In eras of cultural change, it can be helpful for creative people to look at art movements of the past. I have long found the Romantic era to be of profound personal influence. Romanticism was in part a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, as well as the rationalism of the Enlightenment. It encompassed a return to emotion and a rush to nature after the dehumanizing onslaught of mechanized life. It emphasized re-embracing the pastoral and the primal. The British artists who came to symbolize the era left their land of origin for the warmer climate of Italy, in search of a new landscape, and perhaps a new way of imagining life.
A similar movement seems to be in creation at this moment. Two factors have contributed to the global movement away from cities, especially within the creative community: 1) the Internet has allowed collaboration to exist anywhere, making migration to urban centers no longer essential and 2) income inequality in artistic capitals has increased to a level that is prohibitive to many emerging artists and the non-wealthy.
Performance artist Marina Abramovic is aiming at opening an institute in Hudson in collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas, who after a lifetime of studying urban spaces, has recently shifted to focusing on the countryside. In a community lecture, Abramovic mentioned that Koolhaas told her, “Real art is not happening in cities. It is happening outside of cities.” Something is happening worldwide that reflects this idea. An October 2016 New York Times article featured a community of young artists moving to Yanjiao, an hour outside of creative capital Beijing. “Art is always pushed to the edge,” said curator He Miao. “In China, contemporary art cannot be made in cities. Where the urban meets the rural, that’s where art happens.” Similarly, in an October 2014 Vogue article, writer Jonathan Van Meter described how a friend told him, “The world’s changed. It’s very difficult to know where to be. Sometimes […] the only way you can change things is by actually shifting your life utterly and totally to a different hemisphere […] There’s no semi-revolution.”
The fashion industry is also experiencing a shift that reflects this moment. As Creative Director at Gucci, Alessandro Michele is providing a maximalist vision that resonates deeply. He has mentioned that his “way to think about creation is like the end of the world.” Is his exuberance taking hold precisely because of an apocalyptic feeling coursing through culture? Minimalism is about ideals and purity. Maximalism is about abandon. As soon as a shift happens, a melancholy emerges for what has been left behind. There is much to be discovered in the tension between city and countryside, minimal and maximal.
It seems likely that in the century to come, artists will migrate to rural areas all over the world. The creative potential in this paradigm change is enormous. Fashion should have a presence in this migration : it may not have its own flowering meadow in this countryside we call home, but there are seeds that are beginning to sprout.