Movement and Art

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I am just returning from two weeks in Europe, the longest I’ve spent there.  If you’ve ever been to Paris you know how strikingly glorious it is.  Geneva and Amsterdam are also special places, with their own distinctive beauty, their own way about them.  While there I had the opportunity to visit some amazing museums and I’m truly moved by the experience.

I’m struck by the thought that so much of the intentional beauty that I witnessed emerged out of social movements, intentional social projects – they were proposals for looking at the world, for ways of being in it.  Paris seems to have evolved through multiple story lines about its destiny and its place in humanity.  The shift from the art of the Louvre to the modern art of the Pompidou, and the biographical development of Van Gogh’s art all make movement very obvious.  We can see the developmental shifts, the exploration, the experimentation and the provocation, the passionate search for meaning or definition, the eternal question.

Born in Puerto Rico, I have a sense of what it is to be a colonial subject, and so I’m not in any way ignoring the imperialist drive that fed Europe’s bounty, nor am I ignoring the horrors of global war and how so much of modern art is a response to despair.  When I refer to intentional beauty born out of social movements I’m not excluding the social movements that drive to make kings into gods or distant lands into subjects, what I am saying is that these “artifacts of us” emerged within ever evolving contexts, they are part of particular stories about who we are.

Movement, the type of movement that liberates rather than enslaves, shares rather than accumulates, connects rather than excludes, the type of movement we need if we are indeed going to shift out of our current crisis, this type of movement is also part of story.  As I return from Europe I wonder what are better ways for us to claim our own story of progress?  What is our own story of greatness? What are ways in which our art can be expressive and defining of that story?  What is the architecture for our time?

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  • Yawu says:

    I think in Western cities the more concentrated power is in the hands of the few, the more architecture becomes an expression of a cohesive vision. Hitler micromanaged the art and architecture of Germany producing a fascist vernacular that was moving in a really creepy way. In Paris, it was Napoleon III’s planner Baron Hausman(?) whose vision resulted that city’s transformation from a medieval metropolis to a modern (by 19th century standards) city. He leveled 60 percent of the city to create the Paris we now see.

    I don’t think there is an architecture of our time. Certainly not in Boston. I think the culture here is too staid and backward-looking. Too obsessed with bricks.

    I think the art of people-centered social movements can have every bit as much of an impact as the architecture produced by dictators. Social movements can combine graphic art, murals, music, literature and captivate the imagination. Unlike the built environment, the art of social movement can change and respond to the forces they are struggling against and can celebrate victories.

  • Gibran says:

    Wow Yawu, thanks for the thoughtful response, your words resonate with me. Seems like you point to an essential question for those of us who are interested in “the shift.” How does the voice of the multitude articulate itself?

    I do think that taking an active part in defining our shared story – even as singularities – is at the core of an answer…

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