5.2 City as Artwork

“Cities have often been likened to symphonies and poems, and the comparison seems to me a perfectly natural one; they are, in fact, objects of the same kind. The city may even be rated higher since it stands at the point where nature and artifice meet” (Lévi-Strauss (1974), cited in - Rossi 1982; p.33, p.180)

Lewis Mumford is one such theorist who saw that city life was akin to the character of a symphony where “specialised human aptitudes, specialised instruments, give rise to sonorous results which, neither in volume nor in quality, could be achieved by any single piece.” (Mumford 1938; p.4). The many aspects of life in the city may collate as the various instruments comprising a symphony but its form and the ways in which it is encountered are also a work of art. The city is a conscious collective creation, as a whole it creates a rich complex vision of human thought and within its framework are also contained smaller personal artistic visions. Mumford ultimately pinpoints the city as alongside “language itself, it remains man’s greatest work of art.” (Mumford 1938; p.5)

The City is a construct that has continued to grow in dominance, the majority of us live and inhabit the city, it is the central focus point of our societies. The city contains a rich depth of images, or portrayals and representations available to it, the city is a work of art that offers us many possibilities for creation. Narratives evoke to our mind images, the setting of that experience. The image is also able to evoke narrative, to conjure to mind the stories that it reminds us of. A study of Art may also reveal historical experiences (Slater 2004; p.1-5). The two aspects are interwoven and through a consideration of image we may be able to evoke the stories and experiences of that city and vice versa. Images and Narratives both may be subtle, open-ended, abstracted or hinted at to allow the individual to complete the narrative or image and give it personal value and significance.

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