26 December 2011

New Orleans' Aesthetic

This series of posts is just a tad more personal than others in the past; that's because I'm spending the first week of my Christmas holiday in New Orleans! I'm posting each of these one week after the events each describes, and -- as usual -- I'm going to try to focus on arts, aesthetics, culture, and faith as I experience them in my little New Orleans adventure. Enjoy!


I haven't even been here for 24 hours yet, and I have already discovered a surprisingly unified aesthetic all over this city. It is as if all the architects, all the interior designers, and all the private homeowners have the same taste. I'm not talking just about the general European "shabby chic" beauty, but about something more specific: there is a pattern that ties this whole city together, from the French Quarter to the Garden District, through the Warehouse/Arts district, across the parks, and even into the Ninth Ward. There, or course, millions of Fleurs-de-Lis everywhere. But those are more like decorations than an essential style, although they contribute to what I'm talking about. It's an oft-repeated pattern of filigree, swirls, curlicues. Here it is:

It's all over the multitudinous delicate wrought-iron lace-work balconies on almost every house in the French Quarter. It's in nearly every other wrought-iron fence in the Garden District. It's on the ceilings, in the wallpaper, in the carpets, on the curtains, on the furniture. In our hotel room, it is framed in two versions above the bed. It's in the networked dome over the lobby bar. It twists and twines in uncountable varieties, beautifully and subtly, all over this town.

And it goes beyond just an identifiable pattern. This complex, delicate aesthetic has an influence on many of the shapes and curves of the architecture. There are ogees aplenty. There are arches. There are neoclassical columns that favor the more voluptuous capitals: the Ionic and the Corinthian rather than the Doric.

So the thought crossed my mind that maybe all this has something to do with geography, not just history. Take a look at this aerial view:
What do you think? Do you think that this curvy-ness comes, not just from the Fleur-de-Lis or from the architecture of Europe -- or, ahem, from the curves that are crudely displayed in the many houses of ill repute that blight this lovely city -- but also from the Mississippi River? I think it's a pretty notion, anyway!


1 comment:

Истина said...

Yes! I certainly agree & would wager that there is a deep interrelationship between topography and mentality which expresses itself in artistic tastes. From my impressions, St. Petersburg's (Russia) minutely etched, detailed, quite, and overwhelmingly just beautiful architectural details reflect the complex, intertwining of canals and pocketed land formed out of the marshes on which she sits. Egypt, Jordan, and the Caucasus flourish with sand-colored homes, but each bear their own swirls of exuberant, joyously intricate ornamentation, like the flora and fauna as well as the swirling sands. Ecuador's buildings do not so much seem to want to reflect the topography and nature around them as attempt to become part of them, or disappear all together; as unnecessary and extraneous in a wealth of green lushness. Now, I wonder how much architectural echoing is conscious or unconscious?