The end is near! Someone recently asked me the other day to choose one word to describe the year twenty-twenty. A lot of words come to mind that are not usually repeatable in certain company. I thought for a few seconds about a sarcastic reply and then I went a little deeper. The word that popped in my mind was shifted. Like a shift in the paradigm of “normal”.
This year, in my opinion, caused many of our standards to be revealed and questioned. The mechanics of our culture and society were exposed as if our car broke down and we lifted the hood for the first time in a long time. We were forced to examine a number things that were neglected or simply taken for granted. It was as if, by looking into the engine, we got to see all the components that come together to make the whole thing work.
What Happens if it Breaks?
I imagine a thing breaking down. Some people are upset that the thing broke down. What will they do now? Others are happy that it broke down. The thing made too much noise, or it smelled of fumes anyway, so good riddance. Either way, there is a shift in the paradigm.
We rarely notice things we take for granted or are accustomed towards because it is just “the way things are”. When the comfort of commonplace is disrupted, removed, or disturbed it forces our hand at evaluating what to do next. We go through processes that run through the spectrum of emotions and behaviors. We are sad or delighted, frightened, or emboldened, ecstatic or angry, anarchistic, or pragmatic.
A Network of Plateaus
The other word maybe I should have chosen is plateau. A plateau is like a level area on the side of a hill or mountain. Metaphorically, one can describe a situation as a plateau. One may feel that that in their career they have “plateaued”, meaning they have arrived at a place where their ascending ends and they have “leveled off”. Interesting that the metaphoric use of plateau involves the idea of ascending but not descending. Rarely, do I think of reaching a plateau as coming down from somewhere. Likewise, ascending or descending seems to place the journey to a plateau as being fixed on a linear single dimension plane.
I find it is more interesting to think of a network of plateaus as nodes in a three-dimensional space. We would then be free to travel in any direction towards whatever plateau. The sharing and building of ideas become very fluid yet potentially stronger at the same time. It is an interesting concept.
If we arrive a plateau, we then have choices. Should we stay here, continue up, go back down, slide across? How will that decision be made? Will we make it on our own or will it be forced on us? Will we discuss it and weigh our options? If options are presented will we agree or disagree? All of this indicates change.
Living in the Twenties
At the beginning of this year, I was excited at the prospect of finally living in “the twenties”. “The Twenties” in quotes, refers to a nostalgic look back to a time during the twentieth century, that triggers our imagination and makes some of us wonder what it must have been like to live back then. The period was full of change and seemed to embrace the promise of a brand new, modern, and forward-looking century.
Now, at the end of this year, I believe I have a better sense of what it may have been like. The parallels are interesting. One hundred years ago, we moved from the agrarian into a machine age. The culture was changing from the traditional into modernity and the avant-garde. A great war just ended and there was even a pandemic! The uncertainty of the new age seemed to be most enjoyed by those willing to embrace the changes with determination.
A Response of Artistic Innovation
One hundred years ago, two artists, Pablo Picasso, and George Braque, started painting in a way that changed the expression of picture making. Their innovations were built on the ideas of previous artists like Cezanne and Manet. If not for their tinkering with painterly tradition as they did, would have Picasso or Braque had the notion to push the character of painting into the analysis of form that the modernists expressed during the later decades of the twentieth century?
Shift to Get Ready?
In his book, “The Story of Modern Art”, Norbert Lynton writes in the chapter Reality Questioned and Answered:
“The world, one is tempted to say, was ready for Cubism, and Cubism is what it was ready for because Cubism was strikingly new yet brought together divergent strands from the recent past.”
This is interesting to consider. Perhaps the world was ready for change because the new world conditions were compelling us to think new. This year we have seen great changes and disturbances to our paradigm, our status-quo and has caused us to examine the situation on our little plateau called year 2020. Change is met in many ways and so I wonder sometimes how change is best met. Would change be considered innovation or destruction?
What Will it be Like?
Now that our paradigms have been shifted, will we integrate our past into our future? May we be ready to innovate our lives and culture going into something completely new into the next decades? Or will we insist on going back to normal, whatever that means. As has been said often, the only normal is change. It will be interesting to perhaps be asked by a young person, some decades from now, what was it like to live in the twenties. I wonder what my answer will be.