Wednesday, February 18, 2015

form and function

The following is a response to a high school student who had been asked by his teacher to raise questions about function and form.

Folks have ideas that form and functionality are in some ways at odds with each other. But function can be understood in a narrow sense, as in "what does it do?" or in a broader sense, "how does it serve." For instance a beautiful painting that you bought on your last trip to the Ozarks Mountains was imbued by the painter with meaning, and in feeling drawn to that painting, and buying it and carrying it home, and then keeping it on your wall as a reminder of an experience that you found meaningful and inspirational, you find enduring functionality in the painting which from a narrow sense could be regarded as a useless object but is instead functional in the broader sense.

 On the other hand, we may take delight in seeing how things work, particularly these days, when the workings of things are kept hidden from us, and we are not to be trusted with a view into the working parts of the object. In that case, the functionality of the object may become an expression of form in the less than material sense.

The Bauhaus movement in which form and function were to be closely aligned was a reaction against excessive ornamentation of form, and it is true that visual and textural ornamentation can be used to hide poor execution of form. Also, the movement should be put in context of the times. Before production became automated and industrialized, it was common for craftsmen to personalize their work through the use of ornamentation that gave it greater meaning. If you ever run across any of this work (and you will be lucky these days to do so,) you will find it invested with much greater soulfulness than mechanical production. Industrialization made the application of decorative techniques easy, repetitive, and sometimes oppressive. Simplicity of form was considered to express greater sophistication, particularly when compared to senseless ornamentation.

Make, fix, and create...

1 comment:

  1. Chris6:49 PM

    When I think about Form and Function, I think about Wille Sundqvist's carved wooden spoons. They appear so simple and elegant until I attempt to carve one myself that can equal his spoons' beauty and utility. They epitomize careful, considered design. If you haven't seen his son, Jogge's, TED talk on YouTube, it's worth a look