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[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]R. Moore
Fri, 14 May 1999 17:08:02 -0700 (PDT)
Cindy Cronn raises a very good point about our aesthetic regard for
excavated ancient art objects. We generally presume, simply because of
the obvious effort and cost that went into making these objects, that
their makers thought of them as beautiful. But, of course, many of the
large, important things we make--even monumental artworks we make--aren't
thought of as beautiful by us. The Oldenberg sculptures are a very good
example. Or Smithson's works, or David Smith's. So, what should guide us
in reasoning about ancient attitudes toward the objects we unearth?
I think there are many ways in which artists and artisans indicate
whether something is to be regarded as beautiful or something else. Take
those wonderful, huge statues of Dacians supporting building elements in
Trajan's Forum. Beautiful? MAybe. Maybe not. But, certainly the MAIN
IDEA the Romans had in mind in presenting these figures as architectural
elements (caryatids, I guess), was that these were strong and worthy
opponents whom Rome had conquered, so that their might was now being put
into service in the glorification of Rome and her emperor. It was a
political perception, rather than an aesthetic one that was foremost in
the sculptor's mind, clearly.
Recently, a large team of scholars (artists, linguists,
geographers, designers, et al.) were commissioned by the U.S. Government
to design "Forbidding Landscapes," sculptural artifacts meant to warn off
folks who might wish to dig or explore in the area where we plan to plant
our long-lived nuclear waste. The idea was that in a few thousand years,
when some of the waste is still lethally radioactive, the surrounding
terrain, the nature of language signage, language itself, and so on, may
have changed so much that only a visible, tangible sculptural artifact
would suffice to tell folks to stay away. The resultant design proposals
were (intentionally) anything but beautiful.
Teachers of older students might want to try this real-life
project out on students. What designs would THEY come up with to warn off
invaders to a dangerous site if no words, no signs, could be trusted to
endure long enough to be effective?