A while before writing this article, I found that I was going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual. However, rather than looking for “new” things from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s that I’d never seen before in order to learn more about these familiar, but still tantalisingly mysterious, parts of history – I found that I was much more interested in revisiting “old” things and old memories.
Whether it was old things like Ocean FM, late night channel 4 broadcasts, “South Park”, various audio cassettes, certain old computer games, Youtube videos of the Windows 98 “Maze” screensaver, shouty early-mid 2000s metal songs etc… these were all things that I’d experienced before in some way or another. They were a mildly more “personal” type of nostalgia.
To use a slightly more vague example, when I went out to water a plant in the early evening before preparing this article, the air had a cool yet warm crispness to it and a slight floral/dried grass smell which suddenly made me think of random things from my childhood. It made me think of old kitchens, metal tins, green shoeboxes, a vaguely American-style church in Havant that I saw during the late 1990s, a pair of hideous old curtains, the very first time I ever tried to pull an all-nighter and a whole bunch of things that are personally nostalgic, but not “nostalgia”.
And this made me think about nostalgia and artistic inspiration. Because, most of the time when I try to make “nostalgic” art, it is often based on a highly stylised (and Americanised) version of the time periods that I’m trying to evoke. It’s often more based on the internet pop culture “version” of the decades in question than my actual memories of 1990s and early-mid 2000s Britain – like this:
Of course, this is an easier way to make “nostalgic” stuff for the simple reason that the research material is more easily available. Likewise, it often relies on a commonly-known set of visual symbols (eg: for the 1990s, this would include things like floral prints, floppy disks, sweatshirts worn like belts, backwards baseball caps, audio cassettes, POGs, Tamagotchis, game cartridges, VHS tapes etc..). But, the downside to doing this is that these types of nostalgic art can lack individuality and personality.
Yes, the exact mixture of “nostalgic” pop culture and technology that is alluded to in this type of nostalgic art will vary heavily from person to person. And, to a large extent, this can be a good way of adding some individuality to your nostalgic art. After all, the really cool stuff that instantly makes you think of the 1990s or the early-mid 2000s will be at least slightly different to the things that evoke the same feeling in other people.
But, making art based on actual memories and/or feelings of nostalgia is significantly more difficult. This is mostly because memories can fade or blur over time, which means that trying to make “accurate” art based on them can be next to impossible. Yes, you can make art that sort of vaguely looks a little bit like them, but the exact details will probably be wrong. Like this:
The exact feeling of nostalgia is also one of those things that is near-impossible to put into words, let alone into pictures. It’s one of those highly complex emotions which can simultaneously exist in several versions and which also varies from person to person too. It is something that cannot be described or depicted fully and will always get “lost in translation” whenever this is attempted.
For example, one of my “nostalgic” moods is heavily based on the mood that childhood memories of visiting my cousins, listening to novelty “South Park” songs and/or looking at Windows 3.1 evokes in me. It’s a wonderfully warm, cosy and reassuring, but understated, mood. It is also a strangely “American” mood (even though I’ve never been to America). It’s a mood that I also experienced slightly when I played this set of modern “Doom II” levels. But, no doubt, this entire paragraph probably won’t tell you a thing about what this mood actually feels like.
So, yes, the less specific and personal nostalgia happens to be, the easier it is to use for artistic inspiration. But, even so, your own version of “pop culture” nostalgia will still be somewhat unique for the simple reason that the exact mixture of commonly-known inspirations you use will probably be slightly different to everyone else’s.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂