Just about any manufactured item can be described as Functional Art. Designed not only to do what it is supposed to do, but to look appealing also.
If you are choosing between two similar priced items of similar quality, you are most likely going to pick the one that looks cool, all other things being equal.
When I built bicycle frames in England during the 1970s my customers were almost exclusively racing cyclists. They bought my bikes mainly because they rode and handled well, and were reasonably priced. A few file marks showing under the paint showed it was a handmade item.
On moving to the US in 1979 I saw that American framebuilders paid a great deal of attention to detail and paint finish of the product, because their customers were swayed by aesthetics as much as what was beneath the paint.
However, aesthetics and function must go hand in hand, hence the term Functional Art. If someone made a musical instrument that looked beautiful but sounded awful, what use would it be apart from something to hang on the wall and look at? The beauty of a well-crafted bicycle is in the way it rides and handles.
How did these qualities get into the bicycle frame other than through the builder? Through design and skill, there is a part of the builder in every frame he makes. Also when he practices a skill long enough it becomes second nature, automatic without conscious thought.
This is not a new notion, the Native American called this “Hand Magic.” Nature bringing something into creation through the artist’s hands. When an ant colony builds an ant hill, is this any different from man building his cities and roadways? Just on a different scale.
The Native American sees mankind as part of Nature, not separate from it. There is nothing in Nature that is not beautiful, the only ugliness is manmade.
Man builds a barn in a field and paints it red. It is an eyesore, a blight on the environment. Given time the barn becomes derelict. Nature takes over and the barn becomes a thing of beauty. Photographers come to photograph it, artists come to capture it on canvas.
If the artist is connected to the creative source in the first place then his creation will be beautiful to begin with. It is not even necessary for the artist to be aware of this. Had anyone put forward this point of view to me some thirty years ago, I would have said they were full of crap.
It was only towards the end of my framebuilding career in the early 1990s did I realize that all creativity or art comes from one source only, be it music, painting, or even bicycle frames.
You can still find handcrafted bicycle frames, but the majority are designed and manufactured like everything else. That is not to say they are inferior from a functional standpoint, they may even perform better. And as for aesthetics, well they are smooth and shiny, what more can you ask for, or expect.
Looking back, it seems to me that what the customer demands of the craftsman making a hand built item, is a look of perfection. As if it came out of a mold, or was made by machine. When the craftsman attains this, the machines are not only ready to take over, the customer is ready to accept the machine made item.
Automobiles were once built by hand, and yet the finest craftsman, hand beating an auto body panel, could never produce a modern body panel. One that is stamped by a die that was machined by a computer controlled piece of equipment.
As for function, the modern robot built automobile will outperform its hand built counterpart of yesteryear. The robots are of course built by skilled engineers, but once built work for a lot less, and produce more than individual craftsmen.
Items still have to be initially designed by someone creative, an artist. However, with the computer being the modern day design tool of choice, and from there going to the programmer of the machines and robots. I'm not sure where the "Hand Magic" comes into the equation.
It appears the hand of the craftsman has been bypassed completely, in the name of progress. The march of the machines.
The problem is in time will humankind lose contact with the creative source, his contact with Nature? As I said earlier, it is not necessary for the artist to be aware that he is connected to the creative source, but it is necessary that he at least continue to create.
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