Thursday, May 20, 2010

The elegance and dignity of funereal typography

Pictured here are burial area markers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. The place is near Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during World War II.

The Normandy American Cemetery is, by and large, rectangular in shape. Its main paths are laid out in the form of a cross. The burial area is divided into 10 plots, lettered “A” to “J”; these are separated by the broad axial mall and by longitudinal grass paths.

According to the American Battle Monuments Commission website, the architects for the cemetery’s memorial features were Harbeson, Hough, Livingston and Larson of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The landscape architect was Markley Stevenson, also of Philadelphia.

In addition to feeling the solemnity of all the grave makers — the beauty of the letters reminded me of this passage is from Christianity and Art by H.R. Rookmaaker, which was first written in 1970. It seems that Roomaakers words are still very much relevant:
Some people ask: isn’t it necessary to define the principle of art by the aesthetic? Shouldn’t we go for the core of art, the real heart of it? Doesn’t its meaning lie in this? Very often this question comes into a discussion concerning modern art — how art would have been brought to its real meaning, to be found in lines and forms and colors, the aesthetic element as such. I must say that I have many doubts here. For of all this truly abstract art is very rare–much nonfiguration art does have a meaning apart from the aesthetic configuration. The strange thing is that artists almost without exception do strive to express something in their art, and only rarely are they happy with the aesthetic element as such — to me this is one of the proofs that a theory that goes in that direction is too much out of touch with real artistic practice. Of course, there exists artistic work done only with an eye to the aesthetic effect: we think of fabrics, ornaments, some types of typography, etc. But then we have always to deal with the so-called applied arts. The beauty often found in good work of that type is, however, exactly the quality that modern artists — pop, zero, and what not — seek to destroy in their [so-called] anti-art. The argument then is that art does not need beauty. —Rookmaaker, H. R. Christianity and Art. Potchefstroom: Instituut vir Reformatoriese Studie, 1985. 4-5. Print.
It’s interesting that Rookmaaker sites, in the context of the late 1960s, modern artists as pop and zero.

A fine article by David Galloway titled, European movement with Zero as the sum of its parts was published by the New York Times, March 3, 2006. Galloway writes:
Lacking a concrete manifesto or shared code of conduct, Zero has been described as a nonmeasurable condition rather than a movement in the conventional sense. Its few common denominators included the desire to bring man and nature into renewed harmony and to restore to art the metaphysical dimension that had been overshadowed by the apocalypse of World War II. Rejecting both the self-indulgences of abstract Informel painting and the figurative mode instrumentalized by Fascist dictatorships, members of the new avant-garde availed themselves of a minimalist but inherently poetic vocabulary.
It’s perhaps a stretch, but in a sense this quote seems to epitomize the correlation between the military cemetery in Normandy, Roomaaker, and the artists who comprised Zero.

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