Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 2, "Culture's Frames and Filters"
section 8, "What's in an Arch?"
section 9, "Constructed Walls"
It's time to conclude Chapter 2, so I'm posting my summary of the last two sections at the same time so we may move on. These sections are closely tied in content, so it makes sense to consider them together. "What's in an Arch?" begins with the author's overwhelming reaction to the St. Louis Gateway Arch when she first experienced it. For those of you who haven't seen it, there's a picture below. According to Richmond, the arch was designed by Eero Saarinen, the architect who also designed JFK International Airport and Dulles Airport, the John Deere & Co. headquarters, the Kresge Auditorium at MIT, and so on. Unfortunately, he died in 1961 at the young age of 51. The arch construction didn't begin until 1963 and took two years to complete, so he never saw it.
Richmond reflects upon the fact that although the design for the Arch was considered radical for its time, it was no longer considered radical by the time it was built. This is because Saarinen had designed and constructed other modern buildings in the time between the Arch's design and construction that shifted and shaped public opinion. The author comments: Imagine yourself creating a design or artwork that is too radical to be accepted, and then your work over subsequent years influences the field to such an extent that your earliest work is considered groundbreaking.
OK - I'll imagine that. Although I'm not on the A-List of artists, I can identify with this to a lesser degree. My first eggshell paintings were viewed with raised eyebrows by many of my peers and jurors when I revealed them five years ago. After a couple of years, they gained favor and started winning awards at juried exhibitions. That led to solo exhibitions at galleries, and features in books. Then the eggshell paintings began to sell to the general public, so I own very few of them now. These days, I actually get emails from people who are using my concept in their own paintings and want me to see what they've created. I make no claim to greatness here, but, in my own small way I experienced what Ms. Richmond asks us to imagine.
The rest of this section is a philosophical exercise in answering the question: "What's in a Monument" and leads nicely into the final section of Chapter 2, entitled "Constructed Walls." Here, the author explains the impact of visiting Eastern European historical sites and memorials that evoked in her thoughts about the meanings of walls. She writes: My personal walls are built by me, by choice. On my trip, I saw these monuments as metaphors for cities where the personal spaces were others' constructions and were made not to protect feedom of thought but to annihilate it.
Since Richmond's second chapter is concerned with culture, I was hoping for a grand conclusion and was a little disappointed not to find one. Therefore, I'll write my own here:
Human history records numerous cultural revolutions in societies around the world over time. These were times when the existing culture was forcibly repressed during political and social upheaval. Intellectuals were persecuted or killed, art was destroyed, books were burned, and cultural symbols and practices were prohibited in an effort to completely eradicate the culture itself because its influence threatened those in power. But, no cultural revolution ever completely succeeded because, without killing the entire population, the survivors preserved their culture within themselves. When the oppressing regime is toppled, the repressed culture is resurrected in one form or another. And (here comes the grand conclusion!) the arts play an enormous role in the revitalization of a repressed culture. Poets, writers of prose, painters, sculptors, actors, and dancers remember, interpret, and relate to us what once was, what is, and even what will be. We artists reflect the culture we live in and that influences and informs us, but we are also responsible for keeping culture alive.
What I wanted to read at the end of this chapter, and did not, is the enduring nature of culture; the desire of the people who live it to continue it even at the cost of their lives and all that they hold dear. This is what informs and concerns our art.