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Christopher Barlow

ARCH 100

8/31/2013

Dissecting Terms: Art and Architecture


One of my personal favorite examinations of the term architecture comes from the French writer, Victor Hugo, in a chapter from his world-famous novel Notre Dame de Paris. In it he states that architecture is the greatest record of human development. And this is true to such a degree, he goes on to say, that not only every religious symbol, but every human thought, has its page and its memorial in that vast book (Hugo 184). In such a way as only he could put it, he describes how the memories of primitive humans grew to such a point that their vast implication could no longer be entrusted to mere word-ofmouth. Consequently, these intelligent beings turned a stone on end, placed another atop it, and gradually formed the first alphabet (Hugo 183). Thus, architecture, understood in this manner, necessitates communicative attributes as well as an awareness of its historical presence. Of course, following the invention of architecture, many new forms of societal communication have emerged (e.g. literature, music, film, etc.). Hugo himself comments on the first of these. He claims that printing has killed architecture. Due to its cost and time efficiency, reproducibility, and ability to move from place to place with ease, he argues that printed text has replaced architecture. Looking around us today, we can clearly see that books have not completely taken over architecture. Certainly there have been many great edifices erected bearing grave communicative implications since 1450. Hugo admits to this even in his time, though he believes that a paradigm shift has occurred, one which places literature at the head of mans self-expressive arsenal and leaves architecture to submit to those laws which she once imposed upon literature (Hugo 194). Whether or not this is the case, it seems to me that we must first set boundaries around these sub-categorical terms (architecture, literature, music, etc.) and place them under the fountainhead of an as yet to be defined banner: Art. There are buildings, and there is architecture. This is basically what Nikolaus Pevsner meant in the quote given for this lecture, but I will expound upon this later. Similarly, there are written words on pages, and there is literature. There are noises, and there is music. The question in each of these cases is this: what is it that takes a smattering of ink stains on a page, a pile of rocks on the ground, a series of noises floating through the air to the level of Art? My personal definition for Art evolves continuously and could take hundreds of pages to explain in full. For the purposes of this assignment, however, I will try to contain it within the following paragraph. To put it simply, Art requires an Artist. I know that this may seem obvious, but I believe it summarizes all of the elements contained within Art rather well. An Artist may consist of just one person or a group of persons; what transforms an everyday person into an Artist is this: a desire to share the very essence of oneself with others. Since each and every self that has existed, or will exist, is entirely unique, this means that every piece of Art is intrinsically unique. Furthermore, our experiences shape the manner in which we think and thus have an effect on ones Art; ultimately, this means that all Art will innately include an exchangeable diffusion of the time period and geographical setting in which it was created. Lastly, human life is valuable. It is something that we grieve over when lost. If an Artist truly instills part of himself or herself (or themselves) into a work, it will therefore attain these attributes as well. On the opposite end, this description leaves out any implication of personal skill-level or resource availability. A heap of scrap, if taken by an individual and used in such a manner that it enlightens others to a greater understanding of the world around them, could become Art. In summary, anything that can be considered a unique expression of thought, contains traces of the past, and would impart great sadness if lost to society, is Art. Coming back to the quote, I agree with Pevsner to an extent. I agree that there is a difference between architecture and mere buildings. Having not read any of his other writings other than this one quote, I think it is unfair to state much more than this; however, based solely on the quote, I do not believe that all bicycle sheds are simply buildings. What determines the line between buildings and architecture, mere forms and true Art, is not a title. It takes so much more than this to determine such a grand philosophical

Christopher Barlow

ARCH 100

8/31/2013

inquiry. Again, I could spend pages and pages discussing this. Instead, I will leave you with this. It is a quote from a more modern thinker and philosopher, Roger Scruton, wrestling with the notions of Beauty and Art: Much that is said about beauty and its importance in our lives ignores the minimal beauty of an unpretentious street, a nice pair of shoes or a tasteful piece of wrapping paper, as though those things belonged to a different order of value from a church by Bramante or a Shakespeare sonnet. Yet these minimal beauties are far more important to our daily lives, and far more intricately involved in our own rational decisions, than the great works of art which (if we are lucky) occupy our leisure hours. They are part of the context in which we live our lives, and our desire for harmony, fittingness and civility is both expressed and confirmed in them. Moreover, the great works of architecture often depend for their beauty on the humble context that these lesser beauties provide (S cruton 12).

Works Cited: Hugo, Victor. Notre Dame De Paris. Ed. William Allan Neilson. Trans. Frederic Shoberl. Vol. 12. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1917. Print. The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. Scruton, Roger. Beauty. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.