Monday, August 02, 2010

JFK to Accra

My daughter Lucy is now in Accra, Ghana and headed for the small village of Obodan to teach biology, and chemistry and to work on water with Engineers Without Borders for the next month. As you may know from your own experience, the richest part of a university experience is often what you put together with peers outside the context of classroom work. You can keep up with Lucy's experience through these two blogs, Piece it Together and Project Obodan, both of which are interesting and well written.

There are some differences between making art, and making beautiful-useful things, and these differences might inspire one to create the latter. While in most cases, art is perceived as being something to look at, treasure and admire. Objects being beyond the norm of every day useful objects. The making of art may involve the personal expression of the maker outside regard for who will use it, what they will do with it, who will care for it... Art often makes the assumption that someone is needing it though they don't know it yet and must be convinced. Others will shelter it, make room for it in their homes, take on responsibility for it. It is kind of like having cute puppies, without thinking that they will grow up as dogs, sleep on the furniture, shed, fart and poop in the yard... Well, yes, I AM exaggerating.

When we make something that is useful and beautiful, we have the expectation that it will be used and used up. It will take a place in people's lives that enrich in ways beyond needing to be dusted and sheltered and cared for. The object is made to exist within the confines of service, and can be relinquished gracefully to the landfill, or compost heap when its service is complete. There is a grace and beauty in that. While art may be a form of self-expression, the beautiful useful object lies in the realm transcendent of self. Yes, art can reach that place too, but the beautiful useful object may come closer, more easily to the mark, as the purpose of its making is with less doubt, service to others.

I have shared this poem from D.H. Lawrence before:
"Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.
And for this reason, some old things are lovely warm still with the life of forgotten men who made them."
There is a spirituality of form in well made useful objects. They often become more beautiful through use, just as the handle of a chest or tool might become polished by generations of touch and thus be made more meaningful by it.

Use is what brings completion to the existence of an object. And so, why would someone think it better to make art?


  1. Well said Doug. I especially like the comment from DH Lawrence.
    Thanks for writing this blog, I read it every day.

  2. Jim, thanks for reading. The D.H. Lawrence quote is particularly telling, in that it describes the selfessness of the maker, and that his or her work can become that which we most treasure. It presents a shift of perspective from the modern art world filled with people clamoring for attention, each trying (often unsuccessfully) to have his or her own unique voice.