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March 25, 2013 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Believing in the Belief of Art

The 19th Century architect Otto Wagner wrote that “it may be accepted as proven that art and artists have always represented their epoch”. This is easy to see—art and architecture are perhaps the easiest way of visually communicating a period of time—an image of the Great Pyramids compared to an image of Beijing’s Bird’s nest automatically communicate a certain time era.

However, while it may be easy to look at material and technique to date a work, buildings and art do more than to reflect the height of technology and skill of a time—they also provide an insight into the beliefs held by society at a given time. Wagner begins to touch upon this as he states that “great social changes have always given birth to new styles”. Style is often coupled with beauty and desire, and what is beautiful and desirable intrinsically stems from pre-existing conditions and environment.

In 1600s France when poverty and disease were rife, the golden gilt gates of the Palace of Versailles put up a visual defense against hunger and impoverishment. After the great fire of London, Christopher Wren’s the Monument was constructed to rise out of the ashes and served as a source of hope for the citizens of the time. These were examples that Wagner would have likely to have considered while writing Modern Architecture. What would have been interesting for him to see was how this trend progressed—while technology advanced greatly, our environments are still designed to serve as a backdrop to a life we want to live.

As Modernism kicked in parallel to a score of new promises offered by science, art quickly began to reflect this. What would Rubens or Michelangelo have thought of the drastic absence in the paintings of Rothko and Mondrian?

So what does today’s art say about our beliefs and values? What is lacking in our society and how is this being expressed through our art and architecture? While this varies from person to person, country to country, there is an overall contradictive coupling of regularity and material abundance. The result is a desire for the raw and unfussy, and so has given rise to renewed popularity in hardwood floors, herschel backpacks and film cameras.

An art piece I would also include in this group is Florentijin Hofman’s five-storey high rubber duck. Simply called Rubber Duck, since 2009 it has swum through cities like Osaka, London, Sydney and Auckland, being warmly received all over the world. With his giant inflatable duck, Hofman seeks to bring people together, to loosen the emotions strung from modern routine. There have even been instances where the duck has brought people to tears! So is the Rubber Duck the embodiment of the current human condition? Is it the Sistine Chapel, the Mona Lisa, the son of Man, of our time? Most would say no, but perhaps Wagner would think differently—in the uniform seas of traffic, of concerns with overpopulation, of global warming, of violence, in a very simple way a giant rubber duck does in fact represent what we as a society ultimately want believe in—an unfussy form of happiness.

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