Art for artists

Lovely day! We had two separate private students today, both learning about patterning and construction, and how those two things are (or should be) harmoniously connected in order to create beautiful corset designs. 

It all ties in to a topic I was discussed with my boyfriend yesterday, at his birthday dinner. Baroque sensibilities. 

I had a vague interest in Baroque at university but, being not historically inclined, never studied it properly. It was more just the varied and wild aesthetic (and what it conveyed) that appealed to me. Misshapen pearls, gold everywhere, impossibly unnecessary detailing… Well the other day I began reading a book by a classical dressage master (Charles de Kunffy) and his opening discussion of the principles of Baroque really resonated with me, and more concisely expressed something that I have often felt. 

In short, the sort of work I am often attracted to is excessive. I often “gild the lily”, shamelessly. Always have. Nature is extraordinarily beautiful, but it is a beautiful expression of itself. Artistry takes nature in a very different, more extreme, direction. But that make sense as it also is an expression of itself (ie: something human). So the two things become very different, and people somehow end up feeling like there is a tension between the two. As though you can’t appreciate both natural and created beauty, as though one is true and one is false. But surely human-created artificiality is just as authentic as every flower that springs from the ground without human intervention? And perhaps this is why real nature before my eyes is beautiful and why a McQueen gown is beautiful (and I mean that both are utterly affecting and transcendent, in their own ways), though the levels in between don’t mean much to me… At any rate, throw a McQueen clad model into a lake and you have something beyond beauty. 

But, the most extreme couture can be seen to be ugly by the masses. I often remember a Mugler corseted catsuit covered in clear quartz and crystals which was deemed incredibly ugly and confusing by dozens of people commenting on a youtube video… People who, I imagine, wouldn’t consider a piece of quartz in itself ugly. And perhaps this is the thing about art taken to Baroque extremes. It becomes elitist. That doesn’t have to be with regards to class or status, but certainly with regards to education on the particular form which I suppose is usually tantamount to the same thing. Art for artists. Jazz that goes so far into itself that the wider audience grow tired of it. Opulence in architecture that becomes offensive to the masses. Couture which appears wasteful or to be born from greed when, in fact, I don’t know a single greedy craftsperson… I simply know craftspeople who wish to refine and explore their craft as far as they can. 

Artists with a baroque sensibility perhaps alienate outsiders in their pursuit for some sort of personal pinnacle. I found a passage online that I quite liked with regards to this… 

We can relate the ideas of Descartes to beauty in the eye of the beholder in Baroque art by examining it in the same way that we examine our understanding of self. It is not as simple as stating that I think something is beautiful and therefore it is […] we have to look at our understanding of what beauty means to us.

Baroque might have it that there isn’t one true perfect beauty, but rather lots of specific, busy, grotesque beauties, created with particular reason and with a great wealth of knowledge and skill to back that reason up. But thus, the art/music/whatever won’t make much sense to those who aren’t privy to the why of the thing. 

To get back to that passage from Charles de Kunffy: 

Extravagance, attention to detail and ornamentation always add rather than detract from the Baroque conception of perfection. The grand design is always the result of beautiful and carefully executed minutia. The stunning precision of seemingly frivolous detail has the cumulative affect [of] perfection through grandeur.

— Charles de Kunffy, “The Ethics and Passions of Dressage”

De Kunffy is talking about dressage. But he could be talking about corsetry. Or about percussion. Or any other artform. No-one massively cares if I use 4mm or 5mm spiral, except me and the collaborators/collectors I have who are of the same mind. The wider corsetry audience certainly wouldn’t care if a pattern has 13 panels per side or 14, or if I used pure silk rather than a mix, or if binding is finished with a particular kind of stitch… but these are questions that I’ve cared about and pursued to high levels. Simply because if something captures your imagination and critical thinking skills, then it makes sense to me to pursue it as far as you can.

But there is a point, as suggested above, at which a truly receptive and knowledgable audience shrinks. Which probably sounds utterly horrific and snobby, but it really isn’t meant that way. I don’t understand the intricacies of cooking… fine dining would be wasted on me, I’ve zero interest in it. I cannot stand most jazz either, but that’s okay. It’s not meant for me. But I love and appreciate that there are people for whom these things are art forms of the highest order: precise, expressive, beautiful, aesthetic. 

And all of this is part of why a craftsperson must, to an extent, make things for their own sake and not follow the whims of a buying public. Easier said than done, for sure. But there it is. And in fact, this puts hobbyists and part-timers in an exceptionally strong position. They can create art with fewer constraints. And after all if you’re going to do it, do it. Make something extraordinary. Make something that is such an extreme refinement of the skill you’ve developed that the most of the world will find it grotesque. Why not? But at the same time, don’t be afraid to dabble. Dabbling is enjoyable, it might lead somewhere exciting. And even if it doesn’t, nevermind… one doesn’t need to master every skill in the world in order to make a worthwhile contribution! 

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