When I first saw someone instagram a photo on Facebook, it reminded me of my parent’s wedding picture. I thought, “Oh how nice, looks very retro chic.”
Then it became too much. Not everything needs to have a sense of nostalgia. I remember one of friends instagramed a plate of pickles and salami I had cut. Why does preserved food need to evoke a warm fuzzy feeling? If it does, you should call a doctor.
I think it speaks to a deeper, more disturbing symptom beyond being an annoyance; we live in a culture that does not value historical context.
Big Brother isn’t systematically erasing history. We intuitively feel the need to feel history, but most of us can’t figure out how to analyse it. Using our hearts instead of our heads, most of us simply ”feel good” about the good times, and suppress or ignore the bad.
For now let’s talk about feeling nostalgia in art. Whenever I look at a piece of art, I only ask one question: Why does it make you feel?
It’s a bit cliche, but for me this is how I define art. The artwork may or may not need the aid of historical context.
In this case let’s talk about a very famous instagram painting.
This Taiwanese art historian points out a few interesting facts:
1. This painting is a really cool version of Where’s Waldo. People knew this was a Cai Kuan painting because of the seals of later artists, but his actual signature wasn’t found until 1971!!!!
2. Cai Kuan painted this from memory. He wasn’t painting this live.
3. The Song Dynasty had a whole array of colours to use to paint, but he chose black. He paints using some Tang techniques, or from his point of view techniques that are 300 years old. That’s like someone now using techniques from Rococo France.
The mountain instantly grabs your eye. Remember, this painting is roughly 4 feet tall. Paradoxically, even though you understand the size and magnitude of the mountain, it’s also obscure. We have to also notice the negative space in the painting. The misty clouds that separates the background with the foreground.
Whenever an artwork attempts to evoke the past and nostalgia, time inevitably takes detail from us, leaving a partial void. When I imagine myself being a later Chinese scholar or emperor looking at this painting, I can’t help put feel humbled by this mountain. Even this majestic mountain must naturally fade away. Time’s arrow is as naturally fades the moment, but the majestic beauty of the moment still exists in front of us.
One’s ego must relate to the didactic truth in this painting.
Perhaps we instagram to emphasise to the viewer that this image was significant to someone, and that specific moment will slowly fade away with time. It makes us more conscious of the value of the moment.