Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Making the Best of a Hard Time

Taliesin (detail), Spring Green, Wisconsin

Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings Volume 4, 1939-1949, Edited by Brooks Pfeiffer, Rizzolini, New York, 1994

I've been working my way through my Christmas Mount TBR, this non-fiction book is by far more fantastic than any work of fiction I received.

Frank Lloyd Wright's works and influence are so monumental that even now, over fifty years after his death, there is almost an entire industry devoted to publishing works about every aspect of his life. This massive tome (one of a five volume set) is full of Wright's own writing about architecture, social planning, and an almost mystical view of the Art of Form and its organic relationship to the human spirit. One problem with any study of Wright is that he was always restless, changing and forward-looking: these books only look at the past.

The physical manifestation of these ideas was realized in the Taliesin Fellowship, Wright's attempt to create a new generation of designers who would learn by doing (and in the process bring in income and a source of labor for the endless process of maintaining Wright's estate and studio.) Many of Wright's essays in this book concern these individuals who worked with Wright in the depth of the depression. It was a fluid group, most members stayed for a year or less. Wright's account of this communal experiment in education remains a fascinating example of pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps. In our current climate of financial gloom, it is inspiring to see how much Wright accomplished with so little, even if he tended to lean heavily on his benefactors and exploit his students.

The book is also full of Wright's social criticism of government, capitalism, and small-minded "planners." The whole book plays like a fugue, with a recurring motif of a "New Reality", "Truth" and "Progress." One disadvantage of any collection of writing is that there is redundancy- the same ideas are presented again and again, each time intended for a different audience, Wright's polemics can become numbing at times. The book ends just as Wright was entering the last, most prolific phase of his career, and these writings can be seen as the blueprints for his legacy- love him or loathe him, his work abides and continues to inspire with its elegance, passion and beauty.

By Professor Batty


Blogger oroboros said...

You might be interested to look at T.C. Boyle's The Women. It's fictional but exhaustively researched and framed as only Boyle can. Highly recommended. More here.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

I'm familiar with the story- Wright had at least three full lives, and each one was almost unbelievable!

Anonymous Caroline said...

I also thought of The Women that I wanted to read but this sounds very interesting too. I envy those people occasionally whose energy seems to be never ending.
I have a book about him, It's time to leaf through it again.

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