Art & Nightlife

For many of us, students especially, our weekends consist of partying all through Friday and Saturday night, whilst sleeping in the day. Our social life revolves around the night time, whether it be at a party or at a club where the average arrival time is 12am and most of us usually end up getting home in the early hours of the next morning. Many of our conversations are based upon dramatic events that happened on previous nights; ‘you’ll never guess who threw a drink at who’ or ‘that other night was so funny because we all got so drunk and…’ The aim of a night out these days is often to make yourself look as good as you can and to attract a partner, however after consuming too much alcohol the image of someone wanting to dance with you becomes a faint memory. In discussing how people have changed in the way they ‘party’ it is clear that there is a substantial change from 100 years ago, but there are questions as to why artists often use nightlife as a focus point in their work.

Jane Austen

In the days of Jane Austen, parties were often balls, where men and women would, like us, get dressed up with the intention of attracting someone of the opposite sex. However drinking was far less involved, the music was live and they would also dance together, but quiet enough so that people could converse in light hearted conversation

But where does this urge to go out on the weekends, drink and party all through the night and have horrific hangovers the next day come from? And how does nightlife affect our art? Art (literature, movies, theatre, music, paintings) have had an impact on our style, our attitudes and our social life. It can often influence our ideas on love and passion, and give us hope to be able to escape from the negative, challenging times the real world can bring.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

The 1920s created a huge shift in the social life of many people in America, which quickly influenced the UK and other countries around the world. It is argued that after the distress and pain caused by the First World War, many people wanted to ‘let their hair down’. Scott Fitzgerald was a hugely influential writer of that time and is considered one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. One of his most famous novels was The Great Gatsby; a book that is centred around parties and socialising. Fitzgerald used his own experience in life to create extraordinary stories. His characters engulf themselves in the party scene, like Fitzgerald and his wife did. Influenced by his own personal life, Fitzgerald created a fantasy about the night, its glitz and glamor and its sense of magic. The protagonists’ Gatsby and Daisy’s affair is largely centred around them meeting at night; Gatsby throws these glorious parties just so that he can spend time with Daisy. Beyond all the lavish food and the great music, there are two heartbroken people who only want to make up lost time with one another. Fitzgerald brilliantly sets the scene of each party that Gatsby hosts, allowing the reader to dive deep into imagining what it would be like at a post-war dance; ‘There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden, old men pushing young girls backward in eternal, graceless circles… By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz, and between the numbers, people were doing “stunts” all over the garden’. Gatsby, could be perceived as the ‘artist’ who, in the novel, makes all these parties happen, however his presence at his own party if very limited. He seems to be a character who ‘creates’ these spectacular events, however does not indulge in them himself.

Consequently, there is a subtext beneath all of this. The extravagant nature of 1920s lifestyle compared to other periods leads to the question: why do people feel the need to drink now? Why do they want to gather and party surrounded by a huge number of people? It seems that the only clear answer is to escape; to free their mind of all that is wrong with the world and to discover great fantasies and dreams.


Ernest Hemingway and Midnight in Paris

However, it is often the greatest writers who have unfortunately succumbed to a difficult past. Ernest Hemingway is known as one of the most profound writers of the 20th Century. He had his own personal opinion on socialising and nightlife, as he was also known to like a drink or two. In the film Midnight in Paris (directed by Woody Allen), the protagonist Gil who is an aspiring writer, finds himself travelling back to the 1920s every day at midnight, ending up at parties or bars, magically surrounded by the ‘real life’ artists and writers of that era. Subsequently, he meets and befriends the elite of Paris art and culture at the time, including Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Ernest Hemingway is one of those writers to be there, always with a drink in his hand. His presence in the film creates a very surreal but serious tone. He was once known to have said “There is no night life in Spain. They stay up late but they get up late. That is not night life. That is delaying the day. Night life is when you get up with a hangover in the morning. Night life is when everybody says what the hell and you do not remember who paid the bill. Night life goes round and round and you look at the wall to make it stop. Night life comes out of a bottle and goes into a jar. If you think how much are the drinks it is not night life.’ I believe that this attitude is depicted within the film; the actor creates a very serious yet sarcastic tone to each scene he is present in, often owning the room, even though he does not say an awful lot. His character seems to be lost, he seems to be a man who does not interact much, but when he does speak, everyone listens, and what he does say has an impact on everyone who listens, mirroring his powerful works.

Hemingway Midnight in Paris

It is clear, that nightlife and art are linked, whether as a metaphor for escape, to set the scene or even where artists themselves gather, it is very significant. Looking at today’s present nightlife, it has also changed. The way we dance, talk and behave is extremely different to the 1920s. We presume that then, it was to escape, but are we still trying to ‘escape’ now?

Are we still shattered by the past that being in a fantasy world after midnight is so much more desirable?