Aesthetics over content

Whether it’s through traditional art, film or music, there will always be a way to judge something based on how pretty it is.

Graphic by Joshua Awolade
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

With technology getting better and better, artistry has really taken off. What was once rough and hard to swallow is now smooth and satisfying. Films have become fluent in computer-generated imagery and music has become indistinguishable from auto-tune. With such a leap taken over the past few years, the industry’s ability to lull the audience into submission has grown drastically. But as consumers in such a culture, it is our job to take a step back and look at what exactly we’re getting.

It’s easy for anyone to praise aesthetics. Whether it’s through traditional art, film or music, there will always be a way to judge something based on how pretty it is. This is a trap for the conscious consumer. Let us take the example of James Cameron’s Avatar. The scope of the film was epic, rich and detailed. However that only extended to the visuals. New technologies got audiences to theatres, but afterwards, many could say there was something cheesy about the film.

Countless albums, regardless of their popularity, will be same-sounding edited tracks that have no meat to them. Lil Wayne and T-Pain are examples of artists that use the technological leap to their advantage, but there is nothing in their songs worth talking about.

The reason so many people still watch classic movies or listen to old songs isn’t necessarily because they find the old graphics or sound quality to be amazing — it’s because of the story. The narrative itself is enough to make them stay, regardless of how many terrible crafted puppet monsters or old timey audio edits they have to sit through. This is important to understand in our era of digital technology and the seamless blurs between quality and quantity that are a consequence of this abuse of power.

Ultimately, those who abuse aesthetics will be found out. The film could be as obviously flimsy as After Earth or as hard to criticize as Thor; as terrible as “Friday” or as commonly accepted as “Wrecking Ball” and yet the judgement remains the same: art without story is just a series of pretty pictures and worth nothing.

So then, how does a film effectively use both? Knowing the narrative comes first. A good example of the effective marriage of aesthetics and story would be Guardians of the Galaxy, which maintained a joking yet serious tone throughout the entire film, earning it the right to be able to use slightly ridiculous CG settings to add to the already strong narrative. Or even take Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” which, while terribly catchy, proves a good point. This is how art should work.

Not through trying to buy its way into the audience’s heart, but by earning their approval through a carefully placed aesthetic.

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