Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Art & Craftmanship

Discussion about Paz, Octavio, Seeing and Using: Art and Craftsmanship, from: Convergences: essays on art and literature. 1st ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1987.'

They are handsome because they are useful' is to me the most stimulating sentence from Paz's article and it engages me to consider at least two main points. First his definition of beauty and its interconnection to the aesthetic preoccupations of the 18th century, time when the industry has influenced the Arts. Second his position towards Art, Critical Art, Design and Critical Design to finally offer the notion of 'useful beauty from craftmanship' which to me echos with Simondon's thesis on the mode of existence of technical objects.

Emmanuel Kant has written on the aesthetic questions of the 18th century and founded the modern conception of Art by distinguishing artistic beauty from natural beauty. 'Art does not want to represent a beautiful thing, but to beautifully respresent a thing'. In the18th century, the artist is distinguised from the craftman and Art usually means 'fine arts'. This event can be explained by industrial production that is founded on a technic and that is more and more couscious of its rules by opposition to the craftman ways of producing where the talent and ingenuosity of the worker (especially in craft work) does not essentially differ from the artistic way of producing. Paz's description of beauty in craftmanship and his interconnection to Art and Design made me recognize some foundations from Kant and its notion of Art. In Kant's notion of Art, in a way differently than Hegel, there is no experience of the beautiful in Art. Art is a sub-category of the experience of the beautiful compared to the natural beautiful, and in that way Kant distinguishes the beautiful, good and natural. For Kant, the sentibility is an unsuffisant source of knowledge, it is blind. Sensation is material, the need for knowledge is useful. Then sensation is a source of knowledge but insuffisant. By this Kant has twisted the analysis of Art toward the ability to judge and to be interested in the aesthetic cousciousness.

So when Paz discusses in his introduction the beauty inseparable from its function, it implies an incouscious judgement of the usefulness of the object which directly echoes Kant's position, but gives enough room to position Duchamp’s radical approach to Art always questionning the meaning of the object without directly contemplating.
Paz mentions that we are unable to associate beauty and usefulness. This comment is very key to me as it directly connects with the thesis of Simondon about the mode of existence of technical objects.

In 1958, Simondon argued about the necessity for the individuals to defend themselves against the technical object to appropriate its aesthetic dimension. In fact, the existence of a human reality in the technical object being denied, only the aesthetic object seems to transmit human values. For the popular culture, the technical object has a function but does not express a concept. More specifically, individuals protect themselves against the technical object by reducing it to the status of being useful, and at the same time, paradoxically, they mystify the technological object by wanting it to be evil, powerful and dangerous e.g. Fritz Lang’s female robot character, Metropolis, 1927. It seems that this artificial being that humans create, they are afraid of, and either accuse it of destroying their lives or of only being a useful object without any aesthetic characteristics. As much as Roland Barthes tells us that the status of photography has changed from being purely technical, to being perceived as art, to finally modify the notion of art itself into a concept, e.g. Marcel Duchamp’s art works, it seems there is still an unjustified hierarchy among technical objects depending on their more or less common points with the artistic sphere. Simondon has denounced this unjustified unbalanced between technical and aesthetic in the meaning sphere. However, the popular culture seems to work by oppositions: how could it justify a possible insertion of the technical into the meaning sphere while it is through this lack of knowledge that is can justify the ‘raison d’être’ of the aesthetic sphere?
Paz's statement of beauty in useful objects is also a way to find useful objects that we are emotionnally connected to: there is a story, there is a meaning. We can create a story by using the objects or imagining its use and by this connecting to the 'new' object. The things are then pleasing. Paz mentions that industrial design tends to be impersonal, then it made me wander about this movment of affective design. Interestingly, industrial objects have lost their aura by being demultiplied according to Paz, however objects have been industrially designed to be affective and useful (Norman, 2004), and by this the process that Paz is describing has been twisted.
Finally his position toward technology is the position of the artist painter toward the photography at its emergence. In response to Paz accusation of technology to be negative, we could say that in our 'open market' world, thanks to technology, carpenters in Russia can export their skills in the USA and make it possible to average the salary of other carpenters in the world, and by this not only reinforcing the use of craftwork but also diminushing the unbalance between lifestyles in various countries.

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