On Ocatvio Paz On Art

ConvergencesOctavio Paz poses an interesting argument in his essay Seeing and Using: Art and Craftsmanship stemming from his assertion that craft is where art and industrial design meet. “Our relation to the industrial object is functional; our relation to the work of art is semi-religious; our relation the work of craftsmanship is corporeal.” He eloquently argues that where art is allowed to be only beautiful and industrial design only functional, crafted objects must be both. His words have continued to resonate with me as I question my own design aesthetic. Too often, art is placed on a pedestal. More famous works are placed on even higher pedestals. Regardless, art is always just out of the viewer’s reach. This statement holds true despite the constant change in media over time. The public holds an art object in a form of idolatry which gives both the artist and his piece value. Designers on the other hand, must always consider function over form. Functionality drives design and superfluous components are discarded. The purest design object is the one free of all components but the ones required to achieve the necessary result through use of the object. Slick, stainless steel, ergonomic grip sans decoration. The revered designer is the one who can eliminate excess in order to find the simplest solution the problem. As Paz puts it, he determines the solution to the mathematical equation.

Yet, just as artistic tastes change, so do our understandings of mathematical problems. The beauty of crafted objects is that they avoid pretension and elitism. Crafted objects can be adorned, but can also serve a very distinct purpose. They take on a personality and share stories. Even after they are no longer useful as intended, they may hold a special sentimental value. Craftsmen have no public to please. They build for themselves in the style of those who came before them. Through this generational passing on of tradition, the crafted object earns a history which outlives the trends of art and minimal design.

As a en engineer and designer, I have to fight the urge to make an object too precise and too perfect. After all, what I truly want to create are objects which can be used and appreciated on a very human level. I think the key to that may very well be incorporating the concepts of craftsmanship into my work. On a very fundamental level, I just don’t think character and charm can be replaced by accuracy and functionality.


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