|Wisconsin State capitol, the focus of demonstrations|
of every political persuation, it becomes
the symbol of the political virtues all hold.
There may be some argument for some modern art carrying symbols, such as Duchamps urinal, the symbolism that they contain is not readily apparent or intrinsic to the art itself. The modern work of symbolic art is usually accompanied by a long explanation of the things it is symbolizing, as nothing in the art references commonly known cultural touchstones from which to spring from.
There is probably no more apt example of the problems of the de-symbolization of art than in the realm of civic architecture. As Wilhelmsen points out, symbols art point to something beyond itself, such as the civic virtues of justice and order. By the nature of the symbolic content to be found in civic architecture, symbols tied to a cultural context and consciousness, the citizen sees that his participation in the polis is a participation in the virtues of such a place, the virtues of justice, order, duty, patriotism, etc. Civic architecture becomes a symbolic focus towards these highest ideals, that to which all people in a society order their political life.
The modernist civic building through the embrace of the stripped down glass and steel aesthetic is an architecture devoid of symbol and meaning. Indeed there is little to distinguish a civic building, where justice is rendered, order created and the polis formed, from the myriad other nondescript de-symbolized buildings of the modern city. The modernist civic building has been stripped of symbolic content, and thus has stripped civic consciousness down to its barest functionality and utilitarian ends. Without symbolism the bureaucratic state is all that is left, and what it can give the individual, or rather what it can compel the individual to do, is all that is left. Such an institution is not something to which a sense of duty can be felt, but rather is only a sense of fear or dependence which is felt toward the modern state.
|Thom Mayne's Federal Courthouse in Eugene Oregon.|
Nothing intrinsic to the building tells you what it is,
words are necessary to identify it as a courthouse.
This barrenness of symbols is only to evident in our memorials as well, where proper symbolic content through the arts of painting and sculpture have long been banished. Instead they have been superseded by the museum and interpretive center. The materialist and desymbolized man of today cannot identify with anything but mere "facts." The idea of a myth or symbol is entirely alien and banished in this world of pure reason, but this is a discussion for another post...