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... 


video

4 comments:

  1. Hello Erika, I am not sure that I agree 100% with Mr. Syson, After all, how many people even in the 18th Century owned objects like this, and there are still decorative and innovative (and marginally useless) objects for those who seek them.

    A broader point of his was more interesting--how we can start out by despising something and eventually admire it. For example, I used to abhor old textiles, but now I can accept many, and even own a few.

    Once something comes within our view, the more we see and study it, the more we understand, accept and like it--thus Luke Syson and his pink elephant vase.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim,
      Thanks for your message. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing this TED talk-- I've found so many wonderful, thought provoking talks there.

      Warm regards,
      Erika

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  2. Dear Erika,

    It's interesting how we reappraise certain items from our own lives, and how so often that has to do with seeing objects out of their original context. That happens to me whenever I see the things of my childhood become retro collectibles. I grew up in a 1950s house with two brothers, and for most of my childhood we had a mélange of furniture that was more for endurance than style. I remember we had a globe with black seas, and I hated its look. Now I'm seeing that same globe again and can appreciate its retro stylishness. BUT, I also note that the people who celebrate a past style and make it retro usually never actually lived through it!

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    1. Hello Mark,
      It really is interesting how tastes evolve and change, isn't it? I've experienced some of what you're describing: the bright colored plastic Merimekko dishes and Danish Modern furniture of my childhood is now coveted by 20-somethings... It's hard for me to see it, because it was just the functional stuff that filled our house. I do wish that I still had my Olivetti manual typewriter, though!

      Warm regards,
      Erika

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