‘True Believers’: Creating Art in Times of Crisis

Throughout history, the essentialism of art has only been confirmed, as iconoclasm seeks to destroy it. Art is, at its very core, the expression of creativity, the representation of a mindset, the representation of an experience– thus, it is in essence a representation of humanity. It is no mistake that the art of an old regime is the first thing destroyed when a new group comes to power, or that it is art that people choose to save when a culture or civilization is on the verge of collapse.

Art is what makes us people. Art is what keeps us going, what reminds us of who we are, what allows us to connect with one another. And in the study of history, we do not simply look at names and dates; we humanize the raw data and the primary sources by interpreting and understanding art, fiction, and poetry. So when we enter a time of crisis– like the pandemic we’re living in right now, like war, like any number of tumultuous times of chaos in history– I find myself looking at contemporary art, wondering which pieces might be chosen to represent 2020 in the years to come.

But before I can look forward to a time when 2020 is a memory, to be memorialized by those who have lived it, first we must survive it. So it makes sense, also, that in our current times of chaos, we (and apparently the New York Times) look back to previous eras of pandemonium in order to understand the mindsets of the artists who not only survived but who managed to create.

photo by Nin Solis, nytimes.com/2020/07/24/t-magazine/luis-barragan.html

One such artist is, of course, Luis Barragán, whose work I’ve long admired. It’s not just the beautiful-but-dangerous staircases, or the bright punchy colors, or the functionalist aspects of his work that enthralls me. It’s the fact that he looked back at his mostly commercial career and decided that there was more– that there could be more.

Barragán’s work was certainly not unnoticed in the larger cities. His career had been growing for many years, his name gaining recognition. But the Ortega house (pictured below) remains one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture… that people simply don’t know exists.

Barragán’s work on this sprawling, indoor-outdoor, Minimalist-but-still-colorful-and-nature-filled space coincides directly with his retirement as a commercial architect. He created this gorgeous place amidst the political, financial, and creative stress endemic to post-war Mexico. In his quest for financial and creative freedom, he created an almost ethereal space designed for visitors to get lost in. If that space can survive the collective insanity of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, then I can only remain hopeful that something similar—or better yet, something new, something unforeseen and unpredictable– can blossom out of the chaos surrounding us now.

photo by Nin Solis, nytimes.com/2020/07/24/t-magazine/luis-barragan.html

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