Do You Have Time for Art?

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Manequin and Lighting Display, Department Store, Paris

Mannequin and Lighting Display, Department Store, Paris

This is a department store. We are trying to sell socks and batteries. Is there really time and space for art?

Department stores can sometimes be crudely efficient. They are made up of straight aisles of merchandising tables and displays. This is not true in Paris.

My wife needed a small item for her camera. So we walked to a nearby department store. It was a chain store, not an exclusive shop. We went up the escalator to the right floor and she walked to the back. I got interested in this lighting and mannequin display. There were three shiny silver mannequins arranged around the railing. They were posed as if they were looking down to the floors below. Anyone walking by this opening would be drawn to the railing to look down, just as the mannequins were doing. They were wearing current clothing that was for sale nearby, so they served an artistic and a marketing function.

One of my current favorite authors, Edith Wharton, was a New Yorker by birth, but spent many years traveling and writing about what she learned. She felt that “…the French are a race of artists: it is the key that unlocks every door of their complex pyschology [sic]…” (French Ways and Their Meaning, 1919). Perhaps this sounds like an overly generalized stereotype. But I think that it is hard not to see the justification for the statement if you spend time in France, especially Paris.

Walking through parts of Paris you can see artistic planning and composition. The streets, the buildings, the Metro stops, and cafés add to these scenes, rather than detract. Everywhere you look the views have the impact of a well composed painting.

Many stores work hard for interesting displays, not just the French, of course. And there are plenty of inartistic stores in France, to be sure.  But this display is a good example of making the space and taking the time to include an artistic display in a commercial setting. To me, they were aware that not everyone who comes into the store needs to be looking for merchandise, and even those who are shopping can also take time to appreciate art on their way to the battery racks. This display certainly gave me something to do while I waited.  Photo:  1/250 s at f/5.6

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