Your Aesthetic is Everything
What do Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Jobs, and Anthony Bourdain all have in common? An introduction to the concept of Aesthetic Identity
I spent my teenage years in a constant maelstrom of rotating identities. This is an experience I’m sure many of you reading will have found familiar. Some of these identities I consciously chose, others were almost forcibly foisted on me by my friends based on what they saw me do. Almost none of them are what would instantly come to mind if people meet me now.
If you knew me when I was 13 or 14, then I’d be the person that everybody comes to for tech advice. 15 or 16, and perhaps I’d be the “Guitar Hero Guy” because I was just good enough at a video game to compete internationally and skip school. A few years later, and I would be the person who’s the first in line at every rock-adjacent concert in town.
Identity is a funny thing. We think it’s all in the head. That our sense of self is tied to something internal and constant. But it’s not. Everyone has different facets of self all vying for space within. And this is constantly changing. The You from 5 years ago is different from You in the present which is different from what You will be in 5 years.
I spent much of my early 20s exploring and developing my tastes in what some might call the “finer things in life.” Fancy food, rare whisky, tailored suits. It probably still comes off as pretentious to many, and it certainly was when I first began my journey of sorts.
But what I realised was that developing a taste for what worked for me and what didn’t gave me a much more coherent sense of self. I found myself more grounded, more certain of my own actions and my own thoughts. The external was a feedback loop into the internal.
This brings me to the concept of what I am going to call Aesthetic Identity. It is a framework in which I am attempting to build, one that allows you to see yourself through the lens of each of your individual senses.
What is an Aesthetic Identity?
Your aesthetic identity is a product of what you consume, and it manifests in how you present to everyone around you. Most people think of aesthetic in visual terms, but I think it’s much more powerful if you encapsulate all 5 senses.
The most memorable people have an extremely strong and coherent aesthetic in at least one sense, usually more.
Musicians are great examples. Good musicians produce pieces that have a distinct musical aesthetic. But the Superstars? Those that make it big? They have an exceptionally powerful and coherent *visual* and *musical* aesthetic.
Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of Darkness, is not someone you quickly forget. Even those that don’t listen to his music know who he is.
But that’s just one example, you say. Let’s move away from music. How about Steve Jobs? The way he dressed was completely consistent with the design philosophies of his products. Sleek and minimalistic. But when you say Steve Jobs, you don’t just think about how he dressed, or how an Apple product looks like: You recall how it feels to use an iPhone or a Macbook. How the entire interface was designed to be buttery smooth. Sleek, like how it looks. Coherent in more than one sense.
Anthony Bourdain is another one with an absurdly strong aesthetic identity. He has such
Aesthetic Identity is about expressing agency in a world where the invisible hand of the market is constantly guiding you towards the latest and greatest trends.
Think about the examples I gave above. Why does the aesthetic feel so powerful? It’s because it’s unique, and it doesn’t shift despite what the whole world tells them. Because they know what their aesthetic is.
I mentioned above that aesthetic identity is about both what you portray, as well as what you consume. People often forget the latter guides the former. It's almost as important that we choose what not to consume because everything shapes our subconscious in some way or form.
There's a distinct difference between consciously choosing to eat certain fast food that you enjoy occasionally and defaulting to it because that's all you eat. Conversely, completely shunning fast food can come off as cultish. You're not really thinking about what you put in your mouth.
We can produce a distinct and coherent identity only if we make considered choices about what we consume and what we outwardly express. Those that mindlessly consume are doomed to being tossed and thrown around by the winds of popular thought.
In that sense, Dante was absolutely correct. Our lust, not just for carnal pleasures but for what society considers latest and greatest, is a sin. The sinners are forever doomed to be flung around like mere puppets in a storm, promised but never granted satisfaction.
William Blake’s The Circle of the Lustful
To construct your own aesthetic identity, start small.
Maintaining an aesthetic identity is typically not automatic, and requires effort to upkeep, especially in the beginning phases of exploration. As such, I don't think it is practical or even completely desirable to maintain it 24/7. You face the real danger of burnout and reverting to the default of not thinking about an aesthetic at all.
There is great value in setting up your surroundings and orienting your daily life around your current aesthetic. Even something as simple as choosing a signature scent for your room and yourself goes a long way.
An aesthetic identity should be cultivated, but not manicured. Having a coherent aesthetic identity helps to ground you, but having an aesthetic identity that is modeled after what you want to be rather than who you are will lead to dissonance.
My initial twitter thread which covers much of the main points of this introductory article has some ideas for each of the senses. I hope to cover more ground in future newsletters, with each one perhaps looking at specific aspects of a sense and how one can go about finding one’s own aesthetic.
I’m not here to give you answers. That would be antithetical to the entire concept. What I hope to do is to provide a novel perspective, and perhaps introduce ideas and direction that you yourself might not have thought of before. This is for myself too. I want to be able to explore the concept and develop my own aesthetic identity further. If you’re interested, do subscribe. I also welcome any and all feedback through the comments below or through my Twitter DMs.
And if you want to hear my thoughts condensed into 280 characters, drop me a follow @shrinetothevine