The Picturesque

Posted on November 23, 2008

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There are paintings that depict Horses and Carriages (by Monet or Pissaro, say) but few or no paintings of cars.  The distinctive idea of romance in the contemporary is missing.  Why is that?  Why is the car not picturesque?  Romantic?   Here what I mean by “romantic” has to do with the sense of the adventure of the individual imagination as it were. Something (increasingly) seems to prevent this from happening, as we move through the Century, for adventure and technology seem increasingly incompatible – exclusive.   A gross anonymity replaces, or seems to replace, the individual (the lyric imagination) in its hope for crystalisation in such terms: for identity to be resolved into the dimensions of an artefact.  From World War I on, it is possible to find illustrations of cars or aeroplanes or trains that are clearly important as objects to the persons depicting them but they lack in individual presence, there is a kind of corresponding ‘loss of soul’ in the successively new makes of car that have come out over the decades.  For example, while there is a definite iconography in the made-for-poster war images of spitfires, in stylishly simple white wall tyres of holiday Deusenbergs, they decline quickly into the real world more or less romance-less photographs of the present day: that is to say into clear cut adverts with all the attendent loss of texture and manners that this implies.  This is a postmodern condition: how all the icons representing our modern lives (cars; ipods; computers and so on) stand beyond artistic representation.  In romance terms in effect these all but existing as an invisibility.  The ipod silhoutte figure that one sees in adverts is the closest thing that technology can get to romance, but on the other hand that is just an advert and points not to the individual but to the mass culture of fashion’s endless bottle of ginger pop.

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Posted in: Aesthetics