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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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Question: What is beauty?

Antonelli: What is beauty?  Well beauty is very interesting because it’s changed a lot in the 20th century in a much more interesting way – a much more interesting way than it used to be before.  When Philip Johnson, you know the great curator, and architect, and patron of MOMA, and one of the people that interviewed me for my job . . . and he was so provocative I cannot tell you.  He did a show called Machine Art in 1934.  He took propeller blades and coils and put them on white pedestals against walls as if they were ____________ sculptures, because he wanted to show people how beautiful design can be.  But at that time he was talking about platonic beauty.  He wanted to show an absolute beauty – something that is above the fray of the world; that is universal; and that everybody can recognize.  Now that idea completely burst during the 20th century.  And you know I used to be a punk, so hey!  What can you say?  You know beauty is so relative.  And you can see that today beauty is really up to the individual, and it’s more an expression of something that is a personal composition.  I used to say that it’s Madonna and _________ that kind of destroyed the idea of platonic beauty.  Because if you look at the __________ actresses – the ones that have profiles that look like not even ski slopes; that are completely vertical and are these beautiful Picasso women – they’re not classical beauty.  They are a beauty that is completely . . . that is completely subjective; but at the same time because it is so strong and objective it becomes universal.  So so much happened in the ‘60s, and ‘70s, and ‘80s in terms of new ideas of beauty in the body and human beings; the fact that, you know, the first Black model on the cover of Vogue.  You know just all of these different changes; or even the Dove commercial last year with the kind of heavyset women showing that they were beautiful too.  When it comes to the human body you can go through this narration very easily.  When it comes to design it’s not that different.  You can’t anymore talk about a certain platonic beauty.  But it’s more about what people see in the object.  It’s more about communication and meaning than it is about form.


What is beauty?

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