Critical Writing Essay

The development of art, fashion and design is susceptible to considerable changes in the course of time. The emergence of new styles and movements is practically inevitable and this trend accompanies art, fashion and design throughout epochs. On the other hand, it is necessary to remember about the existence of symbols which persist through different epoch and remain relevant always, acquiring certain implicit meaning. In such a way, the development of art, fashion and design is affected by two controversial trends: the trend to changes and the trend to preservation symbols which seem to be eternal. In such a situation, it is very important to understand the basic trends in the development of art, fashion and design in order to understand the significance of changes and new movements as well as their impact on traditional symbols and aesthetic value of art, fashion and design.

At first glance, the devotedness of people to traditional values and symbols may be revealed in quite unexpected areas. For instance, the national cuisine, which naturally can be viewed as a form of art, can reveal the fact that certain dishes and products are associated uniquely with specific cultures to the extent that they almost become national symbols, indistinguishable from the national image. In this respect, it is possible to refer to articles “Steak and Chips” and “Wine and Milk” by R. Barthes, in which the author reveals the symbolic, almost sacred significance of certain dishes and products for the French. To put it more precisely, the author views such products as wine, milk, chips and steak not as ordinary products, but rather as symbols, which are deep-rooted in the French national cuisine and French culture. In fact, Barthes stands on the ground that these products can define the national character and the life of the French is practically unimaginable without steak and chips, for instance, which virtually constitute an essential part of their individuality to the extent that Barthes views them as being “into the blood of man”[1]. Moreover, the author argues that ordinary products, such as wine, are very important for the sociability of an individual, which makes him a part of the community, namely a part of the French people that can be traced through the very technique of drinking wine: “knowing how to drink is a national technique which serves to qualify the Frenchman”[2]. In such a way, wine becomes a product closely associated with France and indistinguishable from the national character.

At the same time, such a view on the impact of ordinary things on culture and individual’s cultural identity can be found in works of other specialists. For instance, Davis, in his article “Blue Jeans” reveals the symbolism of jeans for American culture and American cultural identity. In fact, he argues that blue jeans became a symbol of America and whenever people think of blue jeans they naturally associate them with Americans and those men who actually conquered the Wild West. At any rate, jeans were “first fashioned in the mid-nineteenth century American West by Morris Levis Strauss[3]. At the same time, Davis goes further than Barthes in his research of implicit meaning and symbolism of blue jeans. He does not simply state that blue jeans have some aesthetic value as a sample of traditional American fashion which became recognizable worldwide and is renowned in many countries of the world.

In fact, Davis lays emphasis on the fact that blue jeans could have brought in different shades of meaning in regard to those who wear them at different epoch without losing their cultural significance and symbolism. What is meant here is the fact that originally blue jeans had strong “associations with working men, hard physical labor”[4], but in the course of time by the late 20th century they became casual wear, which did not reflect the social position of an individual, but was rather a kind of national clothes associated with traditional American clothes.

In this respect, the significance of fashion and meaning of clothing is fully revealed by M. Barnard in his article “Fashion, Clothing and Meaning”. Unlike Barthes and Davis who focus on specific products or clothing items, Barnard provides a broader view on the meaning and symbolism of clothes, which may be extrapolated on other products as well, which are traditionally associated with some specific cultural environment and serve as elements distinguishing cultural identity of an individual. On analyzing the meaning and symbolism of fashion and clothing, Barnard stresses the fact that the meaning of clothing as well as fashion should be and is interpreted at two levels internal and external. On the one hand, there is internal perception of clothing and fashion, when the wearer is the “source of meaning of a garment”[5]. This means the way an individual, wearing clothing, perceives him/herself and his/her clothing, its meaning and significance. On the other hand, there is the external level of perception and interpretation of the meaning of clothing. Barnard states that it is “external to the garment or ensemble but which claims to be the origin or source of meaning”[6]. This means the way other people perceive an individual’s clothing.

In such a way, the meaning of clothing as well as fashion at large is formed on the basis of both internal and external interpretation of the meaning of clothing. At the same time, it is important to point out that both internal and external interpretations are subjective and they can vary in the course of time.

At the same time, objects of art, fashion and design that accompany humans in their everyday life are not really eternal and, in spite of their symbolism and significance, they can not only evolve but they can simply fade away. For instance, R. Porch in his article “The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society” expresses his regrets on the disappearance of traditional Swiss timepieces which “were not universal in appearance”[7] and have been totally replaced by a new generation of watches ”“ digital watches, which became modern “tribal bracelets”[8] . The author argues that the new product, digital watches, have acquired more significant aesthetic value and became a part of modern fashion and culture to the extent that the modern life is practically unimaginable without this, at first glance, insignificant object. On the other hand, digital watches still have a profound symbolic meaning since they symbolize the new information age, where new technologies rule and define the development of art, fashion and design. In such a way, through the analysis of the gradual disappearance of traditional watches and their irrevocable replacement by digital watches, the author shows the dramatic cultural change and change of aesthetic values of the society which affect consistently art, fashion and design.

In this respect, it is possible to compare the change of epochs of traditional watches and digital watches to the change in the field of photography, which can be easily uncovered on visiting the exhibition of Catherine Opie, American photographer[9]. In fact, Catherine Opie seems to have the similar nostalgic attitude to the traditional black and white photography which used to be the mainstream trend in the past as Porch has nostalgic regrets of the disappearance of traditional Swiss timepieces. At the same time, Catherine Opie also shows that traditional aesthetic values of the past can persist even in the present epoch in her black and white photos, but they apparently gave in to the new mainstream trend of colored photos which dominate in the modern culture.

However, it is possible to assess the full extent of the impact of changes on art, fashion and design, on reading Adolf Loos’ article “Ornament and Crime”, in which he reveals the trend to the total neglect of ornament which contrasts to the admiration with ornament which used to be of the utmost importance in the past. In fact, Loos argues that “ornament means wasted labor”[10]. In other words, ornament becomes absolutely useless and unnecessary. In such a situation, the rejection of ornament implies a consistent change of aesthetic values in the field of art, fashion and design.

In this regard, the growing trend to the dominance of functionalism becomes obvious. In fact, G.H. Marcus argued that functionalism is “clearly rooted in mid-nineteenth-century England, yet the concept did not fully coalesce until well into the twentieth”[11]. Moreover, the functionalism produced a profound impact on the development of design as well as art at large throughout the 20th century. The dominance of functionalism naturally lead not only to the minimization of the role of ornament and its neglect, but also to the dominance of function over the form of objects.

As a result, the functionalism led to the re-evaluation of aesthetic views on art, fashion and design, which used to be form-oriented, and their reorientation on the function.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that art, fashion and design are susceptible to consistent changes. The changes occur always and they are inevitable. However, some objects may preserve their symbolic meaning throughout different epochs. At the same time, their aesthetic value changes and evolves along with the change and evolution of movements and styles in design, fashion and art. In this respect, the 20th century art, fashion and design are particularly noteworthy. During the 20th century consistent transformations in art, fashion and design led to the substantial change of traditional aesthetic values. As a result, objects which used to be traditional objects of admiration and had huge aesthetic value, eventually became meaningless, out of date and faded away.

[1] Barthes, R. 1972. “Steak and Chips.” In Mythologies, p.62.

[2] Barthes, R. 1972. “Wine and Milk.” In Mythologies, p.59.

[3] Davies, F. 2006. “Blue Jeans.” Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. New York: St. Martin Press, p.101.

[4] Ibid. p.103.

[5] Barnard, M. 1996. “Fashion, Clothing and Meaning.” In Fashion as Communication. London: Routledge, p.72.

[6] Ibid. p.70.

[7] Porch, R. 1989. “The Digital Watch: Tribal Bracelet of the Consumer Society.” In Design Discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 116.

[8] Ibid. p. 115.

[9] Catherine Opie: American Photographer. 2008. Retrieved on December 17, 2008 from

[10] Loos, A. 1998. Ornament and Crime. Ariadne Press, p.171.

[11] Marcus, G.H. 1995. “Introduction.” Functionalist Design: An Ongoing History. New York: Prestel, p.9.

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