Monday, July 27, 2009

Art Feeds Fashion Feeds War

I'm really not much of a social anthropologist, but I do have some conclusions about - or at least questions stemming from - the ideas I touched on in my last three posts (starting here).

First of all, if fine art influences fashion, design, advertising, film and other forms of expression and communication; and good design is important for the success of an empire, and essential to an empire that seeks to expand, then it follows that there is a thread of influence from art to invasion.

Then again, it may be just coincidence that expansionists, notably those who invade multiple neighbors, do so following important art movements, have the best-designed uniforms and tend to lose their wars (e.g. Germany and the other Axis powers in both world wars).

Whether directly or indirectly linked, or purely coincidental, art movements and a sophisticated military aesthetic may be early indicators of a nation's willingness or desire to go to war.

Furthermore, the importance of an aggressor's pre-war art movements, as well as the quality of their martial designs, may be directly proportional to the likelihood that it will lose said war.

For example, we can apply this formula to the American invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s and the subsequent defeat of the United States and South Vietnamese forces in 1975:

  1. There were indeed several important American art movements, including abstract expressionism and pop art, leading up to the Vietnam War.
  2. There were also significant improvements in the design of US military uniforms and hardware, such as the M16 assault rifle, during the post WWII baby boom that immediately preceded the Vietnam War. (Casual was now very much in.)
  3. The Vietcong, who won the war, did not have particularly well designed uniforms or sophisticated hardware, and they did not have any significant new art movements in the decades leading up to the war.

Question: How does the "art feeds fashion feeds war" (AFFFW) formula apply to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; or the boom in Chinese contemporary art?

Pix of Roy Lichtenstein's "Whaam!," 1963 from PrinceHouse (a good short history of graphic design, including the Bauhaus); and Li Shurui in an interesting NYT article on female Chinese artists.

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