Practicality and Art

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by rich b nyc, Sep 25, 2015.

  1. [​IMG]
    I recently posted this (not very special) photo elsewhere on and mentioned that the building in the background was designed by Frank Ghery and that I liked his style of architecture.
    Another poster responded that he felt that better structures could be designed by a child and that he preferred more practical structures.
    OK. We can all agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that our tastes differ.
    Yet, I found it interesting that someone who is interested in photography, which is certainly an art, would be more concerned with practicality than with creativity and demean the work of someone like Ghery which many consider to be at the highest level of architectural design.
    Given today's gear, it's pretty easy to take a technically perfect picture of a rose for strictly documentary purposes, if one wants to photograph a rose simply to show what a rose looks like. Nothing wrong with that as far as I'm concerned. It's certainly practical.
    With no architectural training at all, I can draw a picture of a box with windows and call it a building. No, I don't pretend to know the technical construction details needed to keep that building from falling apart, but the design would be practical. There sure are enough buildings like that around to prove the point.
    However, I don't believe that I (or many of us) have the skill to design buildings that would in any way be critically acclaimed by the architectural community. I don't believe that my grandchildren have that skill (at least not yet) either.
    The quality of my photo wasn't criticized and I'm not taking the comment personally as that didn't seem to be the other poster's intent. I didn't take the photo to be creative/artistic, but just because I liked the building and wanted to share it with those unfamiliar with Ghery's work. Yet that comment begs the question as to whether art (and who can argue that architecture is not an art at Ghery's level) should be practical or creative (or both, for that matter)
    I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts as to practicality vs creativity in art, be it photographic or architectural.
  2. I think the "eye of the beholder" thing is key. If you go statistically you may find that 50, or 70, or 90, or more percent of people can't tell art from documentary and will choose as better the one that is in sharp focus and has nice colors. Art appreciation is a learned skill. Remember those Japanese camera manuals from the 70's? They always had a picture of this pretty Oriental girl, one shot at f2.8 and one shot at f11, to demonstrate depth of field. When I saw them as a kid I thought "Gee, always use f11 so everything will be sharp" and it wasn't until many years later I came to crave, in my own work, the separation that they were trying to demonstrate.
    I think a lot of today's smartphone snappers are the "kid me", mentally. With a tiny sensor and huge depth of field they ooo and ahh over their great pictures where everything is sharp. That's fine, if that's what you want and that makes you happy. If they're never exposed to competing ideas like shallow DOF as a valid, good technique, they may think less of images which use that technique. Even then they may simply prefer the pictures they get from their phones and never develop a taste for different methods.
    I think the eye of the beholder is key, but the eye can be trained.
  3. It's a funny thing to say about architecture which kind of HAS TO BE practical. A building has to remain standing and serve so many functions it would be hard to name them all. So the practicality of architecture is, to me, a given, and I don't think that has anything to do with the eye of the beholder. Often the aesthetics of a building will have a relationship to functionality though it can certainly go beyond that and aspects of a building can certainly be only decorative or ornamental.
    I love what I've seen of Gehry's architecture.
    Trying to interpret what the critic you mention might be trying to say, because I doubt he was talking about the building needing to be more practical, my guess is he meant he prefers a more traditional look. Unless he criticized the practicality of the building, for instance did he mention that the heating didn't work or that not enough light entered the rooms or that the hallways were difficult to navigate because the floors weren't level or that the rooms were too small for their designed purposes? If not, then his complaint wasn't really that he preferred more practical buildings but perhaps that he preferred buildings that looked less designed or ornate or less offbeat or more simple and straightforward.
    So much art is intertwined with practicality. Have just been reading up on Russian Constructivism, which was very much associated with advertising and political messaging and, in that respect, it was a very functional school. Check out the German Bauhaus school as well for a case where function and aesthetics are intertwined.
    Photography often is functional even when it's art. Much art has political message, which is a practical aspect of it. And to blend two subjects of this very post, architectural photography can be art, portraying an aesthetic but also meant to promote buildings. Here's my favorite art photo of a building which was also made to promote it, the KÖLNISCHE ZEITUNG, 1928, built for an International Press Fair and photographed by Werner Mantz, designed by Riphahn and Grod:
  4. Frank Gehry is a controversial architect, somewhat like Daniel Liebeskind.
    Beauty and function do not always go together and some of Gehry's structures appear to me to go beyond the beauty - function relationship. And this is so to a good friend architect who is very young, talented and open to taking chances and unusual design. The Bilbao museum is considered a success of his, as is his remodelling of the Toronto AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) in his native country. The Walt Disney theatre seems to some (myself included) to be a less than elegant take on another former building design of a different architect, the Sydney Opera House. The impressive cucumber skyscraper in London is both aesthetic and functional. The sepentining cladding controls airflow and minimzes heating-cooling costs. Not sure it was Norman Foster who designed it, but his work is also a fine blend of practicality and function (the Millau France bridge, amongst others). Engineers are concerned with practical matters of construction. Their evolution of modern airframes is functional and form follows function. The results are undeniably of aesthetic value, yet not architect-driven. That is one example of creativity and function (prafticality) co-existing.
    I see no problem of interrelationship between aesthetics (what you refer to as beauty and creativity) and function or practicality. After all, architecture is the creation of functional and agreeable dwellings and workplaces for man. German Bauhaus creativity is based on this, as did the approach of one of its great teachers, Walter Gropius. The modern glass pyramid at the Louvre is functional, symbolic of the various dispersed departments of that great museum, yet entirely aesthetic and of very simple (graphically organic if you will) design. The aesthetically fabulous Olympic stadium in Montreal is undoubtedly creative and of beauty, but functionally it has been nothing but headaches for the servicing of its often replaced suspended roof and the durability of architectural-structural elements that but are quite elegant but have little commonality with others .
    The question is not either-or, beauty versus function, I think, but a sustainable marriage of the two. Some of Gehry's work seems to me to fulfill that, but not all and when it doesn't it seems to me that the extreme design elements have subjugated function. A cake with too many calories and not enough to please the palate.
  5. It's often hard to say why I like a particular building's appearance, just as hard to say why I don't. I don't like the pyramid at the Louvre and I don't like the pyramid stadium at a local college. I just don't like them. Why? I have no idea why. If I was asked by another "Why don't you like the pyramid at the Louvre?" I might say in reply "Beats me." Or I instead might give a rational sounding reason. That reason, upon closer inspection, wouldn't stand up to reason, why would it, I just made something up to deflect the question. Not practical. Right.
    If I said of Gehry's pictured building that it didn't fit into the neighborhood, some might say to me "You're the only one who feels that way", which would be their own use of my uniformity aesthetic against me, me now the person in the neighborhood who, like the building in question, just doesn't fit in with the other buildings. Some might call me the odd building in their own quest for uniformity in aesthetic appreciativeness not even realizing a self-contradiction.
    A western aesthetic might be in part an "Oh, look at me!" based aesthetic. Look how I look, aren't I special. Isn't it great to look special and all unique?
    In contrast to that, that which might be a western aesthetic, look at the uniformity in the dress of school children in Japan, assuming that is still the case. Fit in or die is an extreme characterization of what in practice may not be such an extremely enforced aesthetic, if that is the aesthetic at all. But there is another aesthetic in Japan, I say just speculating because I really don't know much about Japan. That aesthetic has to do with the appearance of one's teeth. Beauty there is in dentation's non-uniformity. But here, in the land of individualism, if your teeth aren't uniformly placed and uniformly colored you aren't meeting a standard of beauty just for being random and different, just for being an individual and letting your individualism express itself in the placement of your teeth as nature intended. "As Nature Intended" can become an aesthetic and people with uniform teeth by nature could become the new pariah people. Long ago in Japan this controversy was temporarily settled by teeth blackening by the stevedores of cultural beauty, upper class women. Lower class women in that day, when they smiled and you could see their teeth, felt forced to then cover their mouths with the backs of their hands to hide that whatever the standard of beauty happened to be, their teeth weren't it. Note that I'm kinda of making a joke there and please don't take me too literally.
    Nevertheless, joking or not, if there is any truth in my quasi assertion that an individualistic western aesthetic is behind an appreciation of Gehry's building, then it would also be the case that different aesthetics exist where for being an individual and all uniquely expressive you just get your head cut off. Above all else don't stand out from the rest, and no one will see that you really do stand out because when your head is down on the ground, no one is looking at your teeth arranged in your mouth at least as nature intended. With head again raised you might wince a little upon seeing Gehry's building, that wince a little participation mystique with an object, where you feel it's you in some mystical sense and know that you can't behave that way and live, why should it? Remembering that here you can figuratively get your head cut off for having crooked teeth.
  6. Charles, here's what the critic said:
    Another poster responded that he felt that better structures could be designed by a child and that he preferred more practical structures.​
    I can knock that statement without denying him his aesthetic taste. You want to dislike a building, dislike it. You want to claim it could be designed by a child and that it should be more practical (based solely on its looks), then you're going to get some blowback.
  7. And who knows what was the entire exchange that prompted this post. If the point of the post was to understand what might have prompted such a strong statement of dislike, tinged as it was with irrationality, then I've contributed some musings on how I think that might have all come about. A discussion about why the irrationality I propose in the alternative, not happy with an endless discussion of anything BUT the feelings and emotions that distinguish us from each other and that for being men we often, but not always, discuss in the guise of being rational when really we're just hurt.
  8. I like that. Don't ask me why.
  9. There's a philosophical question as to whether a visual representation of a thing reveals the richness of the thing v the richness of the photographic process; or even v. the richness of the photographer's private view of the thing crystalized in the photograph. However I'm pretty sure I could go to where you where standing and directly view the pyramid beautifully conforming to your representation.
  10. A photograph like Phil's will often teach us how to see.
    Life imitates art.
  11. There's a philosophical question as to whether a visual representation of a thing reveals the richness of the thing v the richness of the photographic process; or even v. the richness of the photographer's private view of the thing crystalized in the photograph.​
    I think there's a play back and forth and "the thing" and "the photograph of the thing" become a bit intertwined (sometimes more than a bit). Change all the v.'s to and's. And add that once having seen the photo of the thing the thing may now have that photo embedded in its reality as well, or at least our perception of its reality. That photo of the Kölnische Zeitung. I was in Cologne about 4 years ago and didn't think to look for it. Kicking myself. But maybe it's gone now anyway. But if I were ever to see it, the photo would already be part of it.
  12. The other point of his that Phil may be illustrating is that beauty is also to be found outside the museum. I hadn't thought he was speaking quite that literally.
  13. Of course Phil is making his point in his photograph about not appreciating the modern glass pyramid entrance to the architecture of the centuries old royal palace that became The Louvre. The iron or steel gate is incongruous with the beauty within the museum but it does make me think of the French Revolution when this and other nearby state buildings were used to house prisoners in the reign of terror and perhaps of Foucault who was writing a scientific paper and asked his executioner to allow him a little time to finish, to which the reply was "the revolution has no need for science" or similar. The photo of Phil shows a very modern appearing subject through medieval appearing gates which could be considered as Foucault's "justification of erudite thought and future".
  14. Charles said he didn't like the pyramid and Phil supplied the photo as an answer, saying that photographing it was a way to approach it as an alternative to the whole like and not like thing.
    When I was at the Louvre, I didn't particularly care for the pyramid either. But I appreciate how it works in Phil's picture and it establishes a different point of departure from which to see its beauty. CONTEXT is so much. I was talking the other day about transformation, and this is part of it. What I didn't like when I was there, I like in this picture, because the view and the context of the photo have transformed it.
  15. What i find beautiful about the pyramid is its context. The Louvre is not static, it will likely be a place to witness human creativity for centuries to come. Rather than the decoration of the Renaissance and subsequent periods, which a contemporary architect could simply copy or evolve Piano (I think he is the creator, but whoever) returns to one of the most basic of human structures, that of Egypt and ancient American societies, also represented in the museum. He does not graft a contemporary form onto or destroy existing buildings, as Libeskind did with his crystal at the Toronto ROM, but places the entrance building respectfully in the open courtyard. I understand people not liking this, which is fine, but I have much respect for the architect, what he apparently was trying to achieve (guesswork on my part, I should do my homework!) and how he broke free from more conventional approaches.
  16. Phil I primarily see your photograph an illustration of the richness of your mind. I can be shown what it's like to see. I'm not sure I can be taught to see that way.
  17. it's your mind that is looking at it and not the photographer's mind.​
    I think the looking is shared.
  18. The photographs posted does absolutely nothing for me. Sorry if I have offended.
    Lets write a thousands words about it...but still a emptiness...
  19. "Why would anyone be offended, except perhaps the mind that is looking at the photograph and not seeing anything."
    Obviously I have offended you....I have been told by you " the mind that is looking at the photograph and not seeing anything." I obviously have a inferior mind...sorry, I did not recieve your superior DNA...not my fault.
    To return to your thought perhaps you are imagining a story that does not exist... other than that you trying to prove how clever you are with your rhetoric.
    Do you do... the photo thing? I suspect not. This is at least your second time know what Im saying.
  20. About looking shared, shared way of looking.
    Yeah I think I see your points of views. If I walk myself through it when thinking about what I was just doing, rubbing out a finish on a picture frame.
    A picture frame can function as a picture frame without a rubbed out finish and polishing shellac takes time. The reason I took that extra time is the reason I made the picture frame. I selected wood that with a polished finished would exhibit those woods in an exceptional way. I was also motivated by my wanting to share with others my appreciation of how those woods look with a good finish applied, the chatoyance of quarter sawn mahogany with it's shimmering ray fleck patterns best emphasized with several layers of shellac that's then polished. The point of the exercise for me is to share my enjoyment and appreciation of just how good wood can look. The point is looking shared, or to share a way of looking, and so forth.
  21. the photograph is what is shared as a way of looking. —Phil
    I was also motivated by my wanting to share with others —Charles​
    Both nicely put and I get it.

    I did mean something different. I meant the act of looking is shared. It's part of my getting away more and more from individuation of experience in recent years. I tend to see experience as overlapping chains of links. Connectedness. When I look, I am seeing not only through my eyes but through the eyes of my culture, through the eyes of my parents, using a shared visual language to do so, with shared signs and symbolisms. My looking is co-mingled with your looking and with all looking. Even when I reject my culture's way of looking or try to reject the past or what I know, that rejection has built into it that cultural way of looking and that knowledge.

    When I look at another's photo I believe I'm not just sharing the photo. I believe I'm sharing the looking. It is our seeing. The acts of looking are intertwined.

    I see myself in your eyes and you see yourself in mine. Looking within is also looking from without and looking from without is looking with others.
  22. Thanks for the explanation Fred.
    And I'll take a look at Being in the World Phil.
  23. *"Architektoniki" is a Greek word and the origin of the word architecture. Compound to words "archi" that means Origin and "techni" that means art. This secures the post of the art at the intent of a description of some form of a human creativity. I am sure that none of us read to a newspapers headline, the title : "Architectural new masterpiece, keeps successfully dry tenants at rain season". No. A headline would comment on the aesthetics and the beauty as equally as it would comment on the mechanics and the practicality. The perception of beauty differs and is constantly changing through time but the need for its existence is always objective. Writers humorous note: Never the less, a photograph serves as a completely personalized projection to both the creator and the viewer. Therefore we can only assume that that comment written, could be expressing the deep need of practicality of a much deeper structure, than the structure of the building.
    (* I meant to write the Greek words but the post would not upload, so this is greeklish)
  24. Catherine perhaps that structure reflects first in our capacity for language?
  25. Awesome architecture...

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