What exactly is Retro?

What exactly is Retro?

Retro is a term used to describe culturally outdated or aged trends, modes, or fashions, from the overall post-modern past, but have since that time become functional or in fashion once again. The use of "retro" style icons and imagery in post-modern art, advertising and mass media has occurred from around the time of the industrial revolution up to present times.

The word “Retro” itself can be used to simply mean old fashioned or old, but also as in timeless or classic. Sometimes, it can also suggest an entire outlook on life, for example, social conservatism, home schooling, or the embrace of traditional gender roles is seen as being ‘retro minded’.

Things like manual typewriters (Just gave one of these relics to the local kindergarten!), old style computer games like pac-man and the big brick type cell phones are seen as retro these days, but generally retro is used to describe objects and attitudes from the recent past that no longer seem modern. It suggests a fundamental shift in the way we relate to the past. Different from more traditional forms of revival, “retro” suggests a half ironic, half longing for the recent past. It has been called an “unsentimental nostalgia,” recalling “modern” forms that are no longer current. "Retro" sometimes also refers to the fifties era.

Today it is often used in a positive sense, referring to quirky or attractive products that are no longer available. For example, "Retro fashion" or "Retro Chic" may consist of outdated styles, such as tie-dyed t-shirts from the 1960s, or poodle skirts from the 1950s. A love of retro objects (those things from the past) is called retrophilia. I guess I suffer from that as I tend to use retro colour schemes in both my art and decorating and I adore the relics of the past just for their quirkiness than anything else.

So what about Retro art

 The style that is now called retro art originated from pop art which was developed some time in the 1940s and 1950s due to the need for bold, eye-catching graphics that were easy to reproduce. Art for retro advertising has experienced a resurgence in popularity since its style is distinctive from modern computer-generated styling.

‘Retro’ is often confused with ‘Kitsch’ which is a German word for a style of art that is considered an inferior, tasteless copy of a style of art or a worthless imitation of art  There are many versions out there of the Mona Lisa in kitsch form for example.. The concept is associated with the deliberate use of elements that may be thought of as cultural icons like the Mona Lisa or Virgin Mary where the making cheap mass-produced objects that are unoriginal are the norm. Kitsch also refers to the types of art that are aesthetically deficient as in not being sentimental, glamorous or creative. The term Kitsch is considered derogatory and the term is generally reserved for unsubstantial and gaudy works that are calculated to have popular appeal and are considered pretentious and shallow rather than genuine artistic efforts.

This doesn’t mean that all retro or kitsch art is tacky or of low value, there is a lot out there making a name for itself in many ways. It’s a contemporary concept that can sometimes be borderline as to its aesthetic appeal and  its ability to attract high paying buyers. But some of it does! I wouldn’t write it off as not worth looking at or investing in.

If you wanted to paint retro what colours would you use? Avocado green is a key colour which is the most popular retro colour choice, followed closely by mustard yellow and then combinations of black, white and red. Purple and hot pink work well together for a retro look but so do mixes of bright orange, green, indigo blue, and yellow if used all together.

The retro style of bubbles and geometric shapes can be translated to many styles of artwork, its easy to understand in a contemporary setting and works well in modern décor.

Posted: Saturday 27 February 2010


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