In fashion as well as in other art-influenced industries, it seems there is an ordained group of enlightened insiders in serious expressions and hip eyeglasses who are able to nod knowingly at whatever creations come their way. A preserved and posed goat fetus by Damien Hirst? The absolute triumph of the 20th century. The 1970s performance artist, Chris Burden, being nailed to the back of a Volkswagen? Ethereal, heartbreaking. The bulbous and alien shapes from Rei Kawakubo’s Body Meets Dress collection? Mesmerizing, groundbreaking — a true fashion sage.
Most people encounter art along these extreme lines, and the reaction is to back away slowly with a quizzical, disturbed expression. We tell ourselves that maybe we don’t understand it. But art and fashion aficionados, in their cool haircuts and vintage designer watches, react in the opposite way with a calculated, pensive fawning and restrained adoration. Are we the ones who are missing something?
To my knowledge there is no secret club that deconstructs the meaning of every runway show and art installation. Part of why creative subjects are difficult to absorb and interpret is because they are overwhelmingly subjective. We can all say with firm objectivity that the internet, the airplane and the lightbulb have truly been revolutionary and life-changing. But can the same be said about Alexander McQueen’s armadillo shoes or that crazy exhibit in Brooklyn several years ago with the upside down cross in a vat of urine?
In addition, it seems as if the appetite for weird, esoteric art and fashion stems from desensitization, similar to a person’s perspective of food. Children, for the most part, prefer simple foods with few ingredients. As they get older, they develop tastes for more complex and specific foods.
And one day, while some of us are still eating Kraft macaroni and cheese, others are eating foam and dry-aged foie gras and attending truffle festivals.
Maybe it’s like that in the creative industries. The consistent exposure to the eccentric and unconventional constantly changes the baseline of normal. I can even say in my job — a tame one on the artistic spectrum — which includes examining clothes and trends all day long for 12 years, has skewed my taste. While I certainly do not consider myself more enlightened, I do feel less emotional, more critical about both the broad and thin strokes of apparel.
But creative endeavors are not without objective merit. What the layman is able to appreciate in the creative world is when innovation and skill are combined with aesthetics, like Van Gogh’s use of light in “Il Postino” or the dimension of depth in Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Madeleine Vionnet is credited with creating the bias cut and a more fluid way of dressing. And Andrew Rosen brought tech fabric into mainstream fashion. (Remember the first time you tried on a pair of trousers with stretch?)
Where the general public can best appreciate the creative industry is truly when an artistic enterprise becomes something practical. While pragmatism cannot be art’s defining characteristic, the tiny, consistent and creative expressions we collect are the ones which elevate, inspire and embolden everyday life.