Vintage visions of the future
Jan 24, 2018 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
As a former student of architecture I love a good visionary design – one brimming with idealistic goals and daring structural elements. As a student of vintage, this love has been reawakened by these images from artist Charles Schridde. Commissioned in the 1960s, the ads showcased a world balanced by technology and elegance. Wide open spaces provided a backdrop for fashionable people to enjoy the latest offerings from Motorola. The positivity and harmony nearly leaps off the page – everyone looks fulfilled and incredibly chic. Much like the Jetsons, happy couples and families are seen coexisting with robotics, artificial intelligence, and telecommunication devices that seemed out of this world.
When you consider the cultural context of the early 1960s, it is easy to understand the inspiration behind these vintage visions of the future. The last great war had ended and the American economy was flourishing under the spirit of consumerism and technological advancements. We had conquered evil and celebration was in order – the celebration of human achievement. We dared to dream. During this era we went into space, delved the depths of the oceans, and brought the world into every living room in America.
But not all vintage visions of the future painted such a rosy picture. As any science fiction buff will tell you, the 1927 film Metropolis remains just as relevant and dystopian when seen through modern eyes. Where the mid-century artist saw the buzz of positivity all around him, the 1920s artist in contrast saw pain. The source of this festering wound started decades earlier, at the turn of the century, with the Industrial Revolution. Reactions to this disregard for nature, for handcrafted beauty itself, included such movements as Arts and Crafts.
In time this worship of technology, of swift manufacturing, lured even the most sensitive of minds. The Bauhaus sought to show how the cold lines of steel and glass could be bent to an artistic will. Yet as these negatives were actively being spun into positives, the vision was blurred. WWI thrust the world into more terror and fear than ever imagined by the hand of man before. Death, on a global scale, became the sad canvas every artist inherited. For Fritz Lang that canvas showed a frightening future. A world of injustice, coldness, and a lack of humanity. Technology, leveraged by the elite power brokers of society, was used to murderous effect.
While these examples are on different ends of the spectrum, both vintage visions of the future were products of their present circumstances. Less fact-based, more emotionally charged, they either served as an aspirational goal or a cautionary tale. When you consider how the future they painted actually turned out, it is easy to see both reflections in the way we live life in 2018. Technology remains a creation that both helps us and threatens to harm us. Will we ever get to the vision Charles Schridde painted for us – relaxed and harmonious? Or is that dream a falsehood, granted only on top of the shoulders of other tragedies? Will we ever get to the vision Fritz Lang made for us – full of strife and unchecked abuse of power? Or is that also built on false pretenses, can humanity always outshine the inhumane?
I prefer to contemplate these philosophical matters by considering that our powers of prediction have always proven a bit faulty. As any vintage enthusiasts will tell you, the best way to look forward is to first look behind. Learning from our mistakes and embracing our triumphs help us create a thoughtful future. Tell me, dear reader, what future do you want to see?