Saturday, November 26, 2011

a beautiful and useful object...

I spent yesterday at the the Fine Art Show sponsored by the Eureka Springs School of the Arts. The show is more successful for some artists than for others. There, I am surrounded by some of the finest work by artists and craftsmen in the state. The work is beautiful, but as one of the artists mentioned to me, when times are tough, one of the last things a person may need is something decorative, regardless of how beautiful that thing might be.

Oscar Wilde had said,
"I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to make something beautiful, and that all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful."
While I do not agree with Wilde completely, and do find beauty in many useless things, and find the artist's growth expressed clearly therein, Wilde's observation might be of use to those who aspire to make a living from their work. How can we make things that are both useful and beautiful that thus have value in enriching people's lives even in the most difficult of financial times?

I have been fortunate to have practical leanings in my inclination to make. And this is not intended to slight the painter in his or her craft. Some of them have told me of their own longing to make things that are useful -- that they themselves might use each day rather than just have the things they've made take up space.

I offer the following advice to craftsmen. Make things that are useful. Those things that offer humble usefulness in addition to their simple beauty, may define a clear path toward the artist's success. These things being used, will grow in beauty until they are used no more and those who have used them will then seek replacements that might offer the same rich character. The following poem makes a useful point.
"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." -- D.H. Lawrence
If you are a local reader, come by the show at the Inn of the Ozarks Conference Center, hours 10 AM - 6 PM. You will find things that aren't made of plastic that you might feel inclined to actually use every day for the rest of your lives. If you are too far away then

Make, fix and create...


  1. Keith Doel8:16 AM

    Doug, I look forward every day to your thoughtful comments. Thank you for spending the time to share are helping to turn the tide of consumerism toward creation and productivity. Keith Doel - Lenexa, KS

  2. Keith, we can hope. The most interesting thing about making things is how it remakes ourselves as finer human beings. That is the true alchemy. Lead into gold. Compare the woman with blue t-shirt and her behavior with what I see in my artist companions, and the difference is night and day.

  3. I have similar inclinations in my work.

    I'm getting seriously into lathe turning. While I may make something that is purely artistic, my preference is to make something beautiful that is practical.

    I'm not sure if it is my temperament, a sense of the current economy, having grown up with depression era parents or what, but nevertheless, I struggle with the idea of making things that aren't meant to serve a useful purpose.

    I appreciate the art of others, but can't get as excited about it as something that is meant to be used.

  4. Anonymous5:20 AM

    Oscar Wilde was generalizing a bit too much, but I agree with his basic point. As far as people who consider themselves to be artists, my complaint is that very often what they make speaks only to them, and not to the rest of us.


  5. I think beautiful useful objects can present something of a challenge in that they invite ceremonial regard in their use. Because they are made with care (and if one has a regard for what went into their making and the special materials with which they were made) one uses them more caringly, being careful not to drop or abuse, and so these things can be an invitation to greater consciousness and presence of mind. Like with the new iPhone, or iPad, that will only last a while. One becomes comfortable in relation to the object and then interesting things begin to happen to it. Things made of wood, as they are handled begin recording one's presence in life with the object. That can be a beautiful thing.