“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.
Last week I asked what decorative beauty inspires in us. This week, I felt the overwhelming power of ornamentation as I walked around the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The mouths of its infamous gargoyles were swollen with icicles because of a recent snowstorm. I wondered: besides being grotesquely cute, what is the purpose of gargoyles?
Architecture and built structures have often been used as propaganda to alter the attitudes and ideals of citizens. Giant towers and buttresses are church- or state-sponsored shows of power through built beauty. Some structures inspire awe, some reverence, others fear. Sometimes, like with soviet statues, their sheer grandiosity is meant to compel an emotional response.
On Sunday I traversed the Place de République, a square centered around a triumphant monument of Marianne. She loomed over teenagers as they smoked and shuffled and exchanged tentative first kisses.
Marianne is an overt appeal to patriotism carved in stone, but there are also less tangible threads of manipulative artistry around Paris. How do the light and air and presentation of things affect us?
On my street alone I marvel at orderly rows of curated shrimp, bright macarons, and well-manicured trees.
This ambient beauty is a part of the Parisian mystique, a fantasy used to entice, convince, and laud quintessential “Frenchness.”
Sometimes this feeds into traditional notions of European beauty co-opted by political parties to stir patriotism alongside artistic appreciation.
For instance, the National Front often employs a blue rose, its delicate beauty obscuring darker exclusionary aims. The Bloc Identitaire, an anti-Islam group in France, employs traditional French symbols like medieval shields to underline a preferred ancestry.
Marveling at and questioning the links between French beauty and identity is a great way to spend a February snow week in my humble opinion.
Next time I’ll write a little about advertising as propaganda and look at Roger Caillois’ visions of a mid-century Paris covered with posters. Here’s a busty preview:
Tags: Illustration GeorgiaFeeResidency Paris City of Lights City of Fonts, drawing, figurative