Friday, March 14, 2008

036. Fashion qua art. A heavily parsed and simplified thesis.

A lot of people live, as I like to call it, in a "satisfied" way. They have a few simple goals, to get promoted, to have a family, to achieve certain personal accomplishments, these sorts of things. They don't have an interest in looking at the world in a different way or broadening their understanding of how the world works. They are basically content, confined to dissatisfaction as they comprehend it within their own small world. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Unlike such people, I feel that my primary calling is to acquire knowledge; to grow intellectually, continually. I don't believe that a state of nirvana can be achieved during one's lifetime - rather, that such an ideal is something to be striven for but never attained. And as I attempt to comprehend the bigger picture, I have come to the realization that there is no one way to acquire valuable knowledge, nor should only one conclusion be drawn from a collection of data. Therefore, intellectual growth should not have a road map (there can be no how-to book on how to grow as a person) and all people's discoveries are equally valuable to the extent that they help lead up to an overall better understanding of the world.

I've read a small number of published articles intellectualizing fashion lately, which I have enjoyed. Having graduated college an English major, I've developed the ability to intelligently dissect any given work of art. And what I have found, is that you can draw as intelligent a conclusion from a Monet as you can some unknown artist's painting that is selling on Etsy. Famous paintings are often only regarded as brilliant because we believe their creators to be brilliant. But as for ourselves as observers, we are able to derive just as much meaning and metaphor from a blank canvas with a swipe of black paint on it as we should a Da Vinci painting. Hence, modern art. Does the former require as much technical skill or intelligence to create? No, but that does not mean we cannot use it as a stepping stone in our own intellectual growth. We learn something from everything.


In any event, whatever you think of my theory, since you are reading this, I think you will agree with me when I say that fashion is deeply underestimated as an artistic movement. Just as artwork is entrenched in the culture within which it is created, fashion both reflects the present cultural climate and helps push culture onwards. This process of reflection and growth is vital to the evolution of society. Just as we use the same words again and again in different combinations to form unique, new sentences, designers use fabric again and again to form new creations; even repetition and mimicking has its own significance. As I complain about how H&M does nothing but rip off "real" designers, how does this give me a better understanding of how the world works? What does it tell me about the objectives of people in our society--why have H&Ms been so successful? From an (attemptedly) detached standpoint, should it be? What would have to be different about our culture in order for H&M to fail?

Fashion has a unique position in the world because it is a part of our daily life, yet it is also an artistic expression. The current debate about models being "too thin" to be good role models is interesting because it illustrates that models are no longer as behind the scenes as they used to be; fashion shows which used to be only open to the elite of the fashion world are now open to the public through the aid of sites like Models have always been thin, simply so that they do not interfere with the flow of the clothing. (Those who are not thin, serve some other purpose in promoting the clothing.) In general, the tallness and thinness create the effect that they are godlike, elevating the clothes, so that people long to buy them to also achieve deification. And the models themselves are essentially meant to be nonparticipants in the "ordinary" world bearing these covetable commodities, in the process also becoming an ideal which we long to attain.

But do you not think that the recent, intensified focus on (and obsession with) model thinness is a product of society's increased fixation on weight? As the statistically "average" person gains weight in Western society, the divide between him/her and the ideal posited on the runway becomes even more pronounced, in which event it garners attention. The fact of the matter is that models should not be acting as role models in a society that already objectifies bodies to an unhealthy extreme. And perhaps that's why this is happening in the first place. Plus, the presence of fashion in pop culture is increasing, so we are focused on the bodies advertising the clothing.

We can never fully separate the model parading the runway wearing couture from the woman who goes into a store and buys a shirt. Clothing is both art and utility. It was designed to be worn for people. Yet we also celebrate the beauty of clothing that is a statement in itself. This is the sort of quandary that continually tries to divorce idealism and reality. And this amazing contradiction is one of the things that I find fascinating to ponder about fashion.

1 comment:

Fanatique said...

This post is spot on. And your writing is brilliant.

We'd love to have you contribute something to Fanatique, really! If you're at all interested, please send me an e-mail.

e-i-c Fanatique