Aesthetic Taxonomy: A visual essay by Willy Ndatira

In 1979, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu argued that the concept of good taste was inextricable from class. But in 2022, creative consultant and cultural archivist WILLY NDATIRA questions whether that theory still holds—when the arts can be accessed via any phone with an internet connection.

Under late capitalism, our experience of aesthetics and language has shifted to bring forth a new way of ‘looking’ at things. Aesthetics was an invention of the Enlightenment, and appropriately enough, most of the historical discussion surrounding it has focused on the beautiful and the sublime.

According to Sianne Ngai—American cultural theorist, literary critic, and feminist scholar—the best way to understand our world is through our daily language. Ngai chooses three key words to form aesthetic categories: the cute, the zany, and the interesting.

The zany is an aesthetic of production.
The interesting, an aesthetic of circulation.
And the cute, an aesthetic of consumption.

The method for understanding our relationship to these categories, and their embedded qualities, is primarily affective:

“Cute and zany objects present themselves as entirely available, as their commercial and erotic connotations make explicit: ‘Snuggle/ play with me!’ The interesting is an aesthetic judgement mixing feelings of both pleasure and displeasure, as well as dependency and circulation.”

For this visual essay I curated projects which illustrate the changes we have been going through. In my opinion, the photographers featured here are producing remarkable works which not only fall under Ngai’s aesthetic categories but also play with them. I am fortunate to call some of them friends and collaborators.

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