Can a bicycle frame be considered art? The term I always use is “Functional Art.” Anything manufactured whether it is made by hand or mass produced, can be considered functional art.
Furniture for example, a chair in order to serve its purpose has to be comfortable to sit in, but when it comes down to making a final choice, quality, and appearance will play a big roll.
Aesthetics and function 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? Likewise, the beauty of a well-crafted bicycle is in the way it rides and handles
When I built frames in England during the 1970s my customers were almost exclusively racing cyclists. They bought my bikes because they handled well and were reasonably priced. On moving to the US in 1979 and I saw that framebuilders paid a great deal of attention to detail and finish of the product, because their customers were swayed by aesthetics as much as what was beneath the paint.
To take this discussion one step further, does the individual craftsman or artist inject something of himself into whatever it is he is making? Does he breathe life into an inanimate object and give it a soul almost. How else does one describe a feeling?
A handmade musical instrument by a known and respected craftsman will feel different when played and sound better than a massed produced factory made item. How does one describe the difference?
How do these qualities get into the musical instrument other than through the artist? Through his design and skill. I will go so far as to say there is a part of me in every frame I built. Also when you practice 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 larger scale.
The Navtive American sees mankind as part of Nature, not separate from it. There is nothing in Nature that is not beautiful. One can dive deep into the ocean and find beauty, or go to places where humankind rarely travels and find the same.
The only ugliness is man-made. Man builds a barn in a field and paints it red. It is an eyesore, a blight in 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.
When I built frames some thirty years ago, had anyone put forward this point of view to me, I would have said they were full of crap. It was only towards the end of my framebuilding career in the late 1990s did I realize that all creativity or art comes from one source only. Be it music, painting, or even bicycle frames.
To put it another way. Back in the 1980s when I was building frames, there were many import frames coming in from Italy and other parts of Europe, as well as Japan. These would be built in factories, usually by a team of builders. One would braze bottom brackets, another head lugs and son on.
Some would be more conscientious than others, but to most it was just a job, a pay check. Does it strain the imagination too much to see that frames built in this manner can never consistently measure up to those built by an individual builder, whose life passion is framebuilding, and his reputation rests on every frame.
I am just putting forward my thoughts and ideas. Not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking. If you disagree that is fine, and I would be pleased to hear your point of view.