What Is Steampunk Art?

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Antique meets modern in Steampunk art.
Antique meets modern in Steampunk art. (Image: pocket watch image by timur1970 from Fotolia.com)

Modern robots featuring old-fashioned watch parts, high-tech laptops outfitted with crude wooden and brass casings, and a baby chick mounted to appear realistic, save for the cogs and machinery exposed in its back, are all examples of Steampunk art. The Steampunk genre first surfaced in the 1980s, according to Global Oneness, but some of its components date back to the 18th and 19th centuries while some of its ideas are taken from the future.

Definition

Steampunk art mixes modern ideas and technology with those from the past, namely the Victorian Age, when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and steam was a major source of power. The genre started with literature, where science fiction and fantasy met Victorian-era scientists, but has since evolved to include all art forms, according to Web Urbanist.

Materials

Steampunk materials are often things you would find in an old science lab or industrial lot. Lots of wood as well as copper, brass, steel, iron and other heavy metals often comprise many of the pieces. Glass, old-fashioned lightbulb and watch parts, clockwork, rivets, cogs, levers, springs, gears and other pieces of machinery are also popular materials. Leather is another Steampunk staple, often sewn crudely together with thick stitches and heavy cord.

Examples

An astronaut decked out in an old-fashioned, stitched, leather space suit is just one example of Steampunk art noted in the BBC’s mini slide show of the Steampunk art exhibition at England’s Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford. Another example was an antique Victrola, complete with its crank and ear horn but with the addition of an eyeball in its center and billing as an “eye-pod.” One more example paired a robotic baby in a glass cylinder that was hooked up to an old-style pocket watch and other contraptions, titled “The Complete Mechanical Womb.”

Inspiration

Some of the Steampunk’s major inspirations come from movies, according to Web Urbanist. "Wild Wild West," which hit the big screen in 1999, featured a giant, mechanical spider, owned by Professor Loveless and powered by steam. Earlier film inspiration was 1977’s "Star Wars," which still generates Steampunk versions of Stormtroopers and the squatty robot R2-D2.

Applications

Steampunk art is not just for aesthetics, but serves as the basis behind some modern machines and gadgets that actually function. Examples noted by Web Urbanist include extravagant, high-end coffee machines that mix the Victorian copper, steel and brass components with modern design and details. Another Steampunk artistic-yet-functional device is a Steampunk computer mouse, featuring a sparse frame of copper, wood and an orange LED light.

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