“City of Lights, City of Fonts” is a blog and visual diary created by ArtSlant’s Georgia Fee Artist-in-Residence, Ali Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald will explore France’s evolving visual relationship to propaganda, looking deeply at aesthetics of nationalism and politicized otherness. With sketches, writing, and graphic vignettes, she will document fonts, signage, and France's history of drawing as activism.
My gossamer vision of Paris, flimsy and informed by movies, comprises the following things:
Douchebag Woody Allen characters who love the rain
Getrude Stein and her band of modernist cool kids
Stylized, angry cats
And Art Nouveau. As I was walking around the city (in the rain) I noted the lilting, romantic flourishes of Art Nouveau all around me. Some signs were from the late 19th century, while others were made to look like they were. Why does this period of ornate line define our aesthetic vision of Paris?
Bombed out Berlin (where I live) has almost no remnants of Art Nouveau left. It’s too butch for that. If the two cities were typefaces, they would look something like this:
Art Nouveau took hold during La Belle Époque, where prosperity and peace allowed for artistic experimentation and projected wealth. Pre-war Paris is often portrayed as a creative wonderland full of optimism, dotted with posters by Alphonse Mucha and Toulouse-Lautrec. These posters featured a lot of natural, organic forms: like naked women surrounded by flowers.
This vision of Paris has endured and become its own golden brand, imbuing the city with anachronistic romance. Is that a kind of propaganda? What does this investment in decorative beauty inspire in us? I’ll take a look at these and other questions in the second part of this blog post.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of some earlier, pornographic propaganda which effectively smeared the original queen of opulence, Marie Antoinette.