Week 7 — Art Idea Essay — The Art of Place

The concept of place is one that may very well be up to slight interpretation for us all, however, the core values remain universal. “Place” establishes a feeling of “being” in us all and can carry its own weight with positive or even negative emotions connoting from the very mention of certain places and can act as a referent that shares those same internal feelings. “Place” shapes who we are by providing the metaphorical embodiment of the memories or emotions attached to all places that rests in the background of it all, without much subconscious recognition from us. Many places even can build the cultures and values of our communities and group identities we feel attached to by providing that “go-to place” within our in-groups. They act as teachers of wrong and right, acceptance and denial, and appreciation of our cultures and connections for us to build upon and make sense of the world through our interactions while there. Opportunities are just as limitless as the immense possibilities that come within our more mental, metaphorical sense of “place” and how and where we feel most comfortable or outcasted within the real world. We establish our own “realities” through our idea of “place” as a whole and the opportunities of different situations and scenarios to make these same feelings more grounded in our own realities and “worlds”. They also establish a sense of identity through expression within us all by acting as a “canvas” for our internal thoughts and desires, as well our more prominent and directly-expressed attitudes and sense of self, through our interactions of decoration. Just as we decorate our places and our more metaphorical sense of “place” within the world, so too does “place” decorate our character and sense of self.

From my research on artists who share their thoughts on place, I stumbled upon two very unique individuals: Count Guy de Montlaur and William Merritt Chase. Firstly, Count Guy de Montlaur’s pieces on his time as a French Liberation Commando in World War II during the Battle of Normandy speak to audiences of all time the emotions and thoughts going through his mind that words simply couldn’t express. As a man once seeking after, not only, saving the world from its “Darkest Hour”, but also, liberating his mothercountry from the clutches of the Nazi Regime, de Montlaur’s pieces clearly express very somber and tense feelings on “place”, even through his stylistic choices. The world’s homes and ideas of “place” were recently rattled to their very core and the uncertainty of that time is reflected in de Montlaur’s pieces such as Fire and One June Early Morning, with the latter being specifically based off of his time storming the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944. Guy de Montlaur’s work focuses heavily on chaotic brushwork and very vibrant and almost startling color choices, meshing together to form a quite unique yet understandable take on fighting for the Allies that audiences can strangely visualize, despite said stylistic choices. De Montlaur’s attitude towards the idea of “place” mirrors the attitudes shared by a majority of the world at the time: the dust may have settled, but the damage is done. Over 85,000,000 casualties (being about 3% of the world’s population of 1944) were lost as well as the personal “worlds” and places many came to love and grown accustomed to and all together de Montlaur’s pieces begin to develop more clarity in the chaos from the destruction alone. His work is not only useful as a snapshot of the world of the time, but more importantly, as a true perspective into the hearts and minds of the lesser known fighters and to see how their “places”, be it metaphorical or literal, were affected and what they went through. In contrast, William Merrit Chase’s work on this topic tends to focus mainly upon very “light and airy” sceneries and more realistic, muted color choices.This is apparent in pieces such as The Lake for Miniature Yachts and Idle Hours, in which both tackle wide-open feelings and imagery of different scenes that almost “embrace” audiences to feel as if they in the world the piece portrays. As an Impressionist artist, his work focuses on a much more dainty and soothing atmosphere in their sense of “place”, over that of de Montlaur’s chaotic war pieces, providing a quite soothing take on experiencing the great outdoors and the beautiful sense of “place” we naturally have with Mother Nature and its ability to ground us in reality. Finally, from a more philosophical standpoint, Greek Philosopher Socrates provides a much more ambiguous and thought-provoking take on the idea of “place”. Socrates believed that “the body is a prison” to be escaped from by the release of Death. His view on “place” may seem much more cynical at face value, but Socrates felt that it was life and home in our personal “worlds” that shape us into greatness for the afterlife. The home within ourselves and the connections of memories and relationships with those who share our symbolic and literal ideas of “place” give us greater purpose and sublime connection with the Good in the world to provide incentive to enjoy life to its fullest and make the best of oneself. Socrates’s view on place and his works in general, provide a quite useful and interesting take on how “place” and what we make of it, give us just as much meaning as we do it.

“Place” is an ever-existing concept that manages to be a part of our daily lives in every single moment, even if we do not consciously acknowledge it. The concept of “place” is much more abstract than many initially give it credit for. “Place” truly does exist within us all in a mental sense, on top of the more literal perspective. These mental “places” are associated more with the connections and attitudes we have when brought face-to-face with the idea of certain physical establishments and places we feel at home. Be it seeing the same swing set at the park you used to go to with your friends in elementary school while driving home from your 9-to-5 or reminiscing over the once movie theater that you had your first date at that’s now been lost to time, all places and their deeply rooted mental associations and feelings we have with them play a major role in shaping our lives and who we are as people. This idea applies heavily with the forms of places that exist at, say, school and work, as well. From the memories of breakroom laughter at work motivating you every time you clock-in to the sentimental moments of the final days of high school every time you drive past a campus that feels like ages since you attended, all act as either symbolic places of the “good” in the mundane or even the “sad” in the impactful moments of our lives. In a more literal sense, however, the tangible and physical places we experience in life, school, or even work all could, to some degree, be improved to fit our own personal tastes no matter how much we adore certain places. With the idea that you can’t always please everyone, the places we love or despise are always up for change, positive or negative, from someone. It’s hard to adapt this in practice for obvious reasons, but the possibilities of the great memories or mental associations we could possibly have with places we don’t particularly love by making an effort with a positive mental attitude to explore, attempt at outweighing these disadvantages. Furthermore, more and more places could be subject to near universally accepted improvement in the Era of Covid-19 and viruses to come by, not only, adopting public safety methods like increased access to hand sanitizer and the heavily enforced cleaning policies of all establishments, but more importantly, sticking to these or similar guidelines for the future after the Coronavirus substantially and inevitably dies down. It shouldn’t have to take a global pandemic to cause us to realize the importance of washing hands regularly and maintaining a disinfected sense of place wherever we go. Places on campus, at work, or just in life could also be more willing to adapt to the Digital Age, at the expense of disadvantaging a large consumer-base: the eldery and the technologically-inept. This idea of the experience of place clearly tends to favor a younger demographic in the 21st Century (mainly millennials and Gen-Z), however, if society sticks to the relatively gradual acclimation of technologically-enhanced places, we will never truly be reaching our full potential as Americans while exploring our fast-paced world, especially in cities. We must balance and encourage digital integration, virtual assistance, and advanced technology into our society and experiences of place in the United States without risking the complete decimation of the blue collar worker and crippling our nation’s ever-growing job force. The generation divide does “see” place in quite differing lights, however. Millennials and Gen-Z may be more attracted to aesthetic and functionality of place while the older generations, say the more family-oriented, conservative (not necessarily in the political sense of the term) “Baby Boomers” and Gen X, tend to favor the memories and nostalgia that places offer and wish to keep the places of “the days of old” intact over the constant cycle of rebuilding parts of our communities to stay up to the times. In the end, all, in time, will in fact adapt to these much needed changes, so this type of integration for the 21st Century has little in its way to denounce its advancement.

While “place” may be in the eye (or even mind) of the beholder, two things are for certain: our whole sense of place can be impacted by the decisions we choose to make and refrain from making, as well as, even though our interpretations and positive or negative associations with places and where we feel most comfortable or distanced from may all be different, the core values still remain universal. We all have at least some places in our lifetimes that the very mention of key phrases and associated ideas can harken us back to either the most cherished or repressed memories within us all. See, “place” is more than just somewhere to go to and from. The idea of “place” rests firmly attached to the memories and levels of comfort we feel, either going to or thinking about, all places in the world. As we live in an ever-changing world, this concept of “place” may seem to be easily lost in the wonderful and sometimes equally chaotic aspects of life in our country, but the United States and its people will always be stronger than that. The American people know tragedy and they know loss. However, more importantly, times like these have historically proven, the American people know unity and the ability to come together despite our differences, as heated as we may get at times, within our shared sense of place, the United States of America. Attitudes towards our country may be different from person to person, but our communities are what shape us and our places, as well as, the future of our nation. So in 2024, for example, I envision the Coronavirus Pandemic to be lifted and things to return mostly to normality. In the grand scheme of things, 4 years is not a long time, however, a lot can be done in that amount of time. I sense that sadly our political divide may grow further, yet hopefully, most of us will be able to look past this in each other and accept people for who they are and not use politically-charged prejudice towards one another as the entirety of who someone is as a person. It’s hard to say how life will be like in the United States in 2050, but I do believe that within that time a greater sense of unity could be achieved. We’ll always have “the bad apples” in society, but hopefully more and more of us can start to accept one another for who we are. For the time being, I expect to navigate the next year of pandemic life relatively similar to how I do currently. Classes should once again be all online and life may return gradually closer to the norm but, for the time being, life at home may have to be something I need to get used to. On the brightside, pandemic life has given me a greater appreciation of “place” in the areas I’m confined to like my home and local small businesses or grocery stores. Places like those tend to get taken advantage of, but the personal narrowing of our “worlds” has definitely caused me to grow more attached to the little things in life and to reminisce and appreciate the memories and moments of beauty within it all. By the time I graduate CSULB, realistically, the Coronavirus will have died down drastically and things should return to the days of old once more. I anticipate those days to the fullest extent and I simply can not wait to see the world after the pandemic is lifted and I graduate. The pandemic has also taught me to explore and desire seeing the many countries of the world and I plan on visiting a variety of culturally diverse places as an escape from normality once Covid-19 is mainly a thing of the past or when I graduate. I see myself using my degree to the best of my ability and hopefully landing a job that I feel at home with.

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