|The Lights of Other Days, by John F. Peto|
Glance at this painting at the Art Institute.
Not a famous work. Not "American Gothic" or "Nighthawks." Hung on a panel in a display of 19th century American design, perpendicular to the gallery, so I had to lean in to try to take a proper photo of it.
"The Lights of Other Days" by John F. Peto, a minor tromp l'oeil artist.
Still, the century-old work gave me pause, because he's doing something we like to do, and imagine is a modern emotion—rhapsodizing past technologies. In this case, the lightbulb, which had replaced the candles used for centuries, was about 25 years old and spreading rapidly. Peto gathered the dusty, tossed out candle holders and lanterns for one last group shot the way, for a decade or two, authors used to laud their typewriters, the whap-whap-whap of the keys, the thunk of the carriage return.
Until they said, "Aw, the hell with it," and got a computer.
You could see the nostalgia for a flame lit world. The soft glow. The romance.
But not so much that we still do it. We could. Candles are still around. You could light your house with them. But you don't, because it's bothersome and expensive and you'd end up burning the place down. That happened back then.
A reminder that nostalgia is a filter, a screen, that only lets the good part through. We remember the glow and not the burned down houses.