A few years ago I gave a talk. The title was something like “I Need a Piece of Art to Go with My Red Sofa.” It was a defensive argument giving liberty to those who sought artwork for decorative purposes rather than an esoteric rationale. As an interior designer surrounded by artistic influences and drawn to the limitless styles, pieces, concepts and movements of the art world, I see and appreciate both sides of this controversial coin.
In my opinion art should bring joy. And that is not to discount art as a social commentary, honest statement of artistic philosophy, opinion, or personal expression. As an interior designer, my simple philosophy is that joy is a goal of interior habitats – function and joy simultaneously. For me, there is a synonym for beauty in there. Oh – and how apropos – it’s Christmas time and the carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen specifically identifies bringing “tidings of comfort and joy.”
In this month’s December 2017 issue of AD “Architectural Digest” Living with Art, architect Luis Laplace offers that he doesn’t really know about beauty in art. He sounds modest and self-effacing. “I say I don’t know beauty. When I see that something works, then I see beauty.” I say that is saying a lot about context. But inasmuch as I can see context being so perfect to showcase a piece that it validates it somehow, it seems lacking in the department of honest personal appreciation or criticism. Surely he must find beauty in art before it is placed.
I can see admitting that something having potential is a valid “wait and see” position to take when allowing a piece to be placed to its best advantage, prior to judging it too harshly – but that seems reserved for pieces about which one is trying to give them the benefit of the doubt! It sounds a bit like tap-dancing…making excuses. Excuses for not having an initial opinion or spontaneous reaction – much less appreciation – much less, joy.
Another comment that Laplace makes in this article “High Art” is that “We never use art as a decoration,” he declares. “We design for installation and rotation.” And I am sure in his world, that is exactly what he does. But let’s get down to earth and acknowledge that it’s a chicken and egg thing – the luxury to design expressly for the presentation of magnificent rotating works of art versus finding joy in a piece to decorate your world – with or without rotation. He makes decoration sound like a bad word. And perhaps he thinks it is – but why? Adornment, decoration, enhancement, emphasis – all superlatives, in my estimation.
In a completely opposite place on the planet both figuratively and physically, Robert Downey Jr, in this same issue of AD, expresses an explanation for their selections and design direction. “We didn’t set out to do something conspicuously whacky.” He obviously gets great joy and a kick in the pants out of his approach which he cements, with the following comment: “We just enjoy a bit of whimsy and fun.” And then a negative nod to separate him from the more cerebral art enthusiasts – “We definitely don’t like boring.”
But that is a direct comment on the joy thing and one of my oft borrowed quotes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Here, a tangible example that I created for my grandson, Liam a few years ago. Debris he and I collected while on a walk one day, I assembled into a collage and had it framed for him with the plaque to remind him to look at things and regard things from all angles.
From what one person derives joy, another might find boring and uninteresting. And that oddly seems to return to the Luis Laplace comment about not seeing beauty until it is placed and then can be recognized. Hmmmm…Yet, I am saying that it might be of value to study things and think about things differently than face value at a quick glance…spontaneity is valid and so is “love at first sight,” but often things are missed because their context s not serving them well. That space above your red sofa might be just the context and proper setting to showcase the “whatever it is” piece which might be far less interesting otherwise.
Which is why, in this time of international commerce delivering things from all over the planet with an almost instant gratification speed, we still have difficulty making decisions about what to chose to have in our world. Which fabric, which furniture, which art…the choices are at our fingertips and delivered to our doorsteps without leaving our living rooms, but fear of costly mistakes, second guessing trends and how to make good investments still remain the dilemma shared by most. Fear of trusting your own joy. Or, better yet, discovering and defining your personal joy.
Which brings me to the last quote I extracted from the December 2017 issue of AD by an artist, Brian Donnelly, speaking about his own residence and art collection, and that is “I don’t buy art to put in specific places. I just collect what I love and hope to find a place for it.” Sounds like spontaneous joy to me!!
Closing with best wishes for a Merry Christmas and “tidings of comfort and joy.”