A while ago I spent a delightful few days in Napier, New Zealand, enjoying a weekend celebration of 1930s elite lifestyles, an annual event inspired by the architecture that dominates the centre of town. By design it was more Hollywood fantasy than reality, but that made it all the more fun. An inspiration.
The ‘art deco weekend’ also brought just about every 1930s car in the country into one spot, and that got me thinking. There were hundreds of them, polished, preened and restored. And they were more than just demonstrations of the love their owners had poured into them. Though they were that. They were more than just world automotive history. Though they were that too.
They were art. Art in the sense of abstraction – of the way concepts can be poured into something real, then invoke emotion in the recipient. Perhaps, if the artist is lucky, the intended emotion.
These cars encapsulated the spirit of the early twentieth century, an age of shapes and forms made possible by the wild collision of new thinking, new materials and new demands – particularly the need for genuine streamlining in ever-faster aircraft. That translated into art, it translated back into the everyday on the ground, mingled with infusions of Mayan styling, and lifted everyday objects like cars, tea-cups, buildings, vases, furniture – and everything else it touched – above the mundane. In part it was a product of depression thinking; a rejection of gloom. And ultimately the whole floated on a conscious effort to transcend the nineteenth century – to simplify, to streamline. Literally.
It came out in writing. What is Hemingway, with his sparse style, if not art deco? The styles that emerged in everything from ashtrays to pens to cups to buildings to cars to art were an explicit rejection of art nouveau. Modernism – of which ‘art deco’ was a part – took the new and exalted it.
To me it came together in the cars, because they were art for everyman, art in a real sense; an ultimate expression of the materials of the twentieth century – metal, chrome, glass, rubber and bakelite. Conceptually they carried a vision – accessible to everyday people, even if only as a drive-past glimpse – of hope in an age beset by war and depression.
And isn’t that inspiring?
That relationship between time, society and art hasn’t gone away. And art is an expression of human abstract endeavour – encompassing not just painting, drawing or sculpture, but all the ways in which we can communicate through the abstract. Writing, for instance.
What do you figure?
I’ll be back blogging full-strength from 14 January. Here’s what’s coming in 2013:
– posts on kindness and the positive side of the human condition…with
– some posts on my favourite writers
– some posts on New Zealand scenery and photography
– a systematic how-to series on writing
– some science geek posts
– a short series on history mysteries
– and more
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013