The Age of Innocence screeched to a halt and dove head first to its’ gory death on that first day in 1917 of “The Great War” (World War I). No longer could we delude ourselves that we were any more civilized than the natives of the countries we colonized under self-serving paternalistic pretense nor could we continue on with the naïve charade of romanticized the role of a soldier in war. For the generation that grew up in a relatively idyllic time due to the new middle-class and leisure-class which grew out of the industrial revolution, who had been raised with fairy-tale stories which romanticized the very concept of war with gallant gentlemen soldiers in crisp and decorative uniforms, being suddenly thrust in a cold, bloody, muddy foxhole with rats and feces and their best friend’s corpse with his face having melted away from the mustard gas, it was reasonable for them to conclude that everything they’d been lead to believe about the virtues of man, of civilization, about God, about history, and even about their own future had all been a lie. Surrounded by complete destruction of all they had believed in, both in and without themselves, those who survived fell into primary divisions of thought: The largest percentage of soldiers returned home, attempted to rebuild the lives they had known and stay “mum” about the war as if it had been no more than a bad dream. The remaining group, those that became known as “The Lost Generation”, looked upon the dichotomy of the pre-war lives and the “truth” they had experienced first hand in Flanders Field, Gallipoli, or Verdun, and became overwhelmed with the hypocrisy, irony, absurdity and hopelessness. Out of these, a relatively small but historically significant group of poets, novelists, artists, architects, designers, engineers, and philosophers, set about to redefine the entire concept of art and aesthetics and the world itself.
For the first time in recorded history, artists strove NOT to excel at visual mimicry of the world around them but rather how the entire experience with the world around them felt. The art movements that sprang out of the dregs of war were attempts to resolve the dissonance created by that war, first by reflecting the utter nonsense of it all (“Dada”), then a deeper, more mature and emotional style (expressionism), on to the task of rebuilding by going back to the most simplest of times and form for a reassuring structural foundation (“Bauhaus”), and finally to a more lighthearted, whimsical style that reflected the sophistication and influences of exotic cultures that for the first time in history were beginning to be recognized as valid and valuable as our own (“Modernism”). “Streamline” grew out of the latter due to the influence of yet another World War but it was not until the 1960’s that these forms of art were essentially lumped together as one and referred to with the newly coined term, “Art Deco”.
What began out of disillusionment, depression, and a wish to forget the past became a fresh new forward-looking aesthetic that, ironically, seems to reflect an even brighter and happier sense of optimism than the rejected ideals of the “Gay Nineties”. It is this irrepressible ability to recover from lost hope and believe in mankind’s ability to redeem itself and bring beauty back to this world that Art Deco represents to me and makes it so irresistible.
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