The only thing more trite than writing about how art has such an important place in our lives and asking how come we don’t value it more is writing about writing about how art has such an important place and blah…topped only by talking about art as an abstract entity…
So, this is one of those posts.
One of the joys of being back in a big city is the constant presence of art. Admittedly, it’s far too often art done so that the person can say, hey, I did art, look at me, but as with all human endeavors we have to throw out some dreck to get to the good stuff. That good stuff is all over the place, as hopefully my previous posts have made relatively obvious.
The Art Nouveau work that I’ve seen on this visit to Rome have been breaths of fresh air that I’ve clearly enjoyed, especially as I watch the trends then morph into Art Deco and other styles. I have to keep reminding myself that art in all its forms talks to what’s gone before it and what it envisions for the future, and even I can see that that’s what’s going on here.
I’m clearly not one of those high-falutin’ art scholars, and I tend to be pretty uncritical as a judge, but one thing I value is those who try to imaginatively and in a serio-comic fashion enliven their world, in ways beautiful, ironic, witty, and empathetic. Art Nouveau scratches all those itches, especially as it insists that art can be found anywhere. This is a slippery foucauldian slope, of course, but in my mind artists mess with power in ways that are nearly always subversive, so take that Michel!
Take, for instance, the fountain at Piazza Mincio. The image below is from yelp, of all places:
The fountain interacts with the architecture around it in ways that aren’t always harmonious (but sometimes are), letting us know that we are not in ancient Greece. It contradicts (directly, I think) the embedded power that drives classical Roman art, and it playfully imitates a lot of the Baroque artifacts we see walking around town. It also has a life of its own – it’s a fountain, for crissakes, with a purpose, and its frogs and plants pay homage to the swamps that used to dominate the landscape that is now Rome.
The intentionality of its relationship with the neighborhood is a critical component of what it’s doing, I think. The eyes of the bas-relief sculptures projecting from the walls stare down at it, and a sculpted spider (bronze?) lurks in the lintel above a door on the building on the southwest corner, catching any bugs that the frogs miss.
The socioeconomic (and status-driven) privilege necessary to make this type of interaction happen is probably quite clear, and it’s perhaps a very white, middle-class, straight cis-gendered ideal. Still, I think there’s pretty abundant evidence that humans like to try to put meaning into their lives whenever they can, despite their circumstances, and that’s a pretty cool part of being human, one that’s easy to embrace.