“What is so wrong with industrial design?” I asked my chair the other morning.
“Nothing at all and I sensed you would take my observation incorrectly. Industrial design refers to a style of designing, not to whether it is good or bad. What it means is that the designer solves a problem in an efficacious way, where function certainly trumps decoration and can also trump form. To reiterate, there is nothing wrong with industrial design which is often elegant and even sublime.”
“You refer to it in what some might say is a snide tone,” I countered.
“You are hearing things. But let me see if I can give you an analogy that you can understand. Take Thomas Jefferson’s house, Monticello, and compare it to the house of any major 20th century architect, such as work by Le Corbusier.”
“The aesthetic is entirely different,” I stated, “they are chalk and cheese.”
“That is what I am driving at. Le Corbusier’s goal was to solve a housing problem for the masses. Monticello, on the other hand, is a standard Palladian style home where the emphasis is not only to create a home, but to create an aesthetically inspiring home. The belief behind Palladianism, at least in the 18th century, was that it represented in a physical sense, the highest plane that cultured man could achieve.”
“To be the devil’s advocate here, do you actually believe that to be true?”
“Not really, but the emphasis on proportion, material and craftsmanship were paramount and redolent in most if not all 18th century English, French and continental decorative arts. The ideal of beauty as written in John Keats ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, was that truth and beauty were synonymous. The symbiosis of cause and effect here is unique for the era and is pretty much abandoned by the end of the 19th century, although the Arts and Crafts period aroused similar beliefs. Industrial design is focused on function and has a different beauty based on sublime functionality.”
“So, do you have a preference?” I asked.
“Look at me, for goodness sake. I am a chair made in 1745. The son of a French Huguenot with forty years of experience carved me and his entire life was dedicated to proportion and beauty. How could I abandon my essential being? Of course, I believe 18th century furniture, particularly from around 1745, to be among the most beautiful and significant ever made.”
I could not argue and not just because it is my business, but because the chair was right. What went into creating it was something that time has lost. Such rarities should be cherished as the world would be a poorer place without them.