London: Many would disagree
Many would disagree that London falls short of being an aesthetically pleasing city. It reproduces what can only be described as repetitive advertisement. It is evident that East London for instance, has a style of its own, juxtaposing it from the other boroughs.
However, one must admit that London’s gentrified and impoverished segments look identical to those on the other side of the city. Beyond minor differences, Londoners mostly chance upon kitsch whenever they feel the urge to stroll or visit the sprawling town centre.
The lack of aesthetics that I allude to may not be a problem on its own since one can restructure the world around them to make life a little more beautiful. A lick of paint and some intricately designed chandelier would do the trick.
However, the city drains its inhabitants to the point that such minor endeavours fail to be adequate. I know what you are thinking: “Well, some people love London?”. Yes, some do. But, besides those who genuinely do, I’d like to see what they tell their therapist as opposed to an online opinion poll.
Most of the city bemoans the increasing atomisation, decreasing living standards, pollution, depression, anxiety, sadness, lack of closeness and the inability to find pleasure in most things. Most of these things indeed exist in other places.
Still, a Londoner is incapable of seeing, for instance, how atomisation pumps itself with steroids in London, crowning the city with individuals that are masters of their skull-sized kingdoms, castrating any sense of community and an interest in edifying endeavours. Being unable to identify the redeeming elements of beauty amid such issues, one does not act on it as a problem, which means one often misses out on admiring or producing something beautiful as a form of redemption.
London does not reach such low standards simply by lacking a population of aesthetes. Beauty does not simply emanate from a sensitivity to it, but in the inclination where the ineffable lies, that lurks beneath the everyday, informing our behaviour and corrupting us whenever it feels misunderstood.
London lacks an intellectual base of the limp-wristed; The city is mainly tense and stilted, veneered with civility and civilisation but existing as an empty schizoid whose identity is destroyed and rebuilt whenever a new bit of advertisement enters the retina. The life of the mind dwells in obscurity, coming off as pretentious or elitist whenever it exposes itself through a human. A society obsessed with money, numbers and abstract data can seldom resonate with the humanities and art.
The embrace of daily beauty
I have been called every name under the sun for proposing that London (and the UK in general) has impeded its own cultural and artistic advancement: Lefty communist (not a slur) trying to destroy the nation; exponent of mickey mouse subjects (a phrase used often to describe the humanities); and, of course, pretentious.
After I wrote to my MP and others about the importance of humanities and how we need to inoculate culture into the younger generation and, perhaps, start community courses whereby free. Intellectual discussion is celebrated and somewhat sanctioned, I received lip service. It is best I gave up on them, but not the public. Freedom, beauty, and a fulfilled life inform aesthetics– and these values can only be taught, thought about, reconsidered and broken down via critical thinking.
Injecting the dangerous drugs of “success” and “money” has left us as intelligent beings racing towards insanity, potentially towards death in an ugly city. It turns out I’m vindicated and not alone in this.
A study released in late 2021 suggests making the humanities and languages until the end of schooling to ‘boost humanities applications in University’. But a further case can be made here: As I have said above, such an endeavour is imperative to a healthier, better society that does not tolerate ugly aesthetics that exist to optimise profits for, and a deviation from busy lives will prod the population to incorporate creative endeavours that aren’t profit-driven into their lives.
In no way can I claim the public flails around with an inept brain, or assert any form of intellectual superiority over anyone else, let alone the public at large, which does not exist necessarily as a monolith juxtaposed to oneself. Indeed, the beautiful, ineffable, intellectual, and poetic appreciation even lives in children: In 2007, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell went busking in the New York metro for a few hours.
Some folks took time surrendered time from their busy minds to listen to him play, and some dropped a tip into his hat. Most interestingly, kids accompanied and restrained by their parent’s hands try to stay to listen to the violin against their parent’s protest. Such a happening, I believe, is an incredible manifestation of how we naturally incline towards sacrificing time to observe the beauty around us.
The early Zen Buddhists and Taoists started to notice the beauty of everyday objects, starting with teapots and cups, metamorphosing into tea ceremonies and congregations. Gradually, the realisation embroidered the beautiful and thoughtful Zen and Taoist art. As some time passed, the origins of the get-togethers when everyday life took over, becoming merely a forgettable way to relax.
Today we forget the beauty in everyday objects, including forms within our commercialised culture. For this reason, I have started taking pictures of ordinarily beautiful things that remind me that the aesthetically pleasing exists and maintains its infinite possibility.
In the meantime
In the absence of beauty and thus in the presence of crude commercialisation, I realised that I had only been travelling to areas in the city where I could find beauty or feel “at home”.
I gave it a name: My aesthetic resistance and this is why walking has taken a central role in my life. Besides its health benefits, walking forces us to examine the world around us. What we perceive as everyday objects or a poster we walked past one hundred times this year may be far more beautiful than we think.
By walking, you’ll discover hidden gems: I’d find an old pub or head to a café that still maintains a character that coffee chains like Starbucks keep assassinating. Sometimes, I’d stroll within a middle-class residential area, wondering why the gates lined on each side of the street, the front gardens, the Georgian architecture is cosier than my bed or how I ended up in Oxford Circus, shopping myself into a consumerist hell.
Sometimes, you’ll find me in a snooty coffee shop in Brick Lane, pretending to be a writer or an intellectual. Perhaps, you’ll bump into me at a bookstore in Soho, whereby my next stop will be a cocktail bar. Traversing through great sentences in the basement of an establishment while Lofi hip-hip deflects the din of the external world and uproots me from the consumerist constituent of London.
It places me into a world in which one can luxuriate in a reverie through the brilliant pros of Nabakov and, at times, the insanity radiant in Jack Krekoua. Yes, I’ll accept the idea that I’m “pretentious”. Indeed, one must pretend.
Despite my pretentiousness,, I’ll strap my camera over my shoulders; and whenever I feel annoyed at its constant bumping on my loins whenever I move, I’ll snap something beautiful.
What I love is the juxtaposition of every day objects: a lamp on a mirror perhaps. A lense can focus on something and render everything else redundant, creating a dreamlike state; along with some editing, the potential of a city like London can be manifest. If you are a good photographer, unlike me, the outcome is even better.