paul@pauljohnston.com 416.897.5480
Salesperson, right at home realty inc. 416.391.3232

Shock of The New : not so shocking after all…

Apr 11, 2014 by Paul

I giggle a little bit when a neuron misfires and I’m suddenly connecting what I do today for a living, with what I studied in university. Let’s go back…

Most people think I must have studied architecture, or graphic design, or some equally visual field. Fact is, I laboured through a 4 year BA while simultaneously promoting bands, djing, throwing raves and scouting nightclub locations. But back to my communications degree, and these wonderful ‘quasi texts’ that I swallowed whole. One was Neil Postmans’ “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (hardly academic, but as close to analytic poetry as writing gets), another was “The Shock of the New” by Robert Hughes. “Shock” resonated with me, not just because it profiles the history of modern (western) art, but because it tried to explore the reasons why modern art caused discomfort. Why the movement strained against the prevailing form, and was disruptive. Why some people, hated it.

So there I was in class, digging these textbooks, while promoting jungle DJs and chill-out lounges. And importing energy drinks. It sort of made sense to me – study those who disrupt and disturb, and carve out your own universe by promoting and exploring the counter-culture of the rave generation. A lot of late nights, most of them not spent studying.

Fast forward to 2008, on the front porch of a lovely modern home I was helping to bring to life. The bricks were being put on, and a passerby yelled out “It looks like a bloody prison”. Shocking. New. A modern home, on a street – indeed a neighbourhood – where not a single home was straining against the norm. Not a single structure was eliciting a response much beyond banal comments about paint colour.

So here I am, today, watching the gentle wave of exceptional modern homes wash across the city. There are fewer sidewalk screamers, and indeed a growing acceptance and embrace of modern architecture for modern times. This modern home shift doesn’t feel old yet, when it does I’ll move on to something else. But for the moment, it reminds me of why we need to agitate, why we need to test and challenge – because without the Shock of the New, life is beige. It took greats like Rothko in the art world, Sven Vath in music, and the brave souls who have fought for modern homes today.