Visual Culture
What Do People Want to See in 2018? Images of Silence and Solitude
Photo by Paolo Seimandi/Adobe Stock.

Photo by Paolo Seimandi/Adobe Stock.

Turns out, what the world wants to see in 2018 is a little bit of peace and quiet.

That’s according to an annual visual trend forecast compiled by Adobe’s stock image team, which names “silence and solitude” as one of six categories that consumers will be particularly drawn to in the upcoming year. Images in this vein overwhelmingly feature isolated natural scenes, from mountaintops to vast lakes, or individuals caught in contemplation (often holding cups of coffee)—all rendered in a calm palette of blues, whites, greys, and greens.

Photo by Fran Mart/Adobe Stock.

Photo by Fran Mart/Adobe Stock.

“I don’t think it’s a surprising turn,” notes Brenda Milis, principal of creative services and visual trends at Adobe. “These are wildly unpredictable and aggressive political times. So it really is about respite in one’s own company and maybe disconnecting from the crazy goings-on, finding stability in silence rather than in polemics and vitriol.”

2018 brings the third such report issued by Adobe Stock, although Milis says this year the format has shifted to focus specifically on visual themes rather than broader “creative trends” (which in 2017 included such topics as our “relationship with technology” and a “desire for simplicity”). This year’s conclusions were informed by a partnership with trend forecasting company WGSN, which sent Adobe weekly, sometimes daily, reports on the state of culture worldwide.

Photo by Michael Schauer/Adobe Stock.

Photo by Michael Schauer/Adobe Stock.

Although Milis says fine art was certainly one one reference point, the prediction process is much more in-depth and wide-ranging than one might expect. “It’s not just about attending cultural events,” she explains. “It’s about reading studies on gender, studies on textiles, different kinds of social and political academic papers. In other words, it's not just conjecture. It's deeply studied data.”

Throughout 2017, Milis and her team scoured the WGSN reports for repetition. “What we look for is not just things that we find resonant, but redundant,” she says. “The more redundancy we're seeing in these wide-ranging reports the better. You start to hear this constant clarion call about a theme across many, many, many cultural studies.” That, in combination with internal data from Adobe’s stock image repository—including the most popular search terms—allowed them to pull together a list of categories that they believe will resonate most strongly with people in the new year. (Other groupings include “history and memory,” “multilocalism,” and “the fluid self.”)

Photo by Marcel/Adobe Stock.

Photo by Marcel/Adobe Stock.

But they’re focusing first on silence and solitude, a theme that resonates beyond 2017’s bombastic political arena. In 2016, a study revealed that the average American spends more than 10 hours a day in front of screens—significantly more time than they spend sleeping. “We have an overwhelming amount of information” at our fingertips, Milis notes. “So we’re finding this increase in people wanting to unplug, both literally and metaphorically, to simplify and to really just take a few deep breaths and get your own thoughts back, rather than having your thoughts and ideas be constantly hammered by so much information.”

Artists throughout history likely wouldn’t have contested the importance of peace and quiet for artmaking, either. Sculptor Louise Bourgeois had little patience for idle chatter. “Solitude, a rest from responsibilities, and peace of mind, will do you more good than the atmosphere of the studio and the conversations which, generally speaking, are a waste of time," she wrote to a friend in 1938.

Artist Agnes Martin, famed for leaving the New York art world to paint in solitude in New Mexico, put it even more succinctly. “The best things in life,” she once said, “happen to you when you’re alone.”

Abigail Cain