What do clothing designers and historians have in common? They both look for patterns! 

That’s not where the similarities stop. When we watch closely, we can see how the course of aesthetic trends and historic eras run parallel to each other. This makes sense when you think about how aesthetic trends integrate culture, the individual and the economy. Historic eras are commonly identified and interpreted through the aesthetics that dominated the era.

A hundred years ago, the art deco movement dominated the 1920s. A pastiche of luxury interpreted through a modernist lens, art deco reflected the zeitgeist of its time: faith in societal and technological advances. Forty years later, the conceptual art movement captured the rebellious spirit of the ‘60s as it shifted the emphasis of art from material objects to the concept and message itself. This counter-cultural movement subverted the gallery institution’s role in determining what was considered art, and it also required the audience to engage in active interpretation instead of passive observation.

Flash forward to the turn of the century: In the infancy of the internet, rapid advances in technology gave us instant access to anything we wanted. After a preoccupation with materialism through the economic ups and downs of the early aughts, the 2010s closed with a revived interest in minimalism, where capsule wardrobes and tiny houses were all the rage. 

We also gravitated toward terra cotta ceramic materials and sported earth-toned, monochrome outfits (see: Man Repeller’s all-beige “stick-of-butter” look). The digitally-born art movement, in which artists create content intended to exist exclusively in the digital realm, also picked up momentum during this decade. With the advent of social media, the audience is required to take on not only an active role in viewing art but an interactive one. Perhaps our return to the earthy and tangible reflected the desire to ground our presentation of identity in a world where we are at risk of being reduced to avatars.

In the 2020s, we will enter the post-internet age. Technology will grow more intuitive, blurring the lines between humans and cyborgs. Artificial intelligence will continue to grow, perhaps gaining the potential to achieve complete artistic independence. As a result, we will crave transparency and truth in media, communication and technology. This will translate into an aesthetic obsession with glass and clear materials, according to contemporary artist Gabi Abrao, who also runs the meme/wellness account @sighswoon on Instagram. Abrao says that glass is “an allusion to nothingness, the intangible, the intuitive.” 

“We will crave glass and clear materials for our collections. Ideas will float and land in ways that reflect the process itself, regardless of final form,” Abrao writes in an article for Muff Mag. “We will let go of more objects. We will let go of feelings that hold weight as if an object. We will no longer fear the invisible or interpret it as emptiness, but see it for the truth and freedom it holds.” 

Glass is at once invisible and tangible, and both of these elements are essential to the post-internet aesthetic experience. In this era, the invisible/digital does not take precedence over the material; the emphasis is, rather, on the synthesis of the two. After initial resistance, we will inevitably come to embrace the digital as an extension of ourselves — or, as Abrao once meme’d, “the cyborg in me recognizes the cyborg in you.” 

Ian Wallace writes that “while earlier Net artists often made works that existed exclusively online, the post-Internet generation (many of whom have been plugged into the Web since they could walk) frequently uses digital strategies to create objects that exist in the real world.” 

Superimposing interactive digital strategies as an overlay allows us to become the author of our own experience with the art. Moreover, we can take the lessons of clarity and truth learned from our interaction with the digital realm and become intentional to seek these in our own lives, helping to shape the values of the coming decade.