It should be noted that I don’t condone violence or weapons, but I do really appreciate the design of them.
I watch the two videos and love both of them in their own right. Projectile weapons, as terrible as they are to the health of living things, tend to have a really cool design outcome. It’s raw functionality. I can’t really say they’re precision things, because there are many examples like the AK-47 whose famous reliability is based entirely on working with sloppy tolerances, but there is something inherently precise about the design of weaponry. It’s rarely arbitrary; the outcome design is based on examples and data. The aesthetic is the realm of the neo-classical mind and is appreciated for it’s reasons and purpose, not it’s overlaying being. It’s gorgeous. Like the tiny gears and ticks inside a watch.
Part two is the difference between them: one is made in a factory or machine shop and each will come out 99.999% identical to the others. The other is made from a plant that is found and chosen by a man and then crafted into something by him, by hand (or foot, as it may be) and will be very different from the one beside it in form, but ideally identical in function. This, I feel, is an important distinction.
You can tell, for those who have already read the book, that I’ve been looking at the world though these lenses (or divisions of Phaedrus’ knife, as his metaphor would suggest) lately. It’s not a new concept to me, certainly, but it’s nice to look through someone else’s eyes for a while; see the world anew.
I’ve learned something about myself recently: I’m much more artisan than I thought. Originally – and realize this is untrue – I equated artisans solely with hand spun clay pots and woven wicker baskets. The people who sell laptop bags on Etsy made of sewn together scraps of old mens’ tweed jackets. The essays with reference to Yanagi Soetsu in Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams (towards the back half, pages ~716 if I remember correctly – forgive me as I don’t want to look it up) feature his philosophy as a counter-point to Rams’ (representative here as all of industrial design) way of design for not only specific objects, but how those objects relate in context to the mass production and usage in culture. His point, from the perspective of craftsmanship, looks at objects in an uncannily similar way to the mass produced method: a means to achieving a goal. If the industrialist and the artisan both make a thing it should look to first achieve it’s intended task. Makes sense. This is where my misguided preconceptions come in again; I thought they inherently had to differ after they agreed on that. The industrialists to the neo-classical function and the artisans to the romanticist to the aesthetic. But! As I’ve recently discovered, not true. Not quite.
Aesthetics, of course, are a tricky thing to nail down. They’re different for everyone. I equated function with minimalism and practicality and ruggedness and the things that I personally appreciate and like. I was an industrialist, then. That’s what they do. The things that are frilly and useless and mass produced are just misguided. The artisans who made minimal things were rare and the minimalism was probably a result of skill lacking rather than intentional functionalism. They’re supposed to make what I deem gaudy. The ornamented and decorated. The bright and flashy and visually loud. They’re artisans, which I say (and, I apologize, still do) with a certain pretentious derision.
So aesthetics aren’t a function of romanticism but rather outside of those classifications, like a heading under the two forming a four box chart.
You’ll laugh, but these past few months have led to a lot of personal discoveries that are so obvious. I’ve shared a few others previously. How did I miss them? I’m not sure. But I guess that’s the point of being young and curious. I’ve come out of it with an even more apathetic spirit, though. Before there was a conviction for “right” and “wrong” where my personal standings were concerned, and while I still vehemently defend things, they are broader ideas instead of specific (and often meaningless) examples. Namely the ‘problem’ or ornamentation. I hate it and that’s okay, but I might design something that’s ornamental because I know you like it. I wonder though where the line is drawn between selfless and spineless, but that’s a question for another article.
If aesthetics are independent that implies I can be a minimalist artisan. I still dislike that word. Sorry. But I like the design philosophy of wabi-sabi so much. I’m not saying it can’t be incorporated into mass manufactured things because the design definitely can use elements of it, but there’s something inherently at odds when having objects being made identically imperfect. The idea of the imperfection is the beauty of it’s uniqueness.
Uniqueness. Each of those Yumi bows is unique, but they all provide the same function – accelerate an arrow using a string and the materials’ natural properties. Each of those crossbows has the exact same function and as a result of mass manufacture has the exact same form. There’s something beautiful in both, though, don’t you think? Something romantic in buying a hand-made bow (or a hand machined gun) but also that there’s a machine somewhere in the world that makes the same piece over and over again at a speed that would stagger the mind and that piece gets assembled perfectly into that spot on every single product. It’s just, beautiful to think about for me. That’s my fear though; I think hand made things resonate with people better in general. It takes a very functional mind like mine to appreciate a factory.
Now, am I giving up my industrialist tendencies for a life behind a potter’s wheel? Certainly not. But I do wonder where that broad, overarching line is. I have such a passion for the method and craft itself that the outcome seems almost secondary – whereas a true blood would set up a factory without a second thought and have the focus be entirely on the output product.
I’ll be coming back to this topic; I have other examples and explorations.
TL;DR Aesthetics are independent of design philosophy divisions and form and function are independent yet again of both each other and the previous classifications, creating unique possibilities I hadn’t considered before.
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