07 February 2014

For the Love of "Useless" Art

A detail of an 18th century French porcelain vase from the Sèvres Manufactory, designed by Jean-Claude Chambellan Duplessis (1699 — 1774) and featured in Luke Syson's January 2014 TED talk. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Those of us who love and collect decorative arts objects know that simply seeing and engaging with them can bring a great deal of satisfaction into our daily lives. But what draws us into certain classes of objects and repels us from others? How do we define quality and beauty in a time in which simplicity and elegance are the rule?

Today I'd like to share a brilliant TED talk given by Luke Syson, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Curator in Charge of the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He takes us along on a (hilarious) journey from repulsion, to familiarity, to acceptance, and finally to admiration of the Sèvres vase you see above. Most interesting to me was his thesis that in our Modernist culture, fancy or imagination has been sequestered into our screen lives while everyday objects have become more and more unremarkable, leaving little space for "useless" objects in modern life. 

There is much to think about here, but I hope most of all that you'll be lucky enough to find yourselves on a journey similar to Luke Syson's, with a fancy pink elephant of your own opening the door to the appreciation of another...and another...