Author Topic: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty  (Read 3116 times)

lagatta

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 13093
    • View Profile
Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« on: July 16, 2008, 10:11:16 AM »
It's a lonely business, caring about beauty

Heather on aesthetics in daily life.

Quote
Look around you. Revel in the aesthetics, in sensuous perception. "The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life," William Morris said.

I remember this, oh, every eight minutes. Aesthetics matter to me. It's a lonely business caring about the look of things in this country, but the sheer volume of pleasure to be extracted from aesthetic judgment is the size of Baffin Island.
" Eure \'Ordnung\' ist auf Sand gebaut. Die Revolution wird sich morgen schon \'rasselnd wieder in die Höhe richten\' und zu eurem Schrecken mit Posaunenklang verkünden: \'Ich war, ich bin, ich werde sein!\' "
Rosa Luxemburg

kuri

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3885
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2008, 04:39:09 PM »
Good read. One of the things that brought me to a mature neighbourhood is the large trees along the road. When I'm walking eastwards, the street goes towards a sharp downhill so much that it just cuts off visually much the same as the street I lived on in Victoria years ago that ended at the ocean. I can have imagine that my street ends at the ocean as well even though I know it actually ends at a prairie interrupted by the (decidedly not pretty Refinery Row).

Sometimes Mallick bugs me because I do sense an elitism about her judgements. (I'm thinking of a recent CBC interview about Alberta's immigration recruitment especially. She was right to disapprove but boy were her reasons the wrong ones and snobby sounding!) Here I get that too. There's a lot of name dropping rather than genuine discussion. She's right to lament a lack of arts education but if rote memorization of a visual arts cannon is what she's proposing I'll pass.

For myself, I got arts education in high school but I consider myself priviliged in that. It meant enrolling in a summer school in Edmonton and living in a motel for two summers. My family could afford that and it meant I could get hands on instruction with practising artists, visit galleries in the city, meet people etc. The other girl interested in art in my high school had to take the theory course which was available by correspondence. There was a lot of name-dropping in there, too. Oy, did it ever look dull. But you could send it through the mail. A combination of isolation, rural school funding formulas and lack of class privilege kept her from getting the arts education she wanted and was suited for.

'lance

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3468
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #2 on: July 16, 2008, 05:14:08 PM »
Mostly I agree with her, but I wonder, when she calls the art galleries "echoing mausoleums," if she's including the National Gallery in Ottawa. I loved that when I first visited it, the year it opened, and on my most recent trip (between Xmas and New Year's, 2005) felt much the same about it.

vmichel

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 837
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2008, 07:01:16 AM »
It was an interesting read. This part bugged me:

Quote
There is next to no art education in Canadian schools (a weird obsession with classical music always trumps painting and sculpture), our art galleries are echoing mausoleums, big-box stores scar the landscape, and homeowners are so clueless about basic architectural proportions that they shove Port-a-Potty porches onto their gimcrack houses and wonder why they look damaged.

There's more to aesthetics than just blindly appreciating current trends in architecture (seriously, how many times can she name-check Gehry in one article?). Inside those "gimcrack" houses there are probably many objects that are beautiful to the owner and that are kept and admired for sheer aesthetics. A watch on a dresser, a picture from a magazine tacked to a bulletin board, a colorful collection of paint chips, a perfectly crafted square joint... They aren't reflective of the current trends in design, but that makes them no less valid as aesthetic objects.

(I understand that there is a difference between art and aesthetics, but since Mallick is speaking about aesthetics in the general sense I am following her lead here.)

I have yet to meet the person who doesn't have a single thing that they take pleasure in for the sheer beauty of. Often they are quiet about it to avoid the snobbish judgments expressed in this article, though.

I worked briefly at an art museum that was on the grounds of a former POW camp. We'd periodically get visitors who were veterans who had served at the camp in WWII, and were very surprised to find it was now an art museum, but decided to go ahead and tour since they'd come all this way. Usually they had no interest in art, and no "art education" of the type that Mallick is describing, but once they came in they got it. They deeply got it.

I loved how these men gravitated towards the minimalist sculpture and absolutely reveled in it. They admired the craftsmanship, understanding more than the "artistically educated" visitors exactly how difficult it was to get that joint perfectly smooth or make those rivets flush with the surface. They also took a pure joy in seeing the kind of work that they did put to the service of making something beautiful, and had more insightful comments than most visitors about the aesthetic effects of the work.

There's more than one way to come to an appreciation of art. I am all for art education, but not the kind where you learn to worship the Gehrys of the world and be a snob about someone else's porch.

lagatta

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 13093
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2008, 07:18:27 AM »
That is true, but there is something deeply wrong with the town planning and lack of design in the "gimcrack houses". There are lots of places in the world, no richer, often poorer, where the vernacular architecture is not so bloody ugly as in the aesthetic hell of North American suburbia.

Certainly not attacking the people who live in such places - they must have reasons. But the lack of urbanism is a crime.
" Eure \'Ordnung\' ist auf Sand gebaut. Die Revolution wird sich morgen schon \'rasselnd wieder in die Höhe richten\' und zu eurem Schrecken mit Posaunenklang verkünden: \'Ich war, ich bin, ich werde sein!\' "
Rosa Luxemburg

kuri

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3885
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2008, 08:37:05 AM »
I do, however, think that the same-y, ugly houses become unique. My nabe as an example: developed in the '50's with cookie-cutter houses built from kits. There were two designs that alternated and I can certainly imagine it was very boring. But now, for whatever reasons, there's infills from all decades and I can point out the '60's, '70's and '80's house. Some of the most recent ones are a tad on the large size, but what you going to do.

My MIL's neighbourhood in Calgary, too. All houses built from Hudson's Bay kits around 1900. At that time, at the bottom of the hill there was a meat-packing plant right next to the railway. The workers lived higher up on the hill (no doubt strategic as the river floods from time to time). They all looked the same at some point. Now they don't and each house has been systematically decorated with layers of historical detail.

I actually think my MIL's neighbourhood (Ramsay/Inglewood) is the coolest in Calgary (perhaps Kensington was once artsy but now it's just Starbucks central peppered with a few upscale yoga studios). I doubt my neighbourhood in Edmonton will ever be "cool" (too many yuppie wannabes  :roll: ) but it has taken on a unique character over time, particularly as distance and expansion mean that it's now 'inner-city' (which is wasn't when it was developed).

Which is why I'm a bit disturbed as some of the recent trends in Edmonton (and I think Calgary and probably elsewhere as well) to get rid of our 60's and 70's buildings. There's a realization that we really goofed by not preserving so many of our heritage buildings by building the 'ugly' towers in those decades. But like it or not, '60's and '70's architecture, even cheap-y architecture is largely our heritage now. So why repeat the same mistake out of shame doing it once? One of my favourite buildings in Edmonton is this one. Just 'cause, who in the world would build something like that today? No one. On first glance, it's hideous, but after a while the gaudiness just sort of grows on you and transports you to a time when it was good to be bold and people actually dared to create something that is neither beige nor grey. You can feel a big degree of optimism in that design.

'lance

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3468
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2008, 09:13:58 AM »
... oddly enough kuri, I used to stay at that Delta virtually every time I was in Edmonton. It was reasonably close to the job site (I had a long-running project there), and had good food, and not just by the usual low standards of hotels (I was generally though not always too tired to go looking for restaurants at the end of a day). Got to know some of the wait staff to say hello to, over the years.

Are you sure it's from the 60s/70s though? I'm not positive but I think it was actually put up in the late 80s or so. Something about the general feel of the place inside. I suppose I could try to find out.

ETA: Hold the phone: of course, you're right. Built 1975, renovated 1998. I first visited in 1999, which explains my confusion. Or partly explains it, anyway.

kuri

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3885
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2008, 09:36:13 AM »
I just guessed that it wouldn't have been the '80's because AB was in recession then, and nothing much big was built during that time.

'lance

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3468
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2008, 09:42:56 AM »
Right. It was in the early 80s I recall hearing about the "ghost suburbs" of Calgary, as they then were. Lots and streets laid out, underground utilities in place, but above ground... nuthin'. All changed now I'm sure, changed utterly. In a few more years, they'll almost qualify as inner-city.

skdadl

  • Global Moderator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 32874
    • View Profile
    • http://www.pogge.ca
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2008, 09:48:33 AM »
'lance (and others, I'm sure) will recall that circa the sixties (I think), there were two very interesting high-rise apts built on Walmer Road just north of Bloor, at a time when most of the high-rises going up were actually kind of horrific. (To me, no sense of history is ever going to salvage the former Rochdale, or the even worse stuff across the street -- OISE and that other place).

But the two on Walmer, which were considered insults to the (Edwardian brick piles) neighbourhood at the time, are now interesting artifacts from the outside at least, although inside the apts are pretty much standard high-rise apts. From the outside, though, they look a bit like ships, or something marine -- there are swoops and prows, and everything is white and blue. I always found them at least likable, in the way that kuri describes, and I used to walk by them every day. (Not sure I would have wanted to live in one, although there would be worse fates.)

'lance

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 3468
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2008, 09:59:51 AM »
Well I don't altogether recall them going up, skdadl...  :whis:

(a little before my time, don't you know...)

... but I know and like the buildings you mean. Had I been living there when they were built, no doubt I'd have grumbled about it too, but coming along later, I thought -- hell, why not? Definitely a kind of exuberance there.

But as for former Rochdale, OISE and -- are you thinking of Tartu? Agreed. Hidd. E. Us. Or not even rising to that level -- just kinda bleak and depressing.

vmichel

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 837
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2008, 10:24:42 AM »
Quote from: kuri

 But like it or not, '60's and '70's architecture, even cheap-y architecture is largely our heritage now. So why repeat the same mistake out of shame doing it once? One of my favourite buildings in Edmonton is this one. Just 'cause, who in the world would build something like that today? No one. On first glance, it's hideous, but after a while the gaudiness just sort of grows on you and transports you to a time when it was good to be bold and people actually dared to create something that is neither beige nor grey. You can feel a big degree of optimism in that design.

That's a good point kuri. We do tend to get embarrassed about old styles and raze them in predictable cycles, then regret it...

sparqui

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7434
    • View Profile
    • http://resettlethis.blogspot.com/
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #12 on: July 17, 2008, 11:50:37 AM »
Quote from: vmichel
Quote from: kuri

 But like it or not, '60's and '70's architecture, even cheap-y architecture is largely our heritage now. So why repeat the same mistake out of shame doing it once? One of my favourite buildings in Edmonton is this one. Just 'cause, who in the world would build something like that today? No one. On first glance, it's hideous, but after a while the gaudiness just sort of grows on you and transports you to a time when it was good to be bold and people actually dared to create something that is neither beige nor grey. You can feel a big degree of optimism in that design.

That's a good point kuri. We do tend to get embarrassed about old styles and raze them in predictable cycles, then regret it...

I whole-heartedly agree. There seems to be a greater understanding of integrating new with old in many European cities. I also think that what was considered modest/cheap in the past is often better quality than what's built these days. (This is especially true in the housing market from what I heard from carpenters and builders.)
If my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a tractor. -- Gilles Duceppe

vmichel

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 837
    • View Profile
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2008, 12:34:58 PM »
Quote from: sparqui

I whole-heartedly agree. There seems to be a greater understanding of integrating new with old in many European cities. I also think that what was considered modest/cheap in the past is often better quality than what's built these days. (This is especially true in the housing market from what I heard from carpenters and builders.)

Yeah, you also have a lot of high quality materials like hardwood in older buildings I gather. It's kind of an environmental disaster to trash them just because the building is not in style.

deBeauxOs

  • Guest
Re: Heather Mallick: caring about beauty
« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2008, 01:14:39 PM »
In the 1960s, whole neighbourhoods in the Lower Town area of Ottawa were destroyed as a result of ill-advised urban renewal. About 90% of the houses and commercial buildings between Rideau, Cumberland, St-Patrick and Cobourg were demolished.  

Whatever was salvageable was reclaimed by a local commercial 'institution', Cohen & Cohen.  Whenever anyone wanted to restore a pre-World War II building, that was the place to go.  Hardwood - flooring, mouldings, bannisters - light fixtures, tin ceiling panels, bricks, and vintage architectural elements could usually be found there.

More recently, MEC retrofitted an old huge grocery store (circa 1950's, I think) with green and ecological-friendly features instead of tearing the building down and starting from scratch.

 

Return To TAT