Message - Re: tradition and innovation

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Posted by  Paul Malo on September 13, 2002 at 07:23:35:

In Reply to:  Re: tradition and innovation posted by Kevin Matthews on September 13, 2002 at 00:39:51:

You're right about the extremes, of course--and it's one of those ever-present trade-offs, Emerson's notion of "Compensation."

These discussions seem to founder on different meanings of the same words. In the last post I was making the distinction between Modern as an architectural style (which lives) and modernism as a world-view (which is dead in many places, but surely not in many other parts of the world). Similarly, I think you are speaking of "Postmodern" as that rather amorphous "style" represented by the likes of Graves, whereas I often speak of the postmodern world-view, in contrast to the modernist world-view. There is no "Postmodern" architectural style that I can identify--there are merely postmodern architects.

The question of "authenticity" is a good one. I can guess your age, from that, Kevin. Let's agree that there is something worth considering in this quality, but can we isolate it?

Authentic to what? The modernists wanted to be authentic to the times--the Zeitgeist. Were they? That's another interesting question. As suggested in some recent posts, the most characteristic aspects of a period may become more evident in retrospect. When you're in the forest, all the trees get in the way.
This keeps historians in business, redefining the forests of the past. When you read the literature of the times, written during a period past--say of the 1950s--the world as seen by those living in it was not the world of the 1950s as we have subsequently redefined it. So much that has since changed was taken for granted, accepted as a given--say about race and gender, for instance. We who were there didn't view these issues in the same way that we we see them now.

The point, of course, is that it may be fallacious to try to define what is most characteristic of our own time, and to express it in architecture. Looking back at the modernist quest of a Modern style of architecture, it seems that they really hoped that style can create a period, rather than finding a style that expressed a period. It was the "Brave New World" view.

I agree, of course, that "rarely does an 'ism' attain a monopoly on truth and beauty -- except perhaps for a time in the eyes of its own acolytes." This is why I have been defending the work of architects like Stern who are blatantly eclectic. In terms of "authenticity," the only difference I find between Meier and Stern is that Meier has chosen to specialize in one period style, whereas Stern is more versatile. Does that make Robert a greater or lesser architect than Richard? That's not relevant, since both produce fine architecture.

My view of "authenticity" really was conveyed in the recent post that tried to distinguish between the artist's "voice" and the supposed "style" of the art (as defined by others). Artists know very clearly what authenticity is. That's what makes the difference between the exceptional and the competent. It has nothing to do with honesty in expressing the times, but everything to do with honesty in expressing the artist. This is where "style" becomes an obstacle to the artist, since adherence to what others have regarded as proper may impede what seems genuinely authentic to the artist.

As a critic, what galls me is failure to recognize genuine authenticity, or (put another way) the consistent gestalt deriving from a controlling taste, but rather only seeing superficial style as being correct or incorrect.

As you may imagine, this was always a sensitive issue in the academy, which tends to stylism. I was often the loose cannon on the faculty jury, one who recognized and defended the maverick student, the fledgling designer who was (in my view) truly authentic. But the matter of pedagogy in the design studio is another very large subject.

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