Thursday, August 27, 2009
Preamble to a Quasi-Review
So as people like to do on blogs, so too do I finally come to it. Yes, the dreaded here's what I am reading, watching, and obsessing about currently post. I guess I am not as interested in giving a formal review of these cultural tid-bits as much as I am interested in sharing my thoughts on their relevance to the ongoing dialogue of this blog.
As some of you may know, and others may shortly become aware, I was recently invited (perhaps accepted might be more accurate though) to give a talk at the 2010 Society of North American Goldsmiths conference in [my new home town of] Houston, Texas. The title of my talk will be Altruism, Activism, and the Moral Imperative in Craft. And while not so long ago I finished a 60 page thesis of the same title, the intersection of craft and morality has always been an insatiable interest of mine, and so the research for the talk to be given at the conference continues. Perhaps this post is an advertisement in a way, but I also wanted to solicit my readers for recommendations (if they are so inclined) as to where interesting and relevant information may be found concerning this topic.
Taking a cue from Charles Leadbeater, author of We-Think (which I am currently reading), here is a link to my thesis, and in return perhaps you can offer some resources or insights that I can apply to my upcoming talk. Of course open source information sharing and the opening of intellectually property through digital technology has a role here somewhere. Social change requires collaboration, at least on some level.
The link is absurdly long, so just click here.
Without Further ado - The Rape of Europa
A book written in 1994 and made into a movie over a decade later in 2006 is hardly breaking news. I am sure that many of you have seen the movie or read the book, but as I sat down to eat quesadillas in my living room this evening and unwind with a mildly interesting documentary on my Netflix watch it now I had no fucking clue how much this movie was about to blow my mind.
On the most basic level The Rape of Europa is the story of Adolf Hitler's interest in Art. The Nazi's plunder of the great collections of Europe and its consequences seems just a footnote in history but the film brings the magnitude of this footnote to life. The two hour film covers pretty much the entire WWII European theater of war and the museums and collections that were affected, taking the viewer through the entire war and up into the present day to the repatriation of many artworks whose ownership is dubious.
Constantly I was confronted in this film by works of art that I know and love that could have been lost forever. Pointedly, I recall a scene of the Nike of Samothrace being evacuated from the Louvre, one miss step and the ancient masterpiece would be lost to the world, any hesitation and it would have no doubt been claimed by the invading force.
But for me the subtext of the movie is poignantly raised by one interviewee, a WWII vet who was charged with protecting works during the Allied invasion of Europe. To paraphrase, "These were tough decisions, on one hand we were weighing human life against works of art on the other." And from the distance of nearly seventy years now, this question seems a difficult one to answer.
Weighing Life and Art
As a maker I deeply feel the weight, history, power, and (monetary) value of objects. Perhaps more so than a layperson, but perhaps not. How do you weigh two things against each other that are both priceless? I found myself wondering if my life is worth a Rembrandt? Three Rembrandts? 27 Rembrandts? How many Rembrandts is my life worth? Or perhaps the better question is what amount and which priceless European art treasures would I willingly sacrifice my life for? What a bizarre question?
I think about how many people find meaning and inspiration in the paintings of the old masters, or in the Duomo of Florence. I wonder if that sort of sacrifice would really be worth it? I mean if it was a Rodin sculpture, forget about it, but Michelangelo's David, would you really want to live in a world without it?
But what if it was someone else's life? Military commanders charged with both the capture and preservation of a country were in an unenviable position. I can't imagine putting someone in harm's way to protect an artwork, but at the same time, I personally feel that a world without art is inconceivable, unacceptable. The loss of a Raphael I never even knew about (as the film recounted) felt like the loss of an acquaintance. The painting was a friend I will never know.
But stepping back for a second, my inability to choose either art or life is perhaps a reflection of my inability to separate my altruistic intentions/activities from my own art making. Making an object whose sole goal is to create more beauty in the world I would speculate is the province of a person who would sacrifice life or lives to save the artworks.
design: e2 : the Economies of being Environmentally conscious
The other recent media interest of mine is design: e2, a PBS series featuring the narration stylings of Brad Pitt (ooo-la-la). e2 is a series about sustainable (or green) architecture. With many proponents in the environmental and architecture worlds, from what I gather, the series has now had 3 successful seasons. At first I couldn't even believe they could make that many episodes about the topic. What interests me again about this program is the same theme in a different guise, weighing art and life. In a PBS series you say? Yes. Many people lay it out in different episodes in different ways, but it comes down to this: Contemporary Architecture [design is implied here too] is going through an identity crisis that is dividing professional practitioners. On one hand some believe the role of the architect is primarily to help save the world by designing with the future and the impoverished in mind. One the other hand the traditionalists hold firm to the belief that the primary (or only) goal of the architect is to build a beautiful building.
I had really never thought of framing the future of functional design in such a way: aesthetics vs. sustainability. You can bet that this polemical framing wasn't lost on me. Can you see it making its way into my talk...?
As always comments welcome on the post, on the thesis, and suggestions for the talk too.