From airport terminals decorated like Starbucks to the popularity of hair dye among teenage boys, one thing is clear: we have entered the Age of Aesthetics. Sensory appeals are everywhere, and they are intensifying, radically changing how Americans live and work.
We expect every strip mall and city block to offer designer coffee, a copy shop with do-it-yourself graphics workstations, and a nail salon for manicures on demand. Every startup, product, or public space calls for an aesthetic touch, which gives us more choices, and more responsibility. By now, we all rely on style to express identity. And aesthetics has become too important to be left to the aesthetes.
In this penetrating, keenly observed book, Virginia Postrel shows that the "look and feel" of people, places, and things are more important than we think. Aesthetic pleasure taps deep human instincts and is essential for creativity and growth. Drawing from fields as diverse as fashion, real estate, politics, design, and economics, Postrel deftly chronicles our culture’s aesthetic imperative and argues persuasively that it is a vital component of a healthy, forward-looking society.
Intelligent, incisive, and thought provoking, The Substance of Style is a groundbreaking portrait of the democratization of taste and a brilliant examination of the way we live now.
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Virginia Postrel writes an economics column for the New York Times and is the author of The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress. She lives in Dallas, Texas.From Publishers Weekly:
At the Great Indoors, a hugely successful department store chain, customers can choose from among 250 lavatory faucets. If that represents too little variety, there are more than 1,500 distinct models of drawer pulls. Like it or not, we live in an age where we can minutely dictate every aesthetic choice, to an extent our ancestors would certainly have found disturbingly wasteful and superficial. It is this censure that New York Times economics columnist Postrel is dead-set on dismantling. Aligning herself against "pleasure-hating" modernists like Walter Gropius and Adolf Loos, Postrel adopts the position that fashion has meaning. One of her argument's charms is that she allows Joe Q. Ray-Ban his own justification for his purchase ("I like it") against the interpretations of theorists who insist an interest in surfaces is linked with deception, status or falsehood. Postrel's apt example of the proliferation in toilet-brush design is an effective rebuttal against such theorists-after all, nobody buys a sleek toilet brush to impress neighbors who will never see it, so aesthetics must constitute much of the rationale. Increasingly, form is simply part of the function. Postrel begins by explaining that appearance has a meaning commensurate to loftier values, then examines the many manifestations of this truth. While her argument is intellectually sophisticated, Postrel's journalistic training ensures the examples she cites are well-chosen and the prose remains crisp and readable. Gracefully representing one endpoint of a certain debate, this ambitious book may someday become a classic of the genre.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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