It has been a long-standing argument about whether life imitates art or vice versa. Oscar Wilde in ‘The Decay of Lying’ outlines in his antimimetic discourse that although life may have provided the colours for art; it is still the artist that portrays to the viewer what beauty is to be seen. An frame for your perception, describing the angle the viewer should be regarding the world. Whichever view you take, there still remains a link between the space we are culturally occupying and the art reflected in it. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, when we are living in a state of mass unemployment, McCarthyist witch-hunting, global surveillance, global political unrest and the looming threat of another world war, the sentiment would be duly represented in the art world.
In recent years, various throw-backs in style and culture have been fleeting. We’ve had a sixties, seventies, eighties and a brief nineties revival all in the name of being ‘retro’. But now, a new (or rather old, but rehashed) paradigm has emerged to reflect these prohibited, paranoid times. Ladies have started rummaging through their grandma’s wardrobe to dust off the mothballs for something ‘stylish’ to wear on a Saturday night. Young men have learned how to tie a dickie-bow and have taken braces away from the punk scene. Women below the retirement age discovered the blue rinse. Pearl necklaces and covering-up to the ankles has suddenly become sexy again. This entire regression of fashion and style reminiscing the days of prohibition.
Many ‘Air-raid’ parties have suddenly sprung up and the revered ‘speakeasy’ has come back into fashion. There is a joint in Bristol for such swinging cats that actually has a doorman behind a locked door with a peephole that you have to knock before he’ll let you in. Bristol’s Pam Pam night club now runs a weekly night called Prohibition boasting a “night equipped with cryptic codes and secret handshakes, for a new night of decadence and corruption”. All catering to a new/old style of music eloquently named electro swing. Remixing the classic works of some of the time’s favourite singers and adding bass lines and drum kicks to give it fresher, dance-floor appeal.
Mainstream film has caught on to this regression in culture and style and responded with The Artist. The first black and white, silent film since ‘talkies’ were invented in the late 1920’s. It’s a postmodern take on the original silent films and shows to have its tongue placed lightly in its cheek with the opening scene of an audience going to watch a silent film and applauding its ending. More than simply a change of cinematic pace and style, this film is placed perfectly in amongst the cultural zeitgeist and it’s not surprising that it’s placement has drawn the attention of 5 Oscars, including best film, best director, leading actress and actor.
It’s worth also noting here that Batman and Superman first appeared in the 30’s.
Probably one of the more surprising cultural emergences of late has been the recent announcement of the winner of the World Press Photo of the Year competition. An annual competition held specifically for photojournalists. The entry by Samual Aranda has sparked some controversy over the “painterly” nature of the photograph, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pietà, harking back to the Renaissance. Noted for its beauty and artistic merit and is symbolism of the Yemen’s longstanding oppression, but similarly criticised for its lack of realism and most importantly its lack of ‘journalism’.
Although the medium brought it into focus may have been misplaced, the symbol and reference to one of the most poignant cultural shifts did not go unnoticed. Just like The Artist, Aranda has not only captured a moment in time but with it has highlighted the parallels between the two time periods with the form and nature of his ‘journalism’. These distinctive cultural homages to distinctive cultural periods are possibly a Postmodernist statement about history, and thus art repeating itself and once again begs the question; does life imitate art, or art imitate life?