Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Civic Pride and Beauty

Last week MM and I went to “town.” We needed a few things such as a Farm Use sticker for the truck. (The poor old thing never gets used except to make a pig-food run, so we down-prided to “farm use" instead of the higher-priced license.) And it was the first day of Early Voting for the county, so we were Johnny-on-the-spot with that, too.

Of course, the mission led us to the courthouse. While MM was inside taking care of the license issue, I was outside with my camera. (never without it!)  It occurred to me that most of what caught my eye invited me to look up. I marveled at the unique architecture. The colorful, well-kept exterior unquestionably spoke to the civic pride reflected in the structure. I was particularly charmed by the artfulness of the brick work, and the original desire (obvious) to create something beyond mere functionality.
We mostly don’t do that any more. We don’t often—in our rush-rush society—want to pay for art. Art has become—instead of part and parcel of our lives—a luxury we can’t seem to afford. (but we can afford war..) Take note of the education programs that are being reduced to mere functionality—math, science; and reflect on the deplorable demise of art and music we are witnessing as between 100,000 and 300,000 teachers nationwide are being laid off right now because we “can’t afford them.” Class sizes are being doubled. As a former teacher, I cannot fathom what it would be like to “teach” in a classroom of 45-60 “students.” Believe me, that’s crowd control, not education. But that’s what’s coming. And art class? Music? Band? Forget it. We don’t have time or the money for art…Art is a “frill” and we seem to want a no-frills education system.

Yet, look at these photos of this incredibly lovely building that speak of times when art WAS part and parcel of what our society was “about.” Next time you’re in town—wherever you live—look up! Look at the figures that decorate the OLD buildings. Spend time looking up! Compare them with the “new” buildings with their no-frills exteriors. How much joy do they inspire compared to the old?

Those creative gestures of yesteryear--those pieces of artwork (located high overhead, by the way, where most folks never even notice them, decorating an upper story world with aplomb)— honor us with their fine craftsmanship and pride in what today would be flamboyant and wasteful exteriors,

Maybe we should ask ourselves about the “education” it took to produce such buildings, such brickwork, such woodwork. Such artwork. Maybe we should probe the philosophy and motivation that resulted not only in this kind of attention to detail, but this love of and respect for art.

When MM and I were in Rome, viewing the remnants of the ancient world, I couldn’t help reflect on the underlying belief system that recognized art—in and of itself—as a much-needed facet of living. It was restorative for us, still, in 2005, to sit beside the fountains, the ancient buildings, the pillars as others have done for millennia.. I felt in some small way, that I, personally, was being acknowledged as a human being even among the titans that ruled the world then.

Art is FOR the people. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves why and how we have arrived the stage where “profits” and “efficiencies” and “bottom lines” have all conspired to expunge beauty?  Maybe we should be re-thinking our process.  Why should art belong only to the well-to-do? Our neglect will be expensive. I don’t believe we can accept tunnel vision as our destiny. We are not all scientists, mathematicians…nor are we serfs, with the fruits of our own labors belonging to others…perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we are really working FOR…who benefits from our labors? Do we?

Yes, dear readers: look up. Then look into the future—the future of this nation’s youth, our systems of education, our values for the “liberal” arts…. What do you see?


  1. Elora, Ahh -- a salute to you and your post on art in architecture. Meaningful architecture is on the decline. My opinion of course. I do think it goes hand in hand with not educating students in the art of craftsmanship. There was and is still, to some degree, some knowledge of craftsmanship in the building arts. To be found in students at historic preservation graduate schools and like specialty schools. To craft the building you have featured on your post would be near impossible today. Cost, time, lack of craftsmen, masons and other needed experts are near impossible to find. And what beauty is lost today and yesterday because of our society's lack of interest in such things. So many examples of artful buildings being torn down across the nation or let go to ruinous ways. Even the common houses at one time were crafted artfully -- joined timbers, wood shingles, knowledge of wood, and masonry techniques. Your call to look up is needed. Too many folks just going about their business in a hurry, looking down. So many run to historic towns on vacations not realizing they have art in the buildings where they live. Thanks for diverting attention to the buildings around us -- barbara

  2. This is a wonderful post---thank you. And your county courthouse is so beautiful! Kudos to the people there for appreciating and preserving the beauty that so many skilled hands created.

    My husband is a carpenter, so I can tell you that these days, building something is all about making more money---as quickly and cheaply as possible. One of his former contractor bosses, when he thought they weren't working quickly enough, used to scream at them, "We're not making money! We're not making money!" It was only in the very high-end houses that attention to detail or artful handiwork was allowed.

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind comment. I've enjoyed my visit to yours very much and shall return.

    By the way, I wanted to tell you that I think the name "Elora" is lovely.

  3. That is a building that shouts 'civic pride'. It is a shame if the arts are being down graded in education. We may be facing a time of greater unemployment when people will need to use their inner resources to provide meaning and structure to their lives. Those who had had their creativity nutured and developed will have the tools to enjoy life on a level beyond that of spending and earning.

  4. What a wonderful post and a beautiful building, thank you for looking up and taking the time to share. Sadly new construction seems to be about utility only, missing on the old William Morris decree that things should be useful as well as beautiful. A few years ago when I lived in the city I took a paper on Art and Architectural History as part of my anthropology degree - our wonderfully passionate lecturer took us on city walking tours forever encouraging us to look up. I took many friends over those same city routes and so many could not believe what they had missed in all those years of never looking up. If only more people on our councils and government authorities had an appreciation for such things then maybe so many death warrants wouldn't be signed on our heritage buildings, our towns and cities would each retain their own special character and civil pride would reign...guess I'm dreaming on that one!