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Style vs substance
It is the rare person in modernity who can balance the two. But if you want to leave a lasting impact (as opposed to just having fleeting, low-value attention) you have to.
In all creative work the intersection of style and substance is a recurring theme and one of the great polarities. Most are completely unaware they’re trying to balance these, but everyone must. Having the right amount of aesthetic appeal backed up with depth is a tenet that holds true across domains – from raw artistry to marketing and beyond. Let's talk about this interaction with some insights of historical figures and artists who seem to effortlessly thread the two.
Style: how you present your ideas
"Style is the outfit of thoughts." - Lord Chesterfield
Much like an outfit that complements, style is the visual (or otherwise lizard-brain sensory) representation of thought. It wraps ideas in an appealing layer, making them stand out and resonate (or perhaps blend in, as that’s sometimes the intent - like filler in a picture frame at a Target). Artists like da Vinci and Mozart have presented their work with distinct styles, conveying their expressions in a way that is instantly recognizable. In the digital realm, this seems more difficult, and that’s because it is. Standing out in a world of infinite choice is just harder (and in my sense unappreciated by most who wouldn’t read a post like this). The game is not the same any longer. You still need to find a path here or you’ll be forever lost in obscurity.
Substance: the core of authenticity
"Substance endures, while form is fleeting." - Dee Hock
In a world of constantly churning trends, substance forms the foundation of significance and persists external of the ADHD real-time web. It outlasts the transient allure of style. It must be timeless (as much as that’s possible). The profound ideas of Newton's laws or Socrates' dialogues have spanned generations, rising above the temporal nature of trends (where everyone seems to want to play to feed the dopamine dragon). In the digital age, substance elevates an idea from fleeting to enduring. You’ll have to spend time on this part in a recurring fashion to have a shot at anything sticking (whereas style is recurring, can be determined initially and done best is simply a natural extension of yourself).
Balance: the art of harmony
"Nature doesn't do things in vain." - Aristotle
The natural world is for sure the best place to look to for symmetry and balance. From the Golden Ratio's proportions to the symmetry of a nautilus, this exists everywhere you might look. Similarly, the relationship between style and substance thrives on equilibrium. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, there's elegance in balance – the merging of style that invites and substance that engages. It's the fusion of persuasive or captivating visuals with important concepts that strikes somewhere deep. This is why some time in nature will nearly always help validate your thinking (aka why people say to ‘touch grass’).
Evolution: a conversation over time
"The artist has no value without the gift, but the gift lacks meaning without effort." - Émile Zola
Time witnesses both the evolution of creative expression and that which persists. From the Renaissance's rich tapestries to the minimalism of the Bauhaus movement, artistic forms evolve while the principles of style and substance remain constant. Said another way: truly great work can be appreciated by all, even well past their ‘time’ and ‘trend.’ In the digital age, content mediums change, but meaningful engagement stays. A compelling design, an engaging format – they invite, while the substantial discourse sustains.
Reflection: crafting with intention
"Every great work of art has two faces, one towards its era and one towards the future, towards eternity." - Daniel Barenboim
Amid the content flood, the thoughtful creator ponders the balance between style and substance. A captivating style serves as an initial attraction, but substance prolongs the connection.
Can you have too much style and not enough substance? Sure – and it can go the other way too, especially if you don’t have the reputation yet to create something thick with substance that glosses over style. Our society is simply not primed for anyone without a name to waltz onto the stage and be heard without putting on a show of sorts. There are exceptions, if you’re lucky enough to be ‘found’ by someone who sees your depth and is willing to go to bat for your ideas (a benefactor: either the financial or reputational variety). But you could wait forever here, it might be long after your death, so why not make your own luck by also learning to create a wrapper for your work that is palatable. As usual, I don’t make the rules.
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