When Nostalgia Isn’t Defined – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia, creativity and gaps in popular culture, I’m going to have to spend the next 3-4 paragraphs talking about music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A day or two before I wrote this article, I was clearing part of my room when I happened to find a CD that I’d forgotten that I even had. It was a free music CD that had been attached to the March 2006 issue of “Metal Hammer” magazine.

Although I was initially pleasantly surprised to discover that it contained “Cyanide” by Deathstars (a song that really reminds me a lot of 2008/9), I listened to a few of the other tracks out of curiosity and, although I didn’t know or remember any of them, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a song called “The Last Sunrise” by Aiden and it was the absolute epitome of mid-2000s heavy metal. With a mixture of clean vocals, emo-style vocals (that almost have a whiny early 2000s-style pop-punk quality to them) and shouty vocals, it couldn’t have come from any other era in history.

Even the intense, but sharp, guitar parts of the song sound very much like something from this part of history. Likewise, the emotional angst-filled lyrics are also very mid-2000s. I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly nostalgic about the mid-2000s (of all times) just by listening to a song I didn’t remember.

But, as you can probably tell from the convoluted description in the previous paragraph, the vocabulary for describing and defining mid-2000s nostalgia doesn’t really exist yet.

I mean, if I was to talk about – say- 1990s Hollywood movies, then I could talk at length about the chiaroscuro lighting that was popular back then. Or I could talk about how being made between the end of the cold war and before 9/11 gave these films an optimistic emotional tone that can’t be replicated today.

I could probably talk about how the fact that the internet was less widely-used back then affected the stories films told. I could probably talk about how the larger number of mid-budget films back then was beneficial to popular culture (and how smaller-scale stories can often be more dramatic than larger-scale ones). I could probably go on for a while.

But, when talking about something as simple as a song from 2006, I’m forced to use convoluted descriptions that may or may not make sense. Yes, I know what sets heavy metal music from the mid-2000s apart from heavy metal from other parts of history. But, finding a way to express that knowledge is somewhat more challenging because popular nostalgia hasn’t really caught up to this time period yet (eg: there’s usually at least a 20 year gap when it comes to nostalgia becoming popular).

So, what is the best thing to do if you’re a creative person who wants to express a type of nostalgia that hasn’t really been explored in popular culture?

Well, the first thing to do is to try to work out which qualities make something from a non-nostalgic period of the past so distinctive. Use your memories, do some online research, look at examples of things from that time etc.. and try to work out what they have in common. Or, failing that, find some creative works from the time period in question and take inspiration from them.

Even if you can’t concisely express what makes things from a particular time period unique, gaining a greater knowledge of it (through research and thought) will help you to find less direct ways to express this particular quality (eg: the way you describe locations, your characters’ personalities etc..).

If you’re an artist, then you have an advantage here, since you can try to replicate the “look” of a particular period of history, even if you can’t quite find the words to articulate what makes it do distinctive. For example, here are two paintings of mine that are based on a stylised version of the early-mid 2000s:

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Finding ways to turn nostalgia that isn’t widely shared into art, fiction etc.. can be a bit of a challenge. And, you probably aren’t going to get it right the first time. Still, it’s certainly worth trying nonetheless.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Limitations And Nostalgia – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about musical nostalgia for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was going through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase and, whilst listening to the first track of Sum 41’s “Half Hour Of Power” album, I suddenly remembered that they were one of the few punk bands that I knew about when I was a teenager. And how they seemed even cooler as a result of this.

A while earlier, I had also found myself listening to “Virus” by Iron Maiden. This is a bonus track that was included on one of the first Iron Maiden albums I ever bought (the “Best Of The Beast” compilation) and it reminded me of when I first discovered the band and how I knew relatively little about them at the time, but was eager to learn.

So, what was the point of this brief trip down memory lane? Well, it’s all to do with how limitations can affect and provoke nostalgia.

One of the interesting things about growing up at a time when the internet was a little bit less common is that information was harder to find. These days, if I see or listen to something interesting, then it’s a simple matter of searching for more info about it online. Likewise, finding information about other things that are like it isn’t too difficult either. Yes, this is really cool – but it means that anything you find probably won’t provoke quite the same type of nostalgia when you remember it in the future.

If you found something really cool 15-20 years ago, then it was a much more significant event. Chances are, you probably even have some kind of convoluted story about how you first found it.

For example, I discovered Iron Maiden (in about 2000/2001) by accident because they were on the soundtrack to “Carmageddon II” – which was a game I only got by accident because it happened to be included in a multipack with the PC port of “Resident Evil 2”.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago was also a much more significant event for the simple reason that it was a bit more difficult to tell whether there were other things like it out there. As such, finding something really brilliant was like finding a rare treasure. Instead of eagerly researching it on the internet, you tended to savour it whilst also hoping that you might possibly chance upon something similar in the future.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago also relied on chance, luck and serendipity a lot more than it does now. It involved noticing things in magazines, hearing recommendations from people, happening to watch things on TV, happening to hear something good on the radio or finding random things in shops. As such, discovering cool things tended to feel like more of a matter of luck or fate than it does now.

Then, of course, there’s all of the nostalgia that you didn’t actively seek out. In the days before the internet was truly mainstream, mass culture used to be much more prominent. I mean, if you asked me to name ten songs by current pop bands, I’d probably look at you like you’d asked me to translate this article into hieroglyphics.

But, during my childhood in the mid-late 1990s, I could probably reel off twenty song names without even thinking about it. Why? Because it was the main type of music (aside from the occasional pop-punk or rap song) that I was exposed to back then. The only real variation was the fact that the local radio station I listened to regularly at the time also used to play 1980s pop music too. So, a lot of my musical nostalgia is from genres that I don’t really listen to much these days.

Of course, limitations also provoke nostalgia in other ways too. Whether it is the graphics in older computer/video games (that force the player to use their imagination more and which place more emphasis on the actual gameplay, story etc..) or the fact that special effects in movies looked cooler in the past because there was no modern photo-realistic CGI to compare them to, the limitations involved in creating things in the past often tends to evoke a lot of nostalgia.

So, yes, a lot of what makes nostalgia “special” can often be due to the limitations of the past.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (11th October 2017)

Yes! Today’s digitally-edited painting was originally just going to be a painting of a bookshop/newsagents from the early 2000s. But, I was feeling even more inspired than I had expected, so it ended up going in a much more interesting 1980s/90s cyberpunk style direction 🙂 And, yes, I used a bit of artistic licence since – were I to draw a realistic early 2000s horror bookshelf, it’d probably consist of at least 50% Stephen King novels…

And, yes, I consider this painting to be a belated part of one of my two “awesome stuff” art series (here’s a page containing links to the first one, I can’t remember if I compiled the second one into a single post)

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"And Those Were The Glory Days" By C. A. Brown

“And Those Were The Glory Days” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (14th August 2017)

This silly “mid-2000s nostalgia” digitally-edited painting was surprisingly fun to make. Basically, after watching a few episodes of a ‘so bad that it’s good’ anime series from the mid-2000s called “Tokko“, I was in the mood for making another attempt at painting a ‘nostalgic’ painting set in the mid-2000s.

But, then, I realised that there’s a good reason why the world isn’t saturated with mid-’00s nostalgia. I may have been a teenager back then, but it was probably one of the most hilariously uncool decades ever (second only to this dreary, austere and puritanical decade).

Sure, flip phones were cool and maybe flame shirts were too (not to mention that DVDs are timeless, and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ isn’t a bad book) – but almost everything else was just hilariously silly – sickly alcopops, fake Chinese script tattoos, Limp Bizkit, boho fashion, “l33t haxxor” elitist nerdiness, emo fashion, chav fashion, that bloody ‘crazy frog‘, endless American remakes of J-Horror films, the sequels to “The Matrix”, MSN Messenger, MySpace etc…

So, this painting is as much a parody (I certainly had a laugh when making it) of the mid-00s as it is a ‘nostalgia’ painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Like 2005" By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (10th August 2017)

Today’s digitally-edited painting was something of an experimental painting. It mostly began as an attempt at using three-point perspective and then it somehow morphed into …a nostalgic painting about the 2000s.

Seriously, that decade isn’t old enough to get nostalgic about (and it isn’t as cool as the 1990s), yet I found my painting gradually including subtle allusions to early-mid 2000s music, technology, horror movies etc….

The perspective experiment failed (the wierd proportions in part of the painting are evidence of this). Likewise, taking a different approach to painting rain also failed slightly. Still, as bizarre as this painting was, it’s still probably the best painting I’ve made over the past few days.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Festival Perspective 2004” By C. A. Brown

Three Ways To Find Ideas For Nostalgic Art

2016 Artwork Types of nostalgic art

Nostalgia can be a very powerful source of creative inspiration if you’re an artist. Although the past is forever gone and will never return, making artwork based on either realistic or stylised versions of the past can be a good way to explore it once again. It’s not exactly time travel, but at least you’ll get a cool-looking painting or drawing to keep and to show off afterwards.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to make nostalgic art. Although I’ll be focusing on 1990s and 2000s nostalgia, these points can be applied to any other type of nostalgia.

1) Memories, old photos and items: These are the most obvious ways to come up with ideas nostalgic art. Either use your own memories for inspiration or you can make paintings that are directly based on either your old photos or on items that you own from the time period in question. Although these sound like similar ways to get inspired, they will produce two radically different types of artwork.

Memory is a notoriously unreliable thing, so your memory artwork probably won’t be “100 % accurate”. However, you can use this to your advantage – by making your paintings or drawings a lot more stylised and expressive than you would be able to do if you were using a photo or a physical object. In addition to this, it’s important to remember that art isn’t photography – so no-one will expect your art to be “100% accurate”.

To give you an example, here’s a painting of mine that is based on my memories of punk nights in a bar called “The Angel” [NSFW] in the late 2000s. I’ve probably got a few of the background details wrong, but this painting is a much more expressive record of my memories than a simple photo would be.

"Days Of The Angel" By C. A. Brown

“Days Of The Angel” By C. A. Brown

If you’re drawing or painting from your old photos or from a physical object, then your artwork will probably look a lot more detailed and “realistic”. Even so, you should probably still use some artistic licence in order to make your picture look a bit more interesting.

For example, in this painting of some cute plastic frogs I’ve owned since the late 1990s and an old DVD, I decided to blur the DVD cover (both in order to avoid distracting the audience from the foreground, and for copyright reasons) and I also added a solid black background so that the bright orange frogs would stand out against it.

"1990s Frogs And More DVDs" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Frogs And More DVDs” By C. A. Brown

2) Fan art: One simple way to create interesting nostalgic art is to make fan art based on TV shows, movies, videogames etc.. from the time period in question. One advantage of this is that it is relatively easy to find reference material (either from looking at the original thing, or doing an image search online). In addition to this, it is also more likely to be something that other people will remember too.

Even if it isn’t something that is widely known, then it’ll probably be something that someone will remember – like this fan art/parody (the show’s logo contains a lot of dangerously exposed wiring, it seemed like too obvious of a thing not to make a joke about) picture that I made a year or two ago of an old TV show from the 1990s called “Bugs“:

"Fan Art - Bugs - Cool Show, Deadly Logo" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art – Bugs – Cool Show, Deadly Logo” By C. A. Brown

However, although fan art is usually tolerated by most large media companies (and, in the EU and US, the right to make parodies is protected by law), you will be somewhat limited in what you can do with your fan art. In other words, you can’t sell your fan art or claim that it’s entirely your own work.

Not only that, fan art can often lack the personal quality that nostalgic art based on memories etc… can have.

3) Stylised composites: This is one of my favourite ways of making nostalgic art, although it certainly has it’s downsides. Basically, you make a new painting or drawing that is heavily inspired (but not a direct copy of) by a number of things from a particular period in history. Personally, the 1990s is my favourite decade when it comes to this type of art.

Although you’ll end up with something new, exciting and crammed with nostalgia, this type of artwork usually requires a lot of prior research. Whilst this could just include image searches for fashions from a particular decade, or research into technology, film etc… you’ll have to look at a lot of things and then create a composite of original things that are inspired by (but not a direct copy of) a mixture of all of these things.

If you’re making artwork that revolves around an unrealistic genre of fiction, then look at examples of films, games etc.. from that time period for inspiration. However, unlike fan art, you should only use generic, uncopyrightable elements from these things (for example, 1980s/1990s sci-fi would include a lot of neon lighting, rainy weather, leather trenchcoats, mega cities etc…..)

In addition to this, you’ve also got to remember not to cram too many nostalgic things into just one painting. Yes, this can work in some stylised paintings, but if you’re trying to make a “realistic” painting, then less is often more. Still, there’s something to be said for pastiche-style paintings, like this one I made quite a few months ago:

"All Kinds Of Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“All Kinds Of Awesome” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂