Just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s good

Dorothy Dobbie Issues in the News
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the News

New art, new music, new architecture; there is something in the word “new” that makes people automatically respond in a positive way: Oh . . . it’s new. It must be good.

Advertising gurus have known this for decades. Think of all the products you have been enticed into buying with the word NEW. And sometimes they are right – the thing is not only new, it’s even been improved. But often there is no basis for this claim and many NEW products, ideas and practices have proven disappointing if not disastrous.

Some “new things” have killed people – for example in medicine where we constantly see class actions suits against the damages wrought by new medications. More dangerous have been ideas. Hitler had new ideas. Stalin had new ideas. Mao had new ideas. Millions upon millions of souls were lost to these newnesses.

We quickly forget how the new offerings failed us
Often the word new, however, is applied to much more benign possibilities. There’s a new toothpaste, a new fashion, a new computer program – all harmless enough, even if they don’t prove to be better than their predecessor, but disappointing when they don’t deliver.

The funny thing is, though, that we seem to quickly forget the failed promise of these new offerings. The new computer program we all had to have actually doesn’t work as well as the old one it replaced, but we get past the frustrations and accept the new order as the status quo. The new shampoo doesn’t clean our hair as well and it leaves a residue that makes our hair look frizzy and sick – but who remembers how it used to feel or look before the new product?

That is not to say that new is bad, simply that we should be more critical and not so easily convinced to accept the shoddy and under-performing just because it has a shiny new label.

I just came from a tour of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This museum is dedicated to a product that was introduced to the art world and had its moment in the sun because it was presented as new. But is it all good?

You tell me: are three blank canvasses bordered by black, with a thin inner line of red, green and blue art? Who didn’t paint this? Don’t know, don’t care. And it’s not even as if this masterpiece is original. There are similar pretenders in the United Kingdom and in Texas (Rauschenberg’s White Paintings) and in various other galleries and jurisdictions. This sophistry is not unique to white – there are various other examples of monochromatic canvasses and structures that purport to be new art. The point is that the word new has been applied to hint at some mysterious meaning which, apparently, only the specially sighted can see.

Talk about the Emperor’s new clothes! The only thing new here is the new people who keep falling for the same old scam.

architecture05_WinnipegToday, reading the daily newspaper I was enlightened to learn that Winnipeg’s new architecture has been making its mark around the world. The examples presented were the dysfunctional Cube in the Exchange District and the washroom made out of shipping containers in Assiniboine Park. I have to agree that they belong in the same category, but as examples of high art or architecture – well that’s another matter.




Repurposed shipping doesn’t an art piece make
Yes, I know, art is subjective and what pleases me may bore another to death and so on. But, come on! Let us not pretend that the imagination, creativity and forethought that went into the concept of the Museum of Human Rights or the dignity of the Manitoba legislative buildings or the soaring beauty of the Federal Building on Main Street have anything remotely in common with a repurposed shipping container.

I am not dissing the creative genius of our young architects. I applaud their courage and energy. But guys, don’t let your search for the leading edge take you over the precipice from the sublime to the ridiculous. Giving up form and function, beauty and design in the pursuit of the label new is unworthy of your undoubted talents.

True architectural genius in our city should come from inspiration and not merely aspiration. The fact that something is new doesn’t mean it’s good. Genius comes from knowing and understanding the difference.

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