Monday, September 21, 2009

Beauty is as Beauty Does

Jacques Louis David, The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine, 1805, detail

In our postmodern culture we emphasize freedom of style. We are free to choose how we appear and act in the world. We consider the creation of fashion and art as fully charged by ideas to create singular visions in the world. In dressing, we act as though “subjects are prior to objects,” and that clothes express identity. However, this thinking is unique to prior centuries. InRenaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory,” Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass explain a very different way of fashion not as personal vision, but as imposed identity formation. During the 1500’s through 1700’s, clothing was placed upon individuals as a way of transforming identity. It was the placement of the crown that made the king, and servants clothes were given as a form of payment and assignment of social place. We still use clothing to assign identity and role. The crowing of Miss Universe and athletic uniforms are examples of willfully accepted social designations.

Jones and Stallybrass also discuss the development of the idea of fetish in the 1600’s. The word origin is debated but is generally connected to ritual objects worn on the body. The authors suggest that the Protestant iconoclasm eventually extended the word fetish to mean an “over-reverence” for any thing other than God with wearing objects on the body as most forbidden. In conclusion, the authors consider art portraits as evidence of fashion but because the sitter often wore his or her best clothing for a portrait, we have less records of everyday clothing.

Designer Zandra Rhodes and Design Museum director Alice Rawsthorn debate whether or not fashion is art. The focus of their discussion is Ossie Clark, in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2004. Was Clark an artist or just a fashionable persona creating beautiful clothes of the time?

Mr. and Mrs. Ossie Clark and Percy by David Hockney, 1971

YES: Zandra Rhodes
Fashion is like a “decorative applied art”
Fashion is influenced by art
Fashion will eventually take over the arts

NO: Alice Rawsthorn
Of course not!
Beauty is a bi-product, not the goal of art
Fashion is just the headlines of history

In the “Beauty” chapter of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, Warhol explains his understanding of beauty from people to things. He emphasizes beauty as “being something.” This was important to Warhol’s Screen Tests filmed from early 1964 - November 1966. The evidence of personality as beauty can also be seen in his polaroids. Warhol also emphasizes the subjectivity of beauty, explaining: "everybody’s sense of beauty is different from everybody else’s. When I see people dressed in ridiculous clothes that look all wrong on them, I try to imagine the moment when they were buying them and thought, 'this is great. I like it. I’ll take it.' You can’t imagine what went off in their heads to make them buy those maroon polyester waffle-iron pants or that acrylic top that has “Miami” written in glitter. You wonder what they rejected as not beautiful – an acrylic halter top that had 'Chicago.'" Wahol's humorous idea is an example of lateral aesthetic thinking, instead of opening oneself to all possible aesthetic options, one considers only equal investments of time, money or style.

Warhol, Untitled and Truman Capote

In his 1969 article, “Who Are the Tastemakers?,”Joseph Konzal proposes that art is a “dressing” of life. He suggests that the relationship between money and art determines its history, what is supported to be made, what is collected and importantly, what is shown by museums which is normally that which will attract the biggest audiences. The idea of tastemakers in fashion and art is the idea of vision being imposed, rather than people being inspired to freely express beauty the idea of beauty has already been decided by someone. The article still applies today and prompts a question about today’s tastemakers in fashion and art. The tastemakers are those who guide the magazines, awards and museums, as well as the leaders of the fields. The store Colette and blog of the Satorialist support more independence in taste. See The Art Power 100 list for art world tastemakers.

According to the Satorialist, you are the tastemaker!

Stephen Gan, founder of Visionaire and V Magazine, Carine Roitfeld of Vogue (Paris) and anonmyous

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