuals who were concerned with the effects of modernity and a commercialized society on high culture, Crowley understood that the growth of human culture had historically been intertwined with the growth of a leisure class. In traditional societies, it had been the aristocracy that comprised the leisure class and therefore devoted much of its energy to cultural pursuits.”
Blogger Giovanni Dannato makes a similar point in his article A Creative Culture Requires A Leisured Elite that “if we look at the creativity of societies in the past, one thing we must notice is that the creators weren’t ordinary people who worked on philosophy or poetry after a day in the fields.”
“Without exception, the people who produced the best and highest culture came from a small but leisured and insulated class of individuals.”
What late capitalism has done is eliminate an independent high IQ Leisure elite. What now passes for a leisured culture class are the children of economic elites as Anna Louie Sussman points out in Rich Kids Afford to Work in the Art World that “key segments of the art market are built upon the spending habits, philanthropy, and social networks of the ultra-wealthy, a feature of the commercial art world that appears to immunize it against this workforce trend. Thanks to its structural dependence on a small group of high-net-worth collectors and donors, hiring in some quarters of art world tends to favor those with the right connections and similar frames of reference.”
We have a cultural elite that is a product of the economic elite. As far as creating culture for the masses the main benefactors of our economic system are those who can market their goods to the lower classes who are greater numerically. Examples of this are Kylie Jenner becoming a billionaire while creating nothing of value and the Walton Family of Walmart having a net worth of over $170 billion selling their merchandise to the proletariat in an un-aesthetically pleasing environment.
Capitalism is heavily dependent upon the masses who have lower cultural and aesthetic standards and this also makes it difficult for those with the best aesthetic visions and intellectual concepts to rise to the top.
There are some creative geniuses who have managed to make a fortune by carving out their own niche. Director David Lynch, who has origins as a visual artist, creates grande surreal other wordy visions and narratives. He has amassed a net worth of $60 million. However, he is the exception and not representative of the Hollywood elite as a whole.
Lion’s article is referring to jobs “such as computer programmers and accountants,” but it also applies to aesthetic producers such as architects, urban planners, illustrators, and graphic designers.
Architects take a visual aesthetic vision and implement it into something tangible that not only functions as a living space but forms the basis of our civilization. Yet architects are struggling to make a living and lack the prestige that they once had.
Business of Architecture’s article on the struggles of architects states that “after 8 years of study and professional training, an architect should be respected like a doctor and paid like a highly qualified professional.”
The concept of value transference applies to architecture as much as any other part of our economy. An example is Jon Jerde, known for his Retro-Futurist Post Modernist shopping malls and Las Vegas Casinos, inspired by historic aesthetics in the 80’s and 90’s.
He was able to make a small fortune. Many of his projects are world renowned, such as, the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Despite this, Jerde had low name recognition in the public sphere. Another one of his notable projects in Las Vegas, the Wynn, is named after real estate mogul Steve Wynn rather than Jerde.
Architect and Real Estate Developer John C. Portman Jr. is to Architecture what Lynch is to cinema. Portman pioneered the concept of Interior Urbanism with his “atriums and concourses of mega-hotels, shopping malls and transport interchanges” that “define an increasingly normal experience of being ‘inside’ in a city.”
Portman was not only an aesthetic visionary and one of the greatest post war architects but also successful as both an architect and real estate developer with a net worth of $20 million.
Besides the example of Portman, capitalism has helped create great architectural innovation. In New York City Grand Central Terminal was owned and financed by the Vanderbilts, the Art Deco Chrysler Building was constructed by “Walter Chrysler, the head of the Chrysler Corporation, and served as the corporation’s headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s,” and the Rockefeller Center was financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.
The one area where capitalism still produces innovation in architecture is in theme parks such as Disneyland, and resorts ranging from Las Vegas to ski lodges. The reason they have grande aesthetic visions is because the developers want to create a fantasy world for tourists to escape their mundane lives. However, these ideas have not influenced the urban landscape, as driving around the suburban wastelands surrounding the Las Vegas Strip, Disneyland, and Disney World can tell you.
They do provide a model of urbanism that is walkable, interconnected, while creating an otherworldly environment that can liberate us from our mundane existence. These resorts form a communal model of capitalism where people share the grande aesthetics and amenities as opposed to private capitalism where the wealthy wall themselves off in McMansions, country clubs, and gated communities. Even if they do cater to the wealthy, working class tourists staying at cheap hotels can still visit the Wynn in Las Vegas and appreciate it’s interior aesthetics and gardens, and the magnificent atrium of John C. Portman’s Hyatt in San Francisco.
Capitalism has utilized the creative potential in the past with businessmen competing as to who could build the most extravagant animated neon signs to win over consumers or the most magnificent architecture to both win over investors and boost their egos. There was a productive collaboration between economic competition and the creative spirit.
However today the aesthetic process of architectural design and advertising have become much more formulaic and utilitarian, as opposed to innovative, with profits as the central motive rather than aesthetics. There is also a cause and effect where less innovation in aesthetics creates a culture where aesthetics are under valued and less in market demand.
Architecture and urban planning are driven by a combination of factors, with the profit motive leading to the proliferation of massive track housing developments and ugly boxy apartment structures, while wealthy NIMBYs pose barriers to grande aesthetic visions. Historic structures of aesthetic value are protected, but by state regulations rather than the free market.
There are new luxury highrise residential and hotel complexes and aesthetically pleasing walkable New Urbanist communities but they are being built on a small scale as luxury items catering to a niche market rather than transforming society as a whole.
As with architecture, high quality furnishings have become a luxury item. In the article How Did Los Angeles Midcentury Modern Develop? David Plick points out that “American midcentury modern’s ultimate goal was comfort for everyone, for the 1950’s middle-class families fleeing cities for the suburbs, and artists fleeing suburbia for California.”
Today midcentury modern furniture is considered a luxury item while most of the middle class buys furniture from IKEA or Sears and other large retail outlets that buy in mass from China.
Then aesthetics itself becomes a luxury for the economic elite that exists in limited supply where those who value aesthetics in architecture and interior design are forced to win in the capitalist system in order to have access to those things rather than focusing their energies on creative endeavors that produce innovation in aesthetics.
Your average guy is more focused on getting by than appreciating aesthetically pleasing architecture and interior design. There is the cliche in advertisement that “sex sells,” but sex, dating, and beauty are all inter-connected to the economics and aesthetics of urban design.
In Los Angeles like many major American cities, the most attractive people are concentrated in a few small pockets of wealth, and in private venues. This creates barriers and more competition in dating, with the added stress of driving across vast distances in traffic to find these hot spots.
In the case of LA, it is a combination of poor city planning and auto-centric development, as well as, the extreme income inequality between those with high economic and social status, a large underclass, and many socially atomized individuals caught in between. The inequality in income is reflected in the inequality in aesthetics, both in architecture and beauty .
Since most American cities and suburbs do not have high aesthetic standards and are not pedestrian friendly, this puts added pressure on real estate in the few places that are. Such as, San Francisco and nearby Aesthetically Pleasing Suburbs, as well as, college towns that have nice walkable downtowns and high concentrations of attractive young people.
In most European cities that were built long before the automobile, both wealthy tourist destinations and working class cities have a central core that has aesthetically pleasing architecture. This is where most commerce and social interaction takes place. Brno where I visited in the Czech Republic is working class and fairly affordable yet has a nice compact walkable City Center with Art Nouveau architecture.
If that type of lifestyle is accessible to a larger share of the population there is much less pressure to make it to the top of the economic system which is probably a major factor Europe is much more socialist than the United States.
There are a number of social and economic factors. Birth rates have plummeted among the middle and upper classes, massive student loan debt, crass consumerism, economic and social pressure put on women to put their careers over families, bad urban planning, and capitalism’s dependence upon a large underclass to exploit. A large underclass puts added strain on the middle and upper middle classes in regards to real estate and schools.
Neither conservatives, libertarians, nor liberals comprehend this, but the core problem in our society is that the wealthy control too much of the economic capital and the underclass too much of the population. This is also represented in the inequality of aesthetics and wasted capital that is not invested in the aesthetic good.
Smart Socialism can address these problems which are a product of neoliberal capitalism but also how are current social welfare state is structured. Giovanni Dannato points out that “if we re-think socialism we might realize a welfare queen with 8 kids, a high iq, and demonstrable talent isn’t such a bad idea,” and asks “why shouldn’t society clamor to pay for multitudes of children from smart, educated women?” The same principles apply to beauty.
In Japan, Austria, Switzerland, and Monaco there is a high concentration of wealth. However they are not as dependent upon a large under class as the American elites.
Monaco has the world’s second-highest GDP nominal per capita at US$153,177. Just looking at the demographic statistics, Monaco is “28.4% French, followed by Monégasque (21.6%), Italian (18.7%), British (7.5%), Belgian (2.8%), German (2.5%), Swiss (2.5%) and U.S. nationals (1.2%).” Monaco is only 0.8% Muslim which is very low for Western European urban standards.
A lot of this has to do with urban planning models. The left focuses primarily on the issue of monetary income inequality. However a lot of social and economic inequality is a product of poor land use.
For instance LA’s race to build the biggest ‘mega mansions’ only exacerbates the issue of the elites living in private estates that are dependent upon a large underclass to maintain, and deprive their neighborhoods of any type of communal amenities.
In How Big Is The Average House Size Around The World? BRIDGET MALLON points out that the biggest to smallest home sizes are “Australia, United States of America, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, The United Kingdom, China. The infographic also includes Hong Kong, which although technically a part of China, maintains a high degree of autonomy, and has even tinier homes than the average Chinese abode. In fact, exactly 22.6 Hong Kong homes could fit into the average Australian residence.”
While super small units can lead to the problem of cities becoming IQ Shredders for both the middle and upper classes, these statistics prove that you can have a wealthy society without the mega mansions of LA. There is obviously a middle ground between that and the tiny apartment units in Hong Kong.
Where communism failed is that it seeked to abolish the merchant class. We depend upon commerce to provide us goods and services with a healthy degree of competition. But the business class must be subservient to the “aesthetic aristocracy,” and society must ensure the economic elites have a sense of noblesse oblige to both aesthetic values and the overall good of society. An economy that is subservient to aesthetics but not a blind reactionary rejection of all culture and architecture created by capitalism.