August 9, 2012 by Ronn Ives, under Larger Forces at Work, The Antiques, Design and Art World.
August 9, 2012:
It’s raining. Beck is inside on the stereo doing some rapdisco funkthang.
I like Beck just as much as the next fella. He’s a talented musician. So is Lenny Kravitz, Phish, whoEVER… There IS a lot of talent out there doing their best to make SOMETHING of “value” in an atmosphere of total cultural and economic insecurity. (You may need some historical awareness or memory/time put in, to understand this short rant… but here we go:)
True “Modern” means consciously breaking with the past, and finding new solutions/expressions… not for the novelty, but for improvement / advancement of culture. Examples: Bauhaus design in our own early 20th century, Penicillin, and “designated drivers”.
“Contemporary” means anything that is currently available for consumption – even if it revels in the past. Example: Ethan Allen reproduction “early American” furniture. This attitude is based on the supply & demand of fashion. Fashion is contemporary. Nostalgia is contemporary. As you read this line, this moment is contemporary, but not yet nostalgic.
“Postmodern” means returning to the past to cherry-pick ideas and bring them forward with (hopefully) at least SOME creativity hidden in the shish-kabob of historical attachments. Example: the brilliant Italian Memphis Group designs of late 1970’s/early 1980’s Italy.
“Retro” is contemporary. (In the 1980’s, it was called “New Wave”.) It means producing new things designed look/sound/etc. like a period of the past. Example: Burger joints (a few of the McDonald’s, all the Sonics, and Rally’s) designed to look like those drive-ins of the 1950’s. This attitude is totally based on nostalgia and opportunism. Examples: The new BMW “Mini” car, the Plymouth Prowler, the Chevy HHR, Southern cuisine, and the B-52’s rock group.
“Rip Off” means copying that which has already been done. Example: Much of what we come in contact with each day. This attitude is totally based on greed and the lack of courage to be truly inventive.
You see? It’s that old Art vs Craft, Invention vs Tradition, Creativity vs Repetition thing again! And before a couple of you get your delicate bloomers in a wad, hey, I like traditions too! I like the tradition of holidays, stop signs, safe food, families, and my watching a film every night…
“Modernism”, as a very conscious (you might even say SELFconscious) movement, began around the end of World War I. It lasted, in one form or another, until the mid-1960’s. After that, Nostalgia took over again – which existed BEFORE WWI. (Art Nouveau was a nostalgia movement. “The machine is destroying us all. We need to grow more flowers, and live in the woods.” If this sound vaguely familiar, review the 1960’s counter culture movement…). Modernism, on the other hand, said “The solutions of the past aren’t working for us anymore… we need new answers for a world that hardly resembles what has come before.”
Considering what happened between 1860 and 1920, it’s no wonder. The mechanization of war, the industrial revolution, the car, electricity, the light bulb, camera, plane, train, the telegraph, telephone, radio, drug cures, you name it…………. it’s ASTOUNDING, really. The list feels endless.
Anyhow, I feel lucky that my formative years were within the last decade and a half of Modernism. Why? Because there was an all-encompassing optimism built into it. A FAITH that humans could, with enough effort, make a difference… and, with dedication, do ANYTHING we chose to do. Modernism allowed humans to think we could change the world for the better (or worse, if we weren’t careful)… and in fact, we created the evidence. We want things faster? Okay, we invented them. Bigger? Smaller? More powerful? You got it. What else do we want? Was it all for the better? No. But, would you rather live in pre-industrial America? I’ll just speak for me here: No. NO way.
So Beck, Lenny, WHOEVER – god bless them all – are mere results (NOT causes) of our post-Modern illness in this culture too insecure (thus weak) to truly, TRULY look forward with the confidence I experienced (and took for granted) the first 13-15 years of my life.
Am I getting Nostalgic? Sure! I look longingly back at a time when we didn’t look longingly back.
PS: Anyone without conscious, personal memories before, say 1965 or 1970 is probably out of luck relating to this one… unless they’ve done a lot of reading and discuss such things with us OLD MODERN-minded folks.
BTW: Copying off the paper of another school kid near you WASN’T called “Covering”… except with your arm.