04 July 2009

History Lesson

Happy 4th of July!

As shameful as it may be for me to say this, but...I sometimes watch 'Reality' television shows.

I try to 'clean this up' a bit by watching the more 'classy' shows, like Bravo's Top Chef and Project Runway, etc. But yes, well... there was that season of "America's Best Dance Crew" (which I may talk about at some point), and -- reruns only mind you! -- "America's Next Top Model."

While waiting for the new season Project Runway, I've been watching Bravo's fashion knock off show, "The Fashion Show" with Isaac Mizrahi and Kelly Rowland.

A recent show started an interesting discussion at our house. Contestants were first quizzed on various fashion icons from the past, then asked to create a complete look inspired by a signature piece based on these icons.

Others here in our version of the Big Brother house objected to this. "They're there to be designer, to create something new! Who cares if they know these people from the past!" While I agreed that the challenge was biased toward those who had gone to design school where one formally learns about such things, and also thought that it was wrong to give some contestants in the first challenge multiple choice but not do the same for others -- and, I confess, I'd JUST finished reading Nina Garcia's Little Black Book of Style (...umm....don't ask!:) or else I wouldn't have known some of the answers either -- I understand exactly this challenge was coming from.

As a writer, I think it is very important for artists and creative people to know where their particular genre came from, who the major figures from its past are, and how have they influenced what we see, read, and hear now. It always saddens me to talk to younger writers and ask "Who are your favorite poets" and hear "Oh, I don't read other writers - I don't want to get influenced by them." And I don't think I'm the only one who has run into this response.

ALL of us are influenced by the past. While we think we're being "New" and inventing something never seen before, more often than not we are simply recreating a pale imitation of something or someone who has gone before us. All of us can learn a great deal from past masters, about how they solved problems and achieved their goals, and often looking at the past can be a guide or road map for how to proceed in your own work and career.

Finally, it's always good to know that your field doesn't begin (or end) with you. We are part of a continuum, joining in a procession of creative people who went before us, giving insight and support to those who will follow us.

In the end, The Fashion Show judges had to choose between two people to eliminate: someone who knew the work of the past designer they had been assigned, but got it wrong by using incorrect materials and going her own way; or someone who DIDN'T know the history, and created a garment that, because of that, looked very little like something their designer from the past would have done. They (rightly to my mind) decided to let the person who 'knew' go, keeping the one who 'didn't know.' It is never too late to look back, educate yourself and improve.

1 comment:

John K said...

I agree with you. Of course there's a danger to falling into thrall with the past or being overwhelmed by it, which some critics of British literature have suggested partially accounts for the relative conformity and lack of experimentalism of that national literature vs. American literature, especially after the period of Modernism, though one could site other sources, such as the effects of the two world wars, the different educational systems, etc. But I agree, it's important to have some sense of the past, even though it can seem almost Herculean or Sisyphean given how much there is to learn and know.