Art as a Sense of Place

Sailer has a piece on the futuristic architecture of John Lautner, whose work captured the “the shiny, optimistic, future-infatuated Southern California that peaked in the early 1960s.”

As with Tiki culture, I absolutely love the imagined future represented by 1960s-era, CA architecture. (I also love the classic Noir aesthetic of 1940s Los Angeles.) As an aesthetic, the Lautner-led style represents the southern California of one’s imagination, the white CA of the early 1960s, not what CA is now.

It’s part of a large subject I’ve long been interested in: Art depicting an imagined sense of Place.

On the musical front, it’s similar to how, for example, The Beach Boys, with Brian Wilson’s compositions & engineering techniques, serve to reinforce a myth (or, more precisely, what religious anthropologist Mircea Eliade denotes as a sense of ‘sacred space’ and ‘sacred time’) of an the archetypal, California, an imagined ‘sunshine pop’ lifestyle. Like architecture, music can act as a conduit of romanticization for a subculture.

For example, most people in the U.S. have never been to California, and most never will. Yet even within America there is something of an idealization of California. Musically, this idealization is shaped/reinforced by the canons of the late ’60s, West Coast ‘sunshine pop’ sound (e.g., Brian Wilson; Curt Boettcher’s work with Sagittarius & The Association; The Yellow Balloon, etc.) In close succession, the ‘Laurel Canyon sound’ (e.g., Judee Sill, Carole King, Joni Mitchell) and then the slicker, West Coast ‘summer nights’ production sound of the ’70s (e.g., Eagles, Jay Ferguson, etc.) all acted — as did Kerouac and the Big Sur Beats a generation earlier — to reify perceptions of California as big and mythic, a place of self-actualization and pleasure, a place with a certain feel, a horizon of a certain possibility.

Similarly, on the other side of the pond, there is a generalized impression in the U.S. as to what ‘Englishness’ or ‘Britishness’ is. Bands like The Beatles (think “Penny Lane” & “Eleanor Rigby”), Village Green Preservation Society-era Kinks, and XTC tap into the aforementioned dynamic, evoking a pastoral sensibility, a nostalgia for a time that may never have truly existed, of mythic small English villages.

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