There has been a gap (if a seven week hiatus can be called a gap) between blogs. The truth is, around here, we've got this thing called summer.
That said, because it has been awhile; so a brief update may be in order. Let's get started.
The thought in the Community of Trains series is that our ideas relate to the environments in which we reside. We are a thought community, even when we don't always see ourselves as such.
The last blog gave an account of the hobby's progress in terms of the interplay between the NMRA and new developments in the hobby, free-mo and RPM. The NMRA was a response to an environment that needed organization, and free-mo and RPM are responses by those who would say that the bureaucracy provided by the NMRA is too constrained. in some sense, they are the product of the communities and the times in which they reside.
Where this may be the case for organizations like the NMRA, RPM and Free-mo, can this also be true for things like how we model? I think that it can, and this blog describes how.
That said, before we travel the path, I portend the course risks being littered with potholes and hurt feelings. In an attempt to describe trends, some may mistake my descriptions as prescriptions for what modeling should be. Please don't; they aren't. A truth that I hold to be self-evident is the freedom to be one's own modeler. This is sacrosanct. Hobbies are hobbies because we find them fulfilling. I can't imagine trying to dictate to another what fulfilling is or needs to be. So before moving forward, this paragraph is a legally binding agreement where you, the reader, foregoes any normative judgments. Are we straight?
So, depending on which side of my age you are standing, I am either young enough or old enough to remember John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid (pronounced Gory & Defeated). The layout was partially destroyed in a fire in 1973, and that was a quite a few years before I was born. But the reputation of the layout influenced modelers for years thereafter--and that is what I remember. I remember articles entitled "remembering the Gorre & Daphetid," and I remember a great many people who were inspired to model according to a similar aesthetic. If you aren't familiar with the Gorre & Daphetid, it is more a reverie than otherwise. It has the quality of fanciful musing. It is almost a story as much as it is a layout. And, it is a layout that exemplifies a paradigm. It is to model railroading of this period what the Arthur B. Heurtley House is to Prairie architecture. What Eddie Merckx was to 1970s cycling, or what Creed was to butt-rock. But unlike Creed, the Gorre & Daphetid is magnificent.
As great as this layout was (or is! insofar as it lives on in the memory of enthusiasts), Allen's approach to model railroading isn't lauded in the same way today like it was then. Not because it isn't impressive, but because this particular aesthetic is not currently vogue. As of today, what is "fashionable" is photo-real interpretations; this paradigm is exemplified in the work of artists like Gary Christensen and Pelle Soeeborg. These individuals (and many others) are extraordinary artists who are revealing new stanzas in the house of model railroading. We see pictures, and we question whether we see a model or the prototype. We see their artisanship, and we are inspired. For example, look at the Soeeborg scene on his new layout, shown below.
If one looks at the transformation of artistic styles of Allen to Soeeborg, they are actual paradigm shifts in this hobby. These layouts are not artistically commensurable; they are fundamentally different aesthetics within the domain of artistic expression. This aesthetic goes beyond materials and tools, static grass and laser etched corn fields. Where Allen's layout is a reverie with artistic accouterments to embellish the story, Soeeborg's layout uses big space and minimalism to portray the real. These layouts are about portraying different things.
I think that most people can accept the proposition that, insofar as model railroading is an art, there are subjective values (per my disclaimer--see above). And, I think that most people can accept the proposition that these layouts are an expression of fundamentally different artistic objectives. But, I would expect that some people would object, or at least find odd, a particular proposition that this blog forwards, i.d. that one form of expression is currently fashionable while the other isn't. This statement may offend the sensibilities of some people--regardless of which artistic camp they place themselves.
One reason there may be objections is because to say that 'a particular aesthetic is fashionable' makes that aesthetic the product of a place and a time. And (and this next part is important), it doesn't feel that way. My interests and my modeling choices are an expression that is very authentic to me, and they are in a such a way that they don't feel given to trends. Do I have this wrong?
Another reason for why there may be objections to say that 'a particular aesthetic is fashionable' is because it suggests that at some future point the same aesthetic will be unfashionable. From where we are today, it is hard to imagine a scenario where the industry moves away from this kind of realism. Isn't this what the industry has been striving for? Isn't "innovation" measured by how we create more faithful replicas of the prototypes? It is for us as a manufacturer. It is hard to think of a scenario where this trend would reverse. It would seem as though the entire hobby would need to be turned on its head. So, how would this ever change?
For the record, I don't think it will.
There is an immense history of art. It reveals that particular aesthetics are couched in a time and a place. Art is always in a state of becoming, and there are movements. But here is an important point: these movements don't destroy the past. They take inspiration from it, and they build on it. They re-articulate. Just like jazz and blues are still alive and amazing, today is not recognized as the era of jazz and blues. So why is the artistic expression in model railroading any different? Why are there not movements that relate to time and place in model railroading and that come into and fall out of fashion too?
Its not different, and Allen and Soeeborg illustrate my point.
When Led Zeppelin created its' brand of music, it was deeply influenced by the blues. But what it created wasn't blues; it was rock n' roll. And not that anyone here would need to be reminded, but Led Zeppelin neither created blues or rock n' roll. But the talent with which it drew from one (the blues), Zeppelin created among the other some of the best music of that genre that there ever was.
When I meet new people, I have the inclination to ask what they model. I feel like it is an important question for me professionally, and if my blogs are any indication, I have a genuine interest in the second-order answers that follow these kinds of questions. The most common answer I receive relates to proto-lancing in some variation or another. (Can proto-lancing now be a verb? Or am I getting ahead of the neologistic curve on this?) Proto-lance is a portmanteau word. It blends the words 'prototype modeling' with 'freelance modeling.' With proto-lance, one operates within the confines of the "real" world with the exception that some variable is tweaked to create a slightly different universe. It suggests taking creative license with some particular, and in doing so, it admits that one isn't given to a model railroading free-for-all.
"I model the Southern Pacific's Siskiyou Line as if the Coos Bay branch terminated in Roseburg as it was originally intended," Joe Fugate. "I model the Western Pacific's 8th sub. Where the WP only had 7 subdivisions, the 8th subdivision is a fictional subdivision on the eastern end of the railroad," Robbie Spangler. "I model the Allagash, which is proto-feelanced railroad but one that is placed in geographically and historically accurate locations." Mike Confalone.
To me, what this reveals is that, amid a paradigm of extraordinary accuracy, there is a healthy creative impulse for what is being done in the hobby today. We are both rock and blues, and one day in the future, we will be something else too. This creative impulse is the latent energy to re-imagine and re-articulate; it allows us the hobby to be artistic and transformative.
And, it means that there is a little John Allen in us still.