When first introduced to steampunk art, I trolled the web to get a better understanding of it. And the more I researched, the less I understood. There didn't seem to be any consensus among its practitioners to what it actually entailed. Some staunchly maintained that it shouldn't be defined at all. That its ambiguity served to heighten its mystique and allure. And the debate is as alive today as when it first emerged in the 1980's. Just the other day, I saw that a favorite steampunk artist had posted his latest work online---his rendition of Dr. Who's Tardis. Immediately, the comments flew fast and furious, some decrying that his work was definitely NOT steampunk.
I scratched my head. I thought Dr. Who and his contraptions were the very essence of steampunk---especially the Tardis' interior. But, I'm getting ahead of myself...
So, what the heck is steampunk? Well...a good, working definition---which is cited in the majority of steampunk Google searches (its originator I have yet to find)--- states that steampunk simply can be summed up as the speculative notion: "What would the past look like if the future had occurred sooner?" G.D. Falksen defines it quite concisely with three mere words: "Victorian Science Fiction". It is sheer fantasy.
It melds present day technology with that of the Victorian age---the age when the emergence of steam generated inventions industrialized, modernized and revolutionized civilization. The "punk" part of the term is an edgy, tongue-in-cheek homage to cyberpunk---a science fiction sub-genre. Its venerated godfathers are H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Tesla---to name a few. Think of the wild and fanciful contraptions of Rube Goldberg, Willy Wonka and---dare I say?---Dr. Who. Now, that's pure steampunk! Lots of gears and gizmos and fantastic, whimsical, improbable things! My favorite example can be found when an artist takes an antique typewriter and applies modern day computer components to it---often replacing the original keys with computer keys. Yesterday and today become one.
And steampunk is not only confined to the visual arts. It can be found in every creative discipline: literature, theatre, music, cinema, fashion, jewelry, home design, furniture, and more.
It is a worldwide movement with conventions and world's fairs spanning the globe. It knows no borders or boundaries. It draws from a fairly diverse and passionate crowd. It is multi-generational, multi-racial and knows no specific gender. Some devotees are so committed to it that they make it a part of their everyday lifestyle. It doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. It proves even more popular with each passing year.
If any of these definitions prove inadequate and you still can't wrap your head around the concept of steampunk, I recommend a rule of thumb that never fails me...I may not be able to precisely define steampunk, but you can bet your last rusty gear, I always know it when I see it.
*SOURCES: gdfalksen.com; urbandictionary.com; wikipedia.org