Along with the majority of the world at the moment, I have of late found myself listening to nothing but The Suburbs, the latest piece of musical magnificence by Arcade Fire. It makes my heart soar, my soul sigh, my legs weak. It has been on loop for approximately two weeks and shows no sign of wearing. It is instances such as this that make me glad of the digital age and mp3s else I would have worn through at least five CDs in this short time since the album was released.

Lyrically, musically and emotionally, the album merges together into the nigh on perfect collective of sounds and images that Arcade Fire are now renowned for creating. On the bus this morning, headphones on, staring wistfully out of the window at Camden Park Road I found myself listening to the lyrics of one of the songs, Rococo.

“Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids…

… Using great big words that they don’t understand. They say:

Rococo, rococo, rococo, rococo”

While the gentle click of the ‘c’ merges with the beat of the song, I had a realisation. I was one of the ‘modern kids  using great big words that they don’t understand’.

What the hell is rococo??

I feel I have used this word in day to day pretentious vocabulary and most certainly in one of my articles but had I been put on a spot, in some sort of pub quiz scenario/dinner party with History of Art graduate, I would have found myself quite flummoxed.

Do I even like Rococo art?!

As someone who has managed to fake it until she makes it to such a degree she has blagged her way from art appreciator to art editor for two publications, I felt I owe it to the people reading my supposed critical opinions to know what the hell I was talking about for once.

So Rococo, it would seem, was a major movement in 18th Century France, a fact which led to its categorisation as the ‘French style’. In a bold move away from the richness and heaviness of its precursor Baroque, Rococo introduced a new softness and playful approach to the canvas.

The word itself, an amalgamation of ‘rocaille‘ – French for shell- and ‘barocco‘- Italian for Baroque- embodies one of the key motifs of the style. Like the delicacy of the shell, the word Rococo itself describes its art, with ornate beautiful curves while remaining loyal, and somewhat devotional, to the natural and organic beauty of the world. We see artists move from courtly formalities to a more frivolous, casual and intimate side to the lives of the aristocrats.

I have been to enough art galleries in my time to have become saturated with portraits of stuffed shirts and crimpoline but (now that I know what rococo art is) you really can recognise a definite shift and relaxation of not only the artists brush but also his eye over the world in the paintings of this period.

Francois Boucher 'Renaud et Armide'

It is as if the paintings breathe, exhaling in front of our eyes, ridding themselves of the heavy velveteen of Baroque to give way for a delicacy, a cherubic playfulness, reminiscent of make believe fantasies, godess like voluptuous women and breathless idylls.

Jean-Honore Fragonard 'The Swing'

So why did Arcade Fire name their song Rococo? Perhaps it is because they too are ridding themselves of the intensity and richness of musical precursors in favour of a more light and airy sound, one that welcomes us into the make believe suburbs but still roots our fantasy in reality with words and images we recognise in our own lives.

Or perhaps it is because they are Canadian…French Canadian…French style? Who knows. All I know is that it is a wonderful song. And now I know what every word means.

Thank you Wikipedia, light of my life, fire of my loins.

This entry was published on August 9, 2010 at 10:05 pm and is filed under Art, Music. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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