Location of the first flight by the Wright Brothers
Growing up in Ohio, you hear about the Wright Brothers just a wee bit. They were part of the triumvirate of American genius responsible for the modern world: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and Wilbur & Orville. Computers and all their related ephemera remained a distant dream. Naturally, perspective accrued and all of those great engineers shrank to human size.
I’ve been thinking about scale a lot lately. The minimal view prevents analysis while an overarching take removes reasonable judgement. Given a short enough view, fascism is individual missteps with occasional moments of horror while the extreme long view makes it appear as an unfortunate blip. Without context, Jesus’ disciple Matthew and the writer Cervantes were collaborators with the ruling powers if you observe their early years while their overall lives allow a completely different take.
Artists are not immune. William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe would probably have some thoughts. But then there is also the scale of influence, which we measure over time. As an artist, you can’t look past the work currently in progress (that includes cooking in the back of your mind), which creates an interesting paradox. Art for public consumption is one of humanity’s most visible attempts to influence the world- often simply “look over here” or “empathize with me.”
Invention is the most extreme example of the engineer as artist, perhaps the audience is as much an inanimate object as other people. Certain inventors have had an outsized influence on the world- Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci being prime examples of scale beyond all reason- the Shakespeare’s of their spheres. I do not intend to diminish their accomplishments. Our current lens that we use to view history favors what they did above all others.
And then there is the personal view.
The way I look at Charles Dickens or Tintoretto is not necessarily shared by the mass of humanity. Just because I consider them important or irrelevant today does not mean that I will feel the same way ten years hence. My scale changes as I gain more years and experiences.
A while back, we visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We visited beaches, light houses and nature preserves. Late in the season as it was, the weather encouraged non-seashore activity. Looking for more to do, we headed for the Wright Brothers National Memorial. When you are inundated as a youth with something, it just isn’t a priority after that.
I was good through the opening lecture by the Park Ranger. I was more than a little impressed by the airplane on display, though I had seen something similar at the Smithsonian. Then the Ranger invited us to walk the dunes where the Wrights first flew. Ground markers showed the paths of each flight.
In books, the distances sound insignificant. The development leaps made by the Wrights after their initial attempts are not mentioned enough. It’s all about scale. Walk those yards at Kill Devil Hills. On a personal level, my point of view changed based on the simple expedient of exposing myself to the original source.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 138 more to go.
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