Ode to the City: Charlotte is the New Frontier of American Art


Charlotte‘s layout is fascinating to me. The landscape of much of the city reminds me of a smaller town; ugly signs on the sides of bad roads for big box stores. Beat up chain link fences overgrown with weeds. Abandoned buildings covered in graffiti. On the roads in summer, with cars stretched out in front of you, the heat rising off the roads and squat buildings, you get a sense that you are in a wasteland. I’ve lived in such places most of my life, but when I moved to Charlotte three years ago, there was one key difference that I found quite intriguing: dropped in the center of this desert of concrete and plastic, like a puff of creme in the middle of a donut, there was a collection of skyscrapers. I remember driving up 74 for the first time, past decrepit and boarded up shops and vacant, weed ruined lots, towards Uptown, beautiful and shining, the sun glittering against the glass of the buildings, looking like a massive jewel jammed into the earth. It was so beautiful from far away that I thought to myself, “Wow. I bet once I get up there, I’ll find a lot of artists and musicians and lovers of life to meet and talk to.”

There was nothing of the sort. It was boring. Just tall, beautiful buildings and guys wearing khakis and button up blue shirts, walking in and out of tall buildings, being important, handling money. The city was gorgeous, it had nice artwork, and it was peaceful, but it was inactive, inert. I realized that I had never heard of any artist that came out of Charlotte, and nobody I can think of had ever had called Charlotte a “great town for creative types”, not in the same way people would mention New York, or Austin, or Seattle. “I should have done research before I moved here”, I said to myself after a few weeks. I was under the impression that the entire city was pleasant, but with no artistic outlets. And I wondered how such a huge glittering diamond of industry and commerce could exist while just a few miles away, decay and apathy where taking deep root.

To be sure, the area is not conducive to traditional creative inspiration. We have no tall and majestic mountain to look up upon and be awed by and no dry, sandy desert to find ourselves in. We have no ocean to sit in front of and watch the waves endlessly repeat, and we have no great forests to venture through, bewildered by the mystery and majesty of the trees. This town and it’s inhabitants seem to be all business. Everything is parking lots, square buildings, traffic, concrete, plastic, glass, metal, weeds, and fences. There is no sense of love or mystery or opportunity floating in the air. It’s a dry, still, landscape.

But, we do have that skyline. That small, little, skyline, that promises much and delivers nothing. It’s a frontier of art, one that I think has gone undiscovered by many a modern artist. A sense of ridiculous pomposity existing beside a humble America scraping to get by. And the more I move about and look at our country, the more I see the same landscape repeated over and over. Big buildings, full of business and fury, signifying nothing, and the desert of concrete and plastic surrounding it, it’s people’s money and power being leeched away by tall buildings and the people that inhabit them. I feel as though we are in a unique position to make art that reflects the existence of an average American viewing the slow decay of our culture and the death of the American Dream. Or we can become scientists and actually DO something to change what we are becoming. But that’s harder than making art, and Americans have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. Either way, I kind of like Charlotte…

Normal Dennis

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