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August 08, 2017


Beauty and Function


UtilityMarcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was an American-French painter who liked mocking high art. He is famous for installing everyday objects like a snow shovel, a urinal and other things into gallery settings to ignite discourse about what is and isn't art. His thought was that if we just look at a snow shovel as an object of utility, we won't recognize its aesthetic qualities. Similarly, Christo Javacheff (1935-   ) is a Bulgarian artist who removes the utilitarian aspect of a thing ... usually by wrapping it in fabric in order for the viewer to see the aesthetics of the thing, without bias that can be related to its function.

Then there are abstract artists like Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich and Gerhard Richter who didn't wrap objects or hang urinals in galleries but presented fields of color and other abstracted expressions in an effort to move away from the "baggage" associated with representational paintings and/or realism.  Meh.

It's not that I dislike such works. Especially Rothko. I actually love his works. The thing about abstract work (especially contemporary abstract art) is that I'm dubious about whether the art reflects any real skills or any real message. You know ... like the "sewist" who makes a hot mess with fabrics in the name of "freeform" and "be free there's no mistake in art" ... when actually the person doesn't have basic sewing skills and so it's about avoiding certain stitches rather than reinventing/abstracting them ... it bothers me.

Dada-ists would argue back to me that chance is more important than skill. The point being that if art is to reflect life, not everything in a work should be planned and derived from skill. That chance/accidents happen in life ... and that therefore art ought to make room for it too. Touché.

All of these thoughts were dancing in my head while I was washing the dishes. And looking at my cutting board that is used and washed about 6 times a day in our house. Even without wrapping it like Christo or hanging it in a gallery like Duchamp ... wouldn't you agree that it is both utilitarian AND beautiful?

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