III. The Aeroplane and the Arts, I


As a technological milestone, Louis Blériot’s 25 July 1909 flight across the English Channel was rather less than noteworthy; as symbol and spectacle it was nothing short of epochal. In the thirty-six-and-a-half-minutes between the Frenchman’s take-off from the shores of Calais to his touchdown (or, more accurately, crash down) on the white cliffs of Dover — everything changed. England was “no longer an island;” the obstacles imposed by geography were conquered; humanity had imposed its collective will upon nature; time and space were transcended via mechanical device. Blériot’s acomplishment was universally proclaimed the realization of a Great Deed.

In the weeks and months to follow, men and women from all walks of life in Europe, the United States, Russia, and elsewhere were seized by a “passion for wings.” They flocked in the tens (and hundreds) of thousands to witness for themselves the public performances of the era’s “new Prometheans.” Almost overnight aviators and their aeroplanes took hold of the popular imagination. Their feats transformed understanding of the individual’s relationship to nature, re-shaped international relations, gave birth to new industries, and inspired the creativity of the world’s leading artists.

This week’s  journey begins with a glance at Blériot’s flight and the delirium that ensued in its aftermath. From there, we stop off at airfields and exhibitions in Europe and the United States to meet the leading fliers of they day, participate (by proxy) in the “miracle of the ages,” and examine the earliest artifacts of aeronautical pop culture. Our final stop transports us into the realm of imagination as we conclude our “Destination” with an extended investigation of the aeroplane’s influence in shaping modern painting, poetry, and the arts.

Key Terms:
• The Champagne Region’s Great Aviation Week
• Gabrielle D’Annunzio
• Roland Garros
• ‘Baroness’ Raymonde de Laroche
• Pablo Picasso
• Robert Delaunay
• Futurism
• ferro-concrete poetry
• Vasily Kamensky
• Kazimir Malevich
• Suprematism

 Readings, Browsings, & Viewings: (each opens in a new window)
The 1910 Los Angeles International Air Meet at Dominguez Hills (Browse)
• F. T. Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto” (1909)
• Franz Kafka, “The Aeroplanes at Brescia” (1909) (opens .pdf file)
Image Gallery: