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|Defining New Wave art (Part I)|
|Saturday, 14 July 2012 19:12|
LIKE any term related to art forms or styles of art, ‘New-Wave’ became a fickle, abused, and misunderstood term, often applied without thought. However, the consistent inspiration behind New Wave art in all its manifestations -- Painting, Assemblage & Collage, Music, Creative Writing, Film, and Fashion -- seems to be the artist’s interest and focus on the very form or style of his or her art, and an obsession with how to make art, including the question, What is art?
This attitude within the New Wave contrasts sharply with a more routine traditional approach which naively, or pompously, employs art to ‘send messages’ or pretend to answer life’s problems. For the New Wave artist, any answers to life’s problems exist more in the process of self-conscious artistic construction, rather than easy dogmatic assumptions in the content of their art.
Such a position suggests that the true artist, rather than mislead, only discovers the form and content of his or her work at the end of it, not before or in advance. For example, I am defining New Wave art as I write here now, and research all forms of art. I have no definitive idea of what the ‘New Wave’ is as yet. I am understanding what it is as I write and think about it.
This endeavour means that structures are discovered in the process of creativity, and it is linguistics, as an aesthetic generator, that is the true meaning of ‘Structuralism’, as Saussure, Barthes and other sound thinkers knew, and not applied sophistic political or economic interpretations.
New Wave origins
The term ‘New Wave’ originates from its French term, ‘Nouvelle Vague’, which was the phrase applied to new films being made by a group of Parisian film directors since the beginning of the 1960s; directors like Truffaut, Godard, Lelouch, Vadim, Rohmer and a few others.
Why the term ‘Nouvelle Vague’ or New Wave, as is its English translation? Well, the term defined a precise difference between the films of these directors from most that had been made before, anywhere. The image of waves breaking on a seashore or beach; the freshness of each new tide, is central to the signification of the term ‘New Wave’, as was the location or image of actual beaches, which became the most constant site of nature repeated in many forms of New Wave art.
But what of these seminal films themselves? Why are they called ‘New Wave’? Perhaps one of the first qualities was a preoccupation with filming outdoors or indoors, where the artistic quality of a site, or object, or structure was found or discovered by the artist’s structural eye, and used as a background environment, or ambiance, for the more consciously created appearance of screen actors in scenes. Very little false sets, as in traditional big-budget films, were used.
Secondly, and quite important, many of these films registered the director’s life, or how he or she developed as an artist. For example, Truffaut’s brilliant early New Wave film of his childhood obsession with movies, ‘THE 400 BLOWS’ (not a documentary), and his later stylish masterpiece, ‘DAY FOR NIGHT’, in which he himself acts as a director making a film, which is the very film we end up seeing.
Godard, too, was persistently interested in filmmakers and the practical influence of literature and reading in our lives; in one of his best early films, ‘LE MEPRIS’, or ‘CONTEMPT’, its English title, the star is a film director who refuses to bend to the wishes of a dictatorial film producer who employs him.
This is a film of stunning seacoast scenery, like another of his films, ‘PIERROT LE FOU’, and Godard, like Truffaut, shows his love for film culture by having his cameraman reveal stunning vintage Hollywood film posters against a film studio’s wall, as well as showing the actress, Bridgette Bardot reading a book on the renowned 1940s and 50s Hollywood film director, Fritz Lang while soaking in her bathtub.
Godard was, or is, not a typical film director, and some actors felt strange when he offered no prepared script to study in advance, but made up details of a story on-the-spot as he filmed.
Though the term New Wave was not at first applied to the best Italian film directors like Fellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Pasolini or Marco Bellocchio, their films, in their own way, were just as New Wave as the French. Indeed, Fellini and Antonioni’s method of improvised directing was disconcerting for many actors.
There is the famous story of when Marcello Mastroianni was phoned by Fellini and asked to play a leading role in the New Wave masterpiece, ‘LA DOLCE VITA’, which ended up making him a star overnight. As the story goes, when Mastroianni arrived on the set, eager to read the script he was offered to play, Fellini, after ignoring him, had a technician give him a thick stack of pages. But when Mastroianni looked at them, all were completely blank pages. If Mastroianni had stomped off enraged, he would never have received the role that made him a great actor; but Mastroianni, an equally crazy genius like Fellini, looked at the blank pages, thought for a moment, then said: “Ok! It’s interesting! I’ll do it!” The rest is history.
New Wave concepts
The creative concept of the New Wave, though arriving only mid-20th Century and first centered around cinema production, became relevant to certain innovative styles of music over a century old by composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Handel, Verdi, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Puccini, and others.
Indeed, we find such music on the soundtrack of certain New Wave films. Why is this, when there is a disparity of time between the two art forms? The answer leads us back to the lessons of early 20th Century’s Cubist Collage and Assemblage by Picasso and Braque, which, with their new inclusive visual references to music, movies, cafes, sex, cuisine, etc, presaged the coming New Wave’s multicultural integrative style of past and present, old and new.
Picasso and Braque’s Cubist assemblages also reflected another major visual creative act which interests New Wave culture, which is the combination of ‘poor’ common, recycled materials like cardboard, boxwood, basketry, cloth, etc, which harked back, in turn, to earlier assemblages and creative structures of tropical African art made by the mystical Dogon or Senufo peoples, etc. This early creative lesson came to represent the New Wave’s evolving creative respect for non-Western standards of beauty, as well as aesthetic semiotics.