23 March 2012

Butt Ugly Blight

Let’s face it – much of our built environment is a horrible mess. Architects are often complicit in this, but more times than not, the advice and skills of architects, planners, urban designers and landscape architects are not only ignored, but contradicted outright. The bankers, developers and capitalists have had their run. We have had policy based on support of two industries: the fossil fuel industry and the automotive industry. Accommodation of the automobile has made a wasteland of our country, and turned our people into fat dumplings incapable of locomotion.
Unbridled development coupled with risky lending practices led us to a fiscal meltdown. And what did we get out of it? The greatest building boom in our nation's history, and we have built a bunch of shit sprawling all over the landscape. It is clear that building is one of the driving forces of our economy. In terms of energy, buildings consume 50% of annual consumption. the industrial capacity for buildings and the stuff that goes in buildings (furniture, fabric, lighting, etc.) probably accounts for half of our economy. But the designers of the built world are not accorded the respect and authority they deserve. Design is not aesthetics. Designers solve problems - they make things work. Architects, interior designers, landscape architects, urban planners and designers are hired to make things work. The financiers and politicians have made a mess of our economic system, it's time for the architects to have the opportunity to make a mess now.


I have to acknowledge some of my heroes and influences in my artistic life - people whose work I have admired and, in some ways, influenced my thinking. I grew up in a house with some art. It was strange stuff - my half brother said it was like visiting the Addams family. My father was a friend of Leonard Baskin, and his works hung around the house, as well as prints by Kathe Kollwitz. Then there were the strange drawings of my father, Ed Crawford. These drawings are obviously figurative, whereas mine are primarily formal and architectural. But I also hope to frame something about the human condition in some of the work. There is also a mood to which I aspire. I like the darkness, but I also try to express a level of hope in my own work. There is a level of social consciousness to which I aspire, but rarely reach.

Cry - Leonard Baskin

Rebellion - Kathe Kollwitz
Prisoners - Kathe Kollwitz
Plowing - Kathe Kollwitz

Ed Crawford


I think it is necessary to define terms. Oddly enough, I like the wikipedia definition of poetry. For my purposes it is the best description of the act as I experience it:
Poetry (from the Greek "ποίησις," poiesis, a "making" or "creating") is a form of art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its ostensible meaning... Poetry often uses particular forms and conventions to expand the literal meaning of the words, or to evoke emotional or sensual responses. Devices such as assonance, alliteration and rhythm are sometimes used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poetry's use of ambiguity, symbolism, irony and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly, metaphor and simile create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived."

With few changes this can work for architecture, painting, drawing, and many other arts. Visitors to Wikipedia will see that I was highly selective in my quoting, taking only the elements that further my point. I am going to parse some of the terms in this definition.
1. I like that the original Greek root for poetry is "making" or "creating." Of course linguists and classicists will be quick to point out that this is very different from "fabricating," and was a term reserved for words and ideas. The visual artist is engaged in the act of both making and fabricating, for the object is imbued with meaning.
2. "Language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to its ostensible meaning." Thus the sound of words and their relation to other words is as important as its meaning. This is also the case in architecture, where the form and materiality of say, a door, adds to its ostensible meaning or use.

The literary devices listed in this definition have corollaries in the visual arts.

22 March 2012


Here's a free market approach to the bail-outs of the big corporations: Instead of pumping up failing industries, industries mired in the old economy (auto companies, giant banks), instead give the bail-outs to people. The argument for saving GM was the preservation of jobs. But jobs that produce what? Why not give the money to ordinary citizens, and let them dictate the winners. The money will generate jobs. Of course, you can't win. That makes the assumption that the ordinary citizen and the market in general has any idea of what they are doing any more so than government and politicians. Also, the ordinary citizen will likely spend the money to pay down debt rather than on ordinary consumption. A total economic meltdown was averted, but perhaps that is what is needed. Germany and Japan are two of the most prosperous nations on earth, in large measure because not only their economies were leveled, but also all their industry and huge swaths of city. We kind of need a good calamity to jolt some action.

Hiroshima 1945 and 2010