Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Art and Beauty

As a decidedly left-brained type, I’d have to say I’d often had trouble relating to artists and their work.  So much art seems foolish and impractical, or a weak attempt to relive the glory-days of a high school art class.  The deeper meaning or message that others proclaim to see often appears like a case of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to me. Despite this clear handicap, I’m drawn towards beauty, as most people are . Traditional societies have all integrated art into their lives in ways that seem both meaningful and appropriate. The tribes of the Pacific Northwest apparently had lots of time left over after finding things to eat. They took art to an amazing level, adorning everything from their houses and canoes to their clothing and household utensils. I think that much of my aversion to "art" is a result of the separation of art and functionality that has come about as a result of industrialized manufacture. Anything which can be made, can be sold at a lower cost if there’s no artistic input. In the rare cases where a good is manufactured with some artistic beauty, the beauty is cheapened when it was clearly created by a machine, and is exactly like to 500,000,000 other items which were made in the same factory.
Functional beauty can come in many forms. It doesn’t need to be the elaborate ornamentation of a victorian house or an Eastlake-era piece of furniture, though I’m fond of both. I’ve heard beauty described as “the elimination of the unnecessary”, which I like.
An old Herreshoff designed sailboat comes to mind as an embodiment of beauty without adornment.  Beauty is, as they say, "In the eye of the beholder".  

Some of my perception of beauty no doubt draws from an aversion to objects which use fossil fuels.

The modern Bayliner "Fly-Bridge" type power boat is about the aesthetic opposite of the Herreshoff in my opinion.  I delight in referring to these as "self dumpers", in reference to what is likely to happen as their typically overweight crew all migrate to the fly-bridge at the top of the boat, making it a little too top-heavy. But I digress...

In the pre-industrialized world, where most all goods were made by craftspeople, beauty was an important element of any trade. It differentiated your work from that of the competition. As industrialization wanes, I’m looking forward to seeing the return of art and beauty re-integrated into the items we make and use each day.


Doug Stowe said...

I don't see it as a handicap to be drawn to useful beauty, and to feel somewhat dismayed by pretentious stuff. Oscar Wilde had said something to the effect, that the ugliest of things are made in the attempt to make something beautiful and the most beautiful made in the attempt to create something useful.

It seems I share your sentiment, and also your love of wooden boats.

Jennifer said...

Something you make is also more treasured and likely to be reused/repaired rather than discarded.

The creation of something forces one's attention. You'll never inspect something so closely as something you have made (or know how to make).