The Literary Imagination
20 August 2012
Arts, Man on Wire, and Bomb the Suburbs
Pan to Houston, Texas at night. On an episode of Stephen Fry in America, produced by Andre Singer, standing on a stage in a dimly lit room, surrounded by Houston’s elite, actor and comedian Stephen Fry speaks of the importance of the arts. “Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.” In contrast to Fry, there are people who wish the government would cut funding for the arts. And then there are the artists. People who fight for the right to practice their art, whether they consciously know they’re fighting or not. People who will go to amazing lengths to showcase their art, and their dedication and determination is what gets them mentioned year after year after year. People like Philippe Petit, the quirky French high-wire artist who flew from France just to walk on a wire across the Twin Towers, whose life is forever immortalized in the documentary Man on Wire. People like William “Upski” Wimsatt, one of the most prolific Chicago-born graffiti artists, who inspired a generation of graffiti artists to view graffiti as an art form in his book Bomb the Suburbs!. Using whatever methods they can, illegal or not, they both worked to achieve their dreams and send their message to the world. They managed to pull people out of the blasé outlook mentioned in Georg Simmel’s scholarly essay The Metropolis and Mental Life. One of the most prominent situations where an artist’s dream pulled people out of the unconcerned manner in which they carried themselves was the 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers by Philippe Petit. High-wire walking is a form of tightrope walking, much like tight-wire walking, which is the simple art of maintaining balance while walking on a tensioned wire. The difference between the two is that high-wire is at a much greater height. The amount of concentration and balance and individual must have to accomplish this is extremely important in the art of tightrope walking. This is a testament to the level of professionalism and dedication that Petit had. Although he gained his notoriety in the US for walking between the twin towers, he was already gaining observations from various other places in the world, such as France, where he walked between the two spires of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and Australia, where he walked between the two sides of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Petit realized his dream of walking between the Twin Towers when he was sixteen, soon after he had taken up high-wire walking, while in the dentist’s office and seeing an artist’s rendering of the towers as they would look when built. His passion for the art of high wire is best explained by Petit himself in the documentary Man on Wire directed by James Marsh. “Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge - and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.” Because of his strong desire to be anything but boring, Petit put everything he had into his art. He practiced with family and friends, letting them help him improve so that one day he would achieve that dream of walking between the Twin Towers. After many years of planning and many hours the previous night setting up, Petit began taking his first steps on the wire. They were all indifferent and did not notice, except the people who were in on ‘the coup’ (his nickname for the act). In 1903, German sociologist, Georg Simmel speaks of the blasé attitude the sights and sounds of the city brought to its inhabitants...