If I used the term “retro” or “gothic” to describe something, almost everyone would understand what I meant. That isn’t the case with the term “Steampunk”; however, that is beginning to change. Steampunk encompasses art, fashion, design, and even film whose aesthetics draw from Victorian era mechanical inventions and style cues. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical “Steampunk” style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as Steampunk.
I bet most people have seen or read some work of fiction that has Steampunk influences, but just don’t realize it. If you’ve seen the movie Wild Wild West, then you’ve seen a production design that incorporates a lot of technology in a time period where it didn’t exist, which is a major component of Steampunk culture.
Wild Wild West is, in my humble opinion, a movie whose gadgets are more interesting than any of the characters or plot but it is often credited as kickstarting the Steampunk culture. Some films were definitely enhanced by incorporating Steampunk designs. Hellboy 1 & 2, Hugo, The Prestige, and Sherlock Holmes 1 & 2 were all winners for their respective studios and audiences alike.
That’s only the movie end of Steampunk. There are plenty of examples in literary works as well, but the medium where I really see Steampunk grabbing peoples attention is handmade consumer goods. There are some pretty talented artists creating or modifying things like flash drives, telephones, and other household items, embellishing them with gears, cranks and brass…lots of brass. Here’s a few examples:
In these cases, the gears and brass piping have no legitimate use, which I hear is frowned upon, but they are still great conversation pieces and should be considered an art form.
There is one example of Steampunk art that everyone who cares about this stuff must see. Unlike the previous examples, all of the gears and cranks actually serve a purpose. It is the reason I wanted to write about this subject. Watch this video and try to keep your jaw off the floor:
How sick is that? Rob Higgs is either brilliant or has way too much time on his hands. Or both.
Why the sudden emergence from an underground movement to a mainstream style?
I believe the rapid growth of sites like Pinterest and Etsy made a huge contribution to bringing Steampunk into the mainstream. They seem to have quite a symbiotic relationship. Etsy is a site where talented artists of all ages, genders, and styles can sell their masterpieces(think eBay but for handcrafted stuff). Pinterest is the new site where millions of people are sharing images of stuff they find appealing, many of which are pinned from Etsy. Steampunk work of art gets sold on etsy>picture get pinned and shared with millions of users> people become Steampunk fans>fans buy Steampunk from Etsy. It’s a match made in cyberspace.