Art and Architecture

Futurism and Other Pipe Dreams

Old power plant in Austin, TX, that looks like it was transplanted from World War II Europe

Austin has an old power plant of stark concrete and graphic signage that looks like a Socialist factory from the mid 1900s. Seeing it gets me thinking about an architectural movement called Futurism, which preceded World War II and placed emphasis on impossibly long lines as well as images of movement and strength. Futurism was primarily Italian and Russian, and – due to the political and financial instability going on in those countries at the time – precious few Futurist buildings were ever constructed. This means almost all Futurist architecture was relegated to an existence on paper, and this week I’ve been haunted by thoughts of what it must have been like for those architects to never see their buildings erected…

Antonio Sant’Elia sketch of his Futurist plans for the never-constructed “La Citta Nuova”

Yakov Chernikhov’s futurist architectural dreams

The Futurist movement also included literary, visual and musical artists, and I can’t help but imagine these craftsmen were more fulfilled than the architects. I mean, if you compose and play a song on the piano it is then out there in the world in its intended form. Sure, you could dream of hearing an orchestra play the song, but it’s still existing out there in the world as sound. For architects to only have their work exist on paper must leave them with a far lesser sense of completion; not only is their building not being made with marble, it isn’t being made with plywood or modeling clay either – it doesn’t even exist in three-dimensional space. And, isn’t dimension what separates architects from painters – structural engineering what separates them from sculptors?

As an artist there is a constant struggle to get your work recognized, produced and funded, but imagine never seeing a single one of your ideas come to fruition. This concept makes me shudder, but when I really think about it I realize it’s a common fate in my profession… Screenwriters work on scripts for years, and of the select few who sell a story fewer yet get to see it on the silver screen. Personally, I’d be happy with this scenario because my main goal is simply to make a living writing and telling stories; however, movies are meant to be seen and not read, so my career comes with an inherent risk of spending eons on stories that may never reach an audience. I guess this makes a strong case for cutting out the middle man and putting the fate of your art into your own hands (be this producing your own film, publishing your own book, or performing your own musical compositions, etc.).

I can only imagine Futurist architects trudging through snowy European streets with drafting portfolios, just trying to will their sketches into brick and mortar. Maybe it felt like being in love with a person they could never be with, or perhaps the satisfaction of dreaming up Futurist buildings was enough for them. After all, doesn’t the real satisfaction of any artistic endeavor lie predominantly in an idea’s inception? Isn’t it gratifying enough to be able to create in any capacity, regardless of whether your project makes it past the drafting stage? What do you think: does artistic satisfaction lie in creation or completion?

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  • Reply Tony December 1, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    There is a certain ecstatic oblivion that comes with writing fiction; the creation of new people, new places from whole cloth, the otherness of that world which you are at once a part of and always standing outside of-losing myself in my work is one of the best parts of the job. There is another joy altogether in a finished script, a sort of cool calm that lasts a few hours until other stories worm their way into my mind.

    Selling my material would allow me to write full time. Seeing it made into films, television would be very nice. Sure.

    But this gives me satisfaction above all: reaction to my work. Not critical, but emotional. Laugh, cry, be repulsed and be elated along with my characters. Connection, however small, to another person through my work is the grand prize. All fiction writers are, in essence, couriers of emotions. If that only happens once in ten scripts (for one, I’m probably a shitty writer) but I’d be happy.

    So it’s like this: Creation is a given. Completion brings contentment. Connection, I believe, is what we all strive for.

  • Reply J. R. Coté December 1, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Very astute, Tony. I like the idea of connection being a writer’s grand prize…When someone has a strong emotional reaction to a work you know a writer has done a great job, and I’m pretty sure I agree with you that this show of emotion is the ultimate compliment.

    I could twist this and ask if you think all writers are inherently disconnected and if that’s why we strive so hard to make emotional connections, but I don’t think this hypothesis is remotely viable enough to even voice. It’s like you so eloquently state: creation is inevitable – it’s the necessity. We don’t seek connection because we need it or lack it, but because it feels so damn good. There’s no high or physical connection greater than the sensation of making someone feel something through the page or screen. And it turns out congratulations are in order for you, because you’ve just made me feel like pondering this topic all night.

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