Cities in Art

This meandering post was inspired by browsing through the excellent tumblr, "The Art of Animation."  All pictures are from there.

In 2010, about 82% of the American population lived in cities.  about 90% in the UK.  [source] An overwhelming majority of the developed world lives in cities -- they're a fairly important part of the human environment.  They're often characterized as being smoggy, smelly, unpleasantly cramped and dehumanizing places -- which is something of a problem, if they're where most of the people live.

It's reflected in the art -- not just in contemporary mainstream art, but in (what I find to be much more interesting) speculative art.

And there are a few different trends, that I find highly illustrative and encouraging.

There's the obvious, the dystopic depictions of cities we're used to in Sci Fi, somewhat ambiguously in Steampunk (where the pervading modernist philosophy might not be outright rejected, and the cast and tone of the work might accept or embrace their sometimes oppressive-seeming environment, as in Benjamin Carré's piece at the top of the post) and occasionally in Fantasy.

To me, these dark, dreary images of cityscape come off as more cautionary than descriptive or predictive.  That is to say, there may be some cities that look something like these dystopic visions, and perhaps some that are heading in that direction.  But I see a lot of room for optimism.

Most of these pictures, after all, show us something visibly alive in them.  The sense is strong that a city is a place where things live.  It's an environment, like any other.

And there are a few kinds of optimism that get reflected.  There's the evident fact that, artistically, we as a culture are aware of the influence our cityscape can have on our experience of our lives, and that we're aware there are risks that that cityscape could go places we don't want it to go.  Speculative art of cities reflects not only an acceptance of the premise that there are right and wrong answers about city construction, but demonstrates that, at least artistically, we're willing to put forward ideas of which is which.

And what I find to be some of the most beautiful and inspiring cityscape art is the art that embraces the natural environment as a valued and necessary component in the structure of the city.

Of course, not all speculative art is optimistic that we can strike a comfortable balance.

Altogether I think the artistic climate of speculative art points to a serious appreciation for the importance of cities in human experience, and a consensus on roughly what better and worse cities look like -- if not necessarily a consistently optimistic view.

I leave you with this adorable picture:

All images link to their page on The Art of Animation tumblr.