When I go to a new area I take it all in. For me everything is important to get to understand the feel of a region. The buildings, the characters walking by, everything. What kind of businesses are in an area is another big one. From each of these details I begin to build an image the the area as a whole. When you zone in on just one thing, you may have a distorted picture. Every aspect of a town or community is a piece of a puzzle, without it all together it doesn’t make much sense. Go to a city virtually anywhere in the world and you will find an overabundance of McDonald’s, KFCs, Taco Bells, and all the other mega chain restaurants you would find in America. You should also look at the small time vendors and keep an eye out for more local places. I’ll never forget when I first arrived in Costa Rica a naïve member of my party stated that it didn’t “look like another country.” I’m not sure what he expected other countries to look like (he had never left the US), but I’m sure it wasn’t the overabundance of American chains that we saw. It sure “looked like another country” to me.
I actually did a really interesting sociology project where I hung around my state capital of Olympia and took notes about what I observed. For those of you not from Washington, Olympia has a reputation for being a Bohemian oddness magnet. Very different from my town, very different. When I observed pedestrians, restaraunts and other businesses, and numurous other factors I would say that the stereoptype of the town was enforced strongly. Many people think that all stereotypes have no basis in truth, but shame on them for making such oversimplifieng assumptions.
When the millennium turned Europe was beginning to leave the Dark Age and enter what many consider to be Medieval times (though some lump the two together). A cornerstone of Medieval progress was the development of Romanesque period art and architecture. Romanesque work originated as imitation of Imperial Roman architecture and was an attempt to restore Europe to it’s pre-Fall glory. Defining characteristics were rounded arches and vaults. The movement actually took influences from a wide variety of sources, leading to much regional diversity. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Romanesque buildings are how they ambitiously combine several different art forms, making Romanesque churches into a form of master art. Every visible part of the building was a potential art space, meaning even practical architectural elements could double as sculpture. Columns are a perfect example of Romanesque art because they are an obvious influence from Greco-Roman architecture and Medieval builders built upon past usage of columns and used and integrated sculpture into the practical design. Portals (the area around the main door) are another important element that were turned into sculpture:
Romanesque art is also responsible for many innovations that were unheard of in Roman times. Stained glass windows are one of the most important examples as for many they are synonymous with Medieval art. The colorful, two dimensional, windows provide a nice counter to the often colorless (granted some were painted but it has faded away) and three dimensional sculptures. The art remained important well into the Renascence and there was revival of stained glass in Victorian times which continues to some extent today. Most of the examples I could find were Gothic or later, but here are some Romanesque stained glass windows:
During the Romanesque period almost anything could be made into art. The diversity is stunning with each building different than the next. Depending on the location influences (aside from namesake Roman) could include Celtic, Saxon, Islamic, Norse, Mozarabic, Visigothic, Ostrogothic, or Byzantine just to name a few. Visual style aside, all Romanesque art is unified with common elements. The chief of these is a Biblical worldview, or more accurately the Biblical worldview endorsed by the Catholic Church. Close examination of most pieces will reveal the most common theme are Biblical stories, depictions of extra-Biblical Saints are also popular. The reason for this was to make the content of the Bible accessible for the illiterate. Scholars have dubbed this the “Poor Man‘s Bible” and it can be seen in sculptures, stained glass, and murals (which I have chosen not to write about as they are not uniquely Romanesque). Local flavor can be seen in depictions of that areas rulers and history. We can also see much about how Medieval people saw the world in their depictions of grotesque beasts meant to protect the building from evil. Taken as a whole, Romanesque cathedrals and churches can be viewed as elaborate art museums, because they showcase the contemporary art in a region represented by almost every form of art.