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Sophie Kaufmann: Progress without tradition is an unwise pursuit

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Sophia Kaufmann Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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The Eiffel Tower is known as the symbol of the great city of Paris. It stands at the heart of this iconic city, a memorial built during France’s centennial year of the French Revolution.

Gustav Eiffel, a French engineer, had the idea of the Eiffel Tower to have an industrious look to celebrate a new age of industrial power that was revolutionary at this time. This is why the Eiffel Tower is made of metal, which is different from the stone, brick, and stucco of most French architecture. It was meant to stand out from traditional Parisian architecture, and it was built to be a temporary landmark; it was to stand for just 20 years.

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When it was originally built after two years of construction, hundreds of Parisians protested, campaigned, and criticized what is now an iconic landmark in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.

These protesters claimed it was a disgrace to architecture. The Eiffel Tower is markedly different from traditional Parisian architecture, yet the goal of its construction was to commemorate and celebrate France’s freedom, as well as France’s power gained during the great Industrial Revolution.

Now, Parisians are proud of this world-famous tower and would agree that it represents Paris as a free, revolutionized, and industrialized city. The Eiffel Tower is a wonderful example of progression that does not interrupt other traditions and styles in Parisian culture and art, and I offer it as an example of how tradition and progress may successfully coexist and even complement one another.

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Progress, in science, society, art, and otherwise, is necessary. Yet progress should not be made without careful consideration of experts in the art world or without the consent of the governed people in a society. Consider, again, that though the Eiffel Tower was different from traditional Parisian architecture, it certainly did not or does not diminish traditional works or end the practice of traditional Parisian architecture. This concept of progressing with new ideas is important in art, culture, ideas, and more.

That being said, it also important to preserve tradition. In fact, the two are not separate ideas. Progress must be informed by history and tradition, in most cases. The past informs the present.

Great literature often is created by alluding to past literature and ideas, a new style of art is often a response to the art that comes before it, and new ideas, solutions, or cultural emphases begin with cultural realities or ideas, right or wrong, of the past. New ideas are rarely formed without critically thinking on past ideas. If we were to forget and dismiss the beautiful art style of Impressionism, for example, an art style originated in France, we would suffer a great loss of this tradition and be less able to appreciate the artistic eras that followed it.

It seems a difficult balance between tradition and progression, but if we are to live wisely and fully, it is vital to attempt to find this balance. We too easily are pressured into an either/or mindset. Either traditional art, literature, architecture, and ideologies are good — or they are bad. The same goes for contemporary art, literature, architecture, and ideologies. This good/bad assessment is a forced dichotomy and an unnecessary tension.

Some might say we must embrace tradition, while others would say we must encourage progress. I say we must do both. One without the other is incomplete; neither are fixed beliefs. In fact, groups of people with certain beliefs for such things as art change their ideas and philosophies with time.

In order for art, literature, and science to develop and be created, we must remember that it is to risk rejecting new-and-improved in favor of old ideas or ideals that may be familiar, but not better. It is only in the appropriate tension of the two that we might enjoy the literature and arts.

Sophie Kaufmann is a 2022 graduate of Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, jpieters@postbulletin.com.

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