"only as an æsthetic phenomenon is
existence and the world justified"

- nietzsche


emotus ponens picture
::: Lifesthetics :::
joie de vivre in aesthetic self-discovery





What is lifesthetics?

Lifesthetics is a postmodern philosophy for living. In very few words, lifesthetics challenges us to find our joie de vivre not through conformity (social, religious, or otherwise), or complacency (with our selves, our ambitions), but rather, through aesthetic self-discovery (by creation, cultural experience, perspective taking, conoisseurship, life-long learning, reflection, and becoming).

Pablo Picasso's La Joie de Vivre. Antibes. Fall 1946.


Georgia O'Keeffe's A Sunflower From Maggie. MFA.

What is beautiful?

At the risk of revisiting a cliché, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Art speaks to each of us in different ways because we all have different notions of beauty -- a personal aesthetic -- if you will. We are often rewarded with a sense of fulfillment the more we discover and experience art that can express our personal aesthetic. Sometimes, art can be so powerful that it can lead us to re-evaluate, redefine, and evolve our aesthetic tastes.

Lifesthetics asks us to take art as an extended metaphor for living. The same joy felt in the discovery and experience of art can be had in life. The "art" of living is about discovering ways of life (i.e. cultures) that express, challenge, and evolve our personal aesthetic. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe for "the good life," but if we are curious, open-minded, and adventurous enough to discover what's possible, we'll likely find more than what we expected.



Lifesthetics and Postmodernity

Lifesthetics inherits many of the qualities of postmodernity. Grand narratives (Lyotard) or claims of universal truths and universal aesthetics are rejected in favor of "mini-narratives," personal truths, and personal aesthetics. Whereas modernity and the European Enlightenment posits reason and science as the highest forms of "truth," postmodernity and lifesthetics alike deemphasize rationalism and totality (Derrida). Consistent within this theme, lifesthetics reaffirms and celebrates the importance of aesthetics in our lives as a justification of existence (Nietzsche).

Modernity was fraught with pessimistic attitudes toward human culture and history (Elliott, Woolf), often turning to works of art to provide coherence and meaning for life. In contrast, postmodernity engenders giddy optimism for the diversity and wealth of human culture and history. Lifesthetics, too, celebrates culture, perspective, and the meta-historical. Rather than retreating to works of art for coherence, unity, and meaning, we are challenged to live life as if we were creating a work of art ourselves; by experiencing what's possible, we discover our personal aesthetics, and find meaning for ourselves in process.


Pacita Abad. Multiculturalism.


Piet Mondriaan. Broadway Boogie Woogie. 1943. MOMA, NYC.

Lifesthetics, Cosmopolitanism, and the New Urbanism

Lifesthetics and cosmopolitanism are not competing or commensurate ideas. If anything, lifesthetics clarifies and motivates cosmopolitanism in a different context. Cosmopolitanism emerged out of a new urbanism; cultural metropolises formed through globalization, cultural immigration, social heterogeneity, and diaspora. Cosmopolitan living embraces cultural hybridity, fusion, and resynthesis. Cosmopolitanites thrive on cultural diversity and the discovery of new perspectives. Viewing this phenomena through the lens of lifesthetics, cosmopolitan living is exciting largely because the process of cultural discovery, experience, and adoption helps us to discover, refine, and intuit our personal aesthetics.

But lifesthetics also offers cautionary criticism of cosmopolitanism. Cosmopolitan culture fuses and resynthesizes cultural primes into an eccelectic urban culture, at which point it is then "consumed" by the individual. This can be problematic because the process of resynthesizing cultural primes into a singular cosmopolitan "pop" culture necessarily degrades and corrupts that prime. The danger is that consuming only reconstituted culture prevents us from knowing or understanding that culture very much. While we can know (savoir) something about a culture when presented with its reconsituted form, we can know (connaître) it much better if we experience it as a prime. The challenge to cosmopolitanism is to resist the tendency toward complete cultural fusion, and to instead invest in relocalizing cultural primes and maintaining their fidelity.




H U G O . . L I U ...

program in comparative media studies, mit

the media laboratory, mit
if you like my work, please link to me
hugo at media dot mit dot edu