“Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things”

I came across an article today “The Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things” ,  by Karen Stein via The Design Observer.

Exterior of former artillery shed adapted by Donald Judd to house his 100 works milled in aluminum, Marfa, Texas – source

Stein’s proposition “…that architecture is made not just by architects…” is spot on in my opinion. The question is explored through her writing about Donald Judd.   The challenge to consider – “what is or is not architecture” (and perhaps by extension – who “is or is not an architect”)  is an old question for sure, but it is interesting to see it explored in her writing and through the lens of an artist such as Donald Judd. I think there is a corollary to photography – that photography is not made just by photographers… Perhaps that is quite an acceptable (and obvious) statement – though sometimes, I wonder…

Something touched upon in the article – to consider; refers to Judd’s writing – to be aware of the effects of separating “art from non-art”. Perhaps another careful consideration correlates to the sometimes opposed idea of “fine art photography and the snapshot”…  that it may be more interesting to think along the lines of distinction as a matter of degrees between “forms of art and non-art”…  The context of a person’s intention and the context of which one encounters that form – obviously comes into play… Above, the apparent found condition of an artillery shed – modified by Judd with the curious addition of a tin metal quonset hut above.

Tin Snips - Walker Evans

Tin ships, by J. Wiss & Sons Co. $1.85 – photograph by Walker Evans

With admitted sense of irony, it got me to thinking about photographs by Walker Evans – from the portfolio of  “The Beauty of Common Tools” published in Fortune Magazine – June 1955. Original web source of image via http://www.fulltable.com/VTS/n.htm – Dr. Chris Mullen The Visual Telling of Stories, illustration, design, film, narrative sequences, magazines, books, prints etc”

I think the text accompanying Evan’s photo essay (noted above) deserves to be quoted here:

Among low-priced, factory-produced goods, none is so appealing to the senses as the ordinary hand tool. Hence, a hardware store is a kind of offbeat museum show for the man who responds to good, clear “undesigned” forms.  The Swedish steel pliers pictured above, with their somehow swanlike flow, and the objects on the following pages, in all there tough simplicity, illustrate this. Aside from their functions – though they are exclusively wedded to function- each of these tools lures the eye to follow its curves and angels, and invites the hand to test its balance.

Who would sully the lines of the tin-cutting shears … with a single added bend or whorl? Or clothe in any way the fine naked impression of heft and bite in the crescent wrench…  To be sure, some design-happy manufacturers have tampered with certain tool classics; the beautiful plumb bob, which used to come naively and solemnly shaped like a child’s top, now looks suspiciously like a toy space ship, and is no longer brassy. But not much can be done to spoil a crate opener, that nobly ferocious statement in black steel…  In fact, almost all the basic small tools stand, aesthetically speaking, for elegance, candor, and purity. – W.E.

Aspiring to understand why some utility objects or buildings, unadorned (or not quite unadorned) – yet quite deliberately designed and engineered – seem to cross the boundary in some contexts between art and non-art objects or forms…  What role does photography play in this? What is it that distinguishes some photographs from others? The qualities of a photograph that bring appreciation to those things that occur quite naturally and unassumingly from “out there” in the world?  The degree to which the image causes a distinction among possible images which allow me – or even better – cause me to pause and consider, to notice, to observe – to recognize how I interpret them…?

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One thought on ““Plain Beauty of Well-Made Things”

  1. hello Matt,

    I came across this post / topic on your blog quite by chance. I agree completely – in fact, we’ve got a section on our blog called ‘tools of the trade’ which highlights oft-overlooked and wonderful non-design objects.

    http://thinkmoreinc.wordpress.com/category/good-design/tools-of-the-trade/

    I think you’re right – photography does play a large part in this. Some of us are naturally inclined or trained to notice the beauty in such objects, which I imagine most people miss. Highlighting these in photographs, or presenting them in a different medium generally draws their attention – I take it you’re familiar with the ‘super normal’ exhibition by Fukasawa?

    best regards,

    hemmant

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