I’ve been devouring mythology lately – brought on, in part, by Skyrim’s own fictional lore – and while I’ve always known a lot of these things, I’m just now developing a sense for how they connect. This, I feel, is the important part.
The West’s pantheon (and I say this less in the strict sense of the word but rather the metaphoric) has two parts, as does the East’s. Old and new. I don’t want to distinguish them so bluntly, but we should describe them, at least, as two ends of each spectrum and a chronology of evolution in between.
Now, I should say up front that I don’t claim to fully understand all these things yet. This is not an instructional piece by any means. It is, however, a collection of observations that I’ve found interesting, and some thoughts on how they connect to my life personally. The West and East, it should also be mentioned, aren’t strictly the same as the geographic kind by the same names. If it helps, think of those words as meaning completely different things and used here as mere placeholder variable names instead of actual things. This too will alleviate the mistakes and inaccuracies I will inevitably make.
The West’s newer end is this so-called “American Dream” and it’s one that’s been shaping the rest of the world as we know it. I don’t want to directly associate it with egoism, but there are strong threads tying them together. The goal, typically, is success. Better defined as: a beautiful wife, 2.2 kids and a lovely house with a cherry tree and a white fence. This was the 50′s. We have the same thing now, but it’s more amorphous: now, perhaps, success could be measured in YouTube fame or a car with the bigger engine in it. The outcome effect, typically, is still one of external values. The goal is to make the people around you envious. It’s one of making a name for yourself and being the best there ever was. It’s one of wealth and influence.
The East’s (and this is where you’ll have to correct me, I’m still learning) tends to be more accepting. This will probably more refer to the traditional philosophy of wabi-sabi. Happiness is not in making things better, but learning to fit better into the existing things. As such, fame isn’t really a goal and striving to be ‘better’ leads down a different inherent thought path.
Where the West seeks perfection as ideal, the East seeks acceptance of imperfection as ideal.
What does that mean for design?
Now we enter into a tricky semantics minefield. I don’t want to say that things should be done carelessly, but I do want to stress that sometimes perfection is impossible and we can do better work by not striving for it. All of my works are imperfect. I downright despise half of them, and half of that group I force myself to post and the other half I so selfishly hoard away because at some root level I will always be something of a perfectionist.
Today we were working on a bracket and the ‘elegant’ solution turned out to be the ugly one. There was the option to make it out of one piece of aluminum and bend it all into shape, which I had cleverly designed to actually be possible (it’s amazing how easy it is to design impossible bent shapes) but the option to weld a piece in turned out to be faster, easier and in the end much simpler. Is that, then, the truly elegant one? Is that, then, the more ‘perfect’ one? And so, is imperfection here considered better?
I’d say so. I mean, the simplicity was beautiful; making anything out of one piece of anything else is a feat worth mentioning, but it wasn’t really the best option.
Will I say the East or West schools of thought are better? I simply can’t.
Will I say that the East is becoming really, really interesting to me lately? Definitely.
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