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  • Writer's pictureMarcel Mensah | Eat More Spiders

Introduction to Internet Aesthetics and Cultural Movements

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Introducing Internet Aesthetics

The “internet”, in many ways, has grown into a cultural extension of humankind. From small computer networks to forums to social media platforms and personal websites - we as human beings have slowly but surely been transforming the internet into a living extension of our own in-person communities. As online communities have evolved, especially over the past 20 years, more and more subgenres have become “mainstream”.

In this series, we’ll be looking at (primarily visual - and mostly weird) cultural movements across the history of the internet. If you’ve been an avid user of online spaces then these are definitely movements you have come in contact with, whether you participated in their growth or not. Some recognizable favorites include: Dreamcore, Afterhours, Poolcore, The Backrooms and Liminal Spaces.

Before we can dive deeper on internet aesthetics and the various visual / conceptual movements that have sprung up in the past 15 - 20 years - we should talk about two things.

  1. What is an internet “aesthetic”?

  2. How niche or large does a body of work / ideas have to be in order to be recognized?

These two questions will have vastly different answers depending on who you ask and depending on what piece of net culture you’re referring to - so for our sake let’s get on the same page about these two things.

Question 1: What is an internet aesthetic?

“Aesthetics” is a word derived from the Greek word "aisthetikos" that refers to perception through the senses. It’s often used to group pieces of work with stylistic, tonal, and visual similarities across mediums.

While the word “Aesthetics” has been floating around in the history / art world for a very, very long time, currently there two era’s of “aesthetics” to consider:

  1. Classical (or pre-modern) aesthetics

  2. Modern (including Internet) aesthetics

Classical Aesthetics:

Classical Aesthetics often refer to society’s outlook on understanding beauty and art before the 17th century. To build on that, Classical Aesthetics often discuss the science of how an individual or a society feels about something. For example, The Greek’s understanding of the “ideal” human body is an aesthetic derived from the visual representations they had of their gods (Zues, Hera, Eros etc.). This was less of an individual understanding of beauty and form, and more so an extension about how society felt about beauty and quality.

Modern Aesthetics:

In contrast, when we use the term “modern” aesthetics, we talk about all things post Renaissance / post Scientific Revolution - and “ In its broadest interpretation, modernism signifies the world as perceived by Western individualist culture…” (Ref).

Simply put, Modern aesthetics is based on a more individual, western understanding of form and beauty that has been developing since the Renaissance. (it should be noted, there are arguments saying we actually live in a postmodern world, as ideas and thinking have become more decentralized. But we’ll keep our definition simple here!)

Modern Aesthetics in the way that we know them originate from things like nostalgia, niche lifestyles, and popular media (games, movies, art, etc.)

“Most of the time, aesthetic visuals and culture reflect a sense of nostalgia, beauty, melancholy, wistfulness, harmony, intrigue, surrealism, pondering, or a combination of two or more of these elements… When people online call something “aesthetic” they are saying that the visual, mood, person, or object is reflecting one or more of these elements.” - Vowlenu

For this series we’ll be talking about aesthetics in the modern / post modern sense.

Question 2:

How niche or large does a body of work / ideas have to be in order to be recognized?

This is a great question! One of the most interesting things about the modern internet is its ability to nurture communities regardless of size. Today, a community can be a fandom of 10 people reblogging one another on tumblr, a minecraft discord server of 10,000, or a twitter community of millions following the latest viral trend.

The ability for Internet Communities to exist in small pockets or at scale can be translated to visual movements / aesthetics as well. An aesthetic can be extremely niche or widely known, and this fact doesn't change its ability to be just as valid as its counterpart.

This is where the distinction between classical (more societal) and modern (more individual) aesthetics come into play - it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks about something anymore, it just matters what you consider legitimate, and how well you can find other people that agree with you.

What are some examples of Internet Aesthetics?

Internet Aesthetics can be broken down into 5 key categories:

  1. Space Aesthetics - After Hours, Liminal Space, Unliminal Space etc.

  2. Core Aesthetics - Dreamcore, Cottagecore, Wierdcore, Poolcore etc.

  3. Wave Aesthetics - Vaporwave, Chillwave, Synthwave etc.

  4. Group / Subculture Aesthetics - Emo, Steampunk, cyberpunk, etc.

  5. Academia - Pastel Academia, Dark Academia, Light Academia, Chaotic Academia etc.

(Note: as we publish more articles on some of the above articles, we'll start linking them in the above list for easy viewing! You can also visit the Internet Aesthetics Series page HERE.)

Pictured: A strange liminal space with nostalgic, elementary school / playroom features

Pictured: A great example of Dark Academia - Dark libraries residing in medieval-esque architecture

Keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules about what an internet aesthetic is, and often these categories are intersectional. For example Jared Pike’s “Dreampools” are tonally rooted in liminal space aesthetics but at the same time lie visually in the Poolcore genre. So when we look at these movements try to stay flexible!

For a more comprehensive list of internet aesthetics and genres, check out a few of my favorite blogs / Articles:

Keep Reading! Check out the next article in the series below:

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