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On Likes, Loves and Style

You can imagine my joy at seeing the particular quote that Bradley Cooper chose to open his biopic on Leonard Bernstein.

In it he inaugurates his film with focus on what art is in a definitional sense and the opinion of one deservedly celebrated  musician regarding the matter.

It is most unusual for me in posts like this one to indulge in discussion of topical or contemporary art work or culture.

When I have done so, say to discuss Kelly Richards’s or Ryan Murphy’s aesthetic approaches it has been to address questions hopefully larger than our present.Part of my reasoning for this choice is in the service of a modicum of cultural literacy; my insistence that there was a world before the 2020s or 00s. 

If I have spent thousands of hours learning about and being involved in art work from a relative past it appears inevitable that I should want to display my history with such things.

One of the objects of my attention is the wardrobe created for the Dominic West interpretation of Charles of England. I have long loved the Savile Row tailoring firm of Anderson And Shepard and I have known that at least some of Charle’s wardrobe was custom created by that firm.

This was also a favorite firm of Fred Astaire.

Fred Astaire, your podcast host Mitch Hampton both in jackets from the same weave

But I am not looking at his clothes to see if they have been done correctly or not; I am looking at them because I simply enjoy seeing that kind of clothing realized in the world, or, in this case, to be accurate, unreal representation of the world, aka art, and I am lucky enough to live in a world in which this one television show has featured such clothing as part of its wardrobe, and in a truly deflationary fashion, included just get the period and real life historical figures “right” and not because there is any general affection for such clothing today in the real world.

Of course if you are unfamiliar with this mode of men’s dress you would not know or be expected to know that this one Savile Row firm has one unique style of suit or jacket and trousers construction, one often described as a “soft” style.

Moreover, you might have noticed that this style is contrary to what has been promoted for and worn by most men over the past twenty years or so. If we go back to menswear that is not produced by a mass market nut on Savile Row, are other tailoring houses in England which, even if they are making the very same mode of dress, do subtle features rather differently, for example their treatment of shoulders, lapels, the interlinings and myriad other choices.

And to make sartorial matters most complicated, why we call the “silhouette” of the figure of Charles - whether real or dramatized - is precisely contrary to the silhouette of the men’s suite or jacket that has held sway for fifteen to twenty years now, one that is very tight.

Example of the tight fit

There is perhaps no better illustration of the power of dominant styles as they arrive and exit, for a time.

One of the themes of our podcast is that there are intractable and influential styles that in large part determine what any art is like. 

Since I am a fan of this kind of thing I do pay attention to such matters.

This means I will be watching The Crown rather differently than I suspect many audiences and perhaps would have at least a little something in common with, say, a woman who might be interested in the dress of Diana or even the Queen herself.

Of course all of this is not to have a post about fashion or even the reconstruction and representation of past (and sometimes recent pasts at that) time periods in dramatic art. I am returning to a theme about the connections between distinct and separate aspects of aesthetics. My main point is to say that as a culture we have underestimated the power and decisive centrality of the “house style” as it were. One of the chief missions of this podcast is to put a spotlight on such styles as styles.

What they are not is simply truth or reality per se  and so on and this is still the case even if all artworks contain inside of them things that can be said to be both realistic and truthful.

The question of house style plays a central role in a matter I have not fully explored until this post: my learning to love certain forms of 20th century abstract art. Unlike my love for, say, Miles Davis or Oscar Peterson which was immediate, even instantaneous, my journey with non-figural visual art is something that developed over most of my adult life.

When in my first episode of my aesthetic series I spoke of and included documents of a 1980s Red Grooms Show I was choosing an episode or snapshot of my life at the very moment I was educating and enlightening myself about artists like Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Willem DeKooning, Barnett Newman, and finally and much later, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.

I can’t emphasize enough the enormous influence of “houses” like the Whitney or MOMA.

Not only did these make available the experience of certain kinds of 20th century art works in person as they were intended, but to be a little literal in my formulation these houses were, for a time, homes.

This was the feeling I also had, of course, for the great movie theaters of that era.

These abstract artists were about many things, not merely a single thing, and among those things was a sense of liberation from the privileging of reality, realism, “likeness” and other assumptions of older periods of art.

You can say that these were cases of growing into new loves over a slow and evolutionary journey in time. Humans have greater capacities for journeys like these that are usually realized in any lifetime. I don’t feel that most of my podcast would be in existence were it not for these personal experiences. In this one sense my personal experiences are always already present in everything I do, And all of these experiences have only confirmed Bernstein’s aperçu:

I am never looking for a final answer or a goal but am instead interested in the experience itself.

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