The Romantic movement was about strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience.
The movement was, in part, a revolt against the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment with it’s scientific rationalizations of nature.
What a wild ride it must have been when artists starting working Romantically. Like the fresh crisp air that blows in after a stifling humidity.
The Romantic Age, which was rooted in the Sturm und Drang movement (literally Storm and Urge, or more colloquially Storm and Stress), placed an emphasis on intuition, trepidations, horror, terror, and awe.
The Romantic artists embraced the exotic, the unfamiliar, and harnessed the power of the imagination to envision.
Nowadays, we take this sort of thing for granted in art. We expect to be moved, and in fact, feeling something profound is one of the hallmarks of art. One could say that art is based almost exclusively in powerful feeling.
When I went to the Alexander McQueen retrospective on Sunday at The Met, entitled Savage Beauty, I had no idea I would be as moved as I was. I think seeing Pina Bausch’s Vollmond at The Brooklyn Academy of Music was the only other other cell-altering work I’ve seen.
After both shows, and during, I cried. I cried from what is attainable expressively as a human being through art. The magnificence of being able to express your emotions through your work without saying a word. Show, don’t tell. It’s the golden art rule.
Starting as a tailor on Savile Row, and then as a tailor at Givenchy, McQueen’s foundational base of his creative genius was rooted in technique. And then, when he had mastered the rules, he broke them.
I would assert that this is what is so strong about McQueen’s genius. I don’t think you can be such a creative force and create utterly dazzling, gravity defying, imaginatively shocking work, unless you know the rules and technique of your medium.
This element is missing from so much work today. Everyone wants to “be an artist” yet not many want to put in the time and years it takes to learn the technique of the craft. To understand the tradition of whatever medium you are working in, and labor there incubating.
There’s a lot to be said for deep quiet study and labor. Everyone wants the publicity that can accompany great work, but so many people are posing and rushing to have their work seen as if this is the holy grail.
Imaginative expression is the holy grail.
McQueen is a good measuring stick. His passion and courage and original thought leap out at you and you feel a bit ashamed that your life is so pedestrian and your thoughts so banal.
This sort of shame, if it’s truly the accurate word, and I don’t think it is, doesn’t bother me. It fuels me.
The show is put together by Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennet who put together McQueen’s runway shows, and their design is a marvel. The Met spared nothing in the level of experience the viewer has.
I know the Dalai Lama’s religion is kindness. I would have to say, that if I had a religion, it would be art.
I left The Met feeling overwhelmed with goose-bump-appreciation for the work McQueen had done, and I feel inspired in my own life to create more, risk more, think more, feel more, not hold back.
I’m always holding back creatively. It’s so utterly annoying.
The twist in the story is that Mc Queen hung himself last year, distraught over his mother’s death the night before her funeral. His tender heart so confused and his tolerance for pain overridden by a horrible fugue of thought to end his life to stop the pain.
No photos were allowed because The Met doesn’t own the show. I wouldn’t want to spoil it anyway. It’s an experience that is not only stunningly visual, but the lighting and music lend itself to breaking your heart wide open so that all you can do is keep uttering to yourself, oh my god.
I sat on the Met steps afterwards and created these photos below on my iPhone as a small homage to him. The colors of all these photos are what I feel about him. If there was a tartan or sado-masochistic filter in one of my photo apps, I would have put that on there also.
Here is a link to see some of the clothes in the show and some terrific comments by Andrew Bolton, the costume curator of The Met. Morning T: Andrew Bolton interview.