Corbel, Capitals & Columns
An Artisan’s Essay
F. L. Wright’s oeuvre is the manifest rant of a deluded egoist. In common with other Modernist manifestos in an era of manifestos, it eschews the complex evolution of civilization for a simplistic mantra that purports to liberate the convert from history and claim the clear eyed perspective of a new beginning. Set in the context of that architectural history from which Wright and his fellow travelers proclaimed themselves emancipated by the strength of their ideas, their actual artifacts seem to have more in common with eccentric fetishes than great architecture.
The meaning of Lewis’ “form ever follows function” depends, in practice, upon the definition of function. To conflate its meaning in architecture with its meaning in engineering is simply stupid. During the 19th Century, the steady advance in engineering and technology occasioned a transformation in the appearance of machines. Irrelevant ornamentation was phased out in deference to forms that efficiently did follow function. It is this transformation that the savants of Modernism set about aping, out of context, in the practice of architecture. This was and is pernicious nonsense, a tactic employed by people who want to create an empty environment in which to proffer their assertions. The noxious environments that are the consequence of these assertions represent a sterile dead end, the limited aspect of their creators’ intellects, knowledge and imaginations. More to the point, they represent a wrong turn among several wrong turns that characterize the political and artistic culture of the 20th Century.
Both the fine arts and architecture have cultivated an impoverishment and suppression of vocabulary. To an accomplished artisan, removing carving or the evolution of a beautiful finish from the production of a piece of furniture represents the degeneration of the elements of an inherited vocabulary, not an advance in the art. One finds a corollary in the existential vapidity of contemporary art and music, post Duchamp and John Cage, wherein the “artifact” has become a mere signifier for some proposition. Consider, for example, a literary movement that proclaims adjectives to be superfluous and sets about creating ‘new writing,’ the salient feature of which is the absence of adjectives. Furthermore, the proponents of this new writing proclaim adjective littered writing to be passé, a mere historical curiosity, now that the revelatory significance of the ‘new writing’ is understood. Absurd, perhaps? However, finding oneself in a Le Corbusier house, replete with Le Corbusier furniture and Le Corbusier paintings on the walls, the complete “machine for living in,” as Corbusier put it, would be no less absurd, or annoying. The assertions of those identified with the myopic dynamics of the aberrant culture of the 20th Century teach, if nothing else, that egos swallow minds.
In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa wakes up in the body of an insect. It has become his form, a form alien to his sense of being. Mechanically, he can still function, but the expression of his identity has been lost. He is no longer sure who or what he is. Would waking up as a pseudo-machine, or living within one, be different? The forms that follow the function of character are comprised of aesthetic vocabularies. A post aesthetics romp, like an open sewer, is about acceptance, not insight, or the knowledge of consequences, which it refuses. It rejects the studied discrimination fulfilled by the knowledge and skill of the artisan, an avocation as ancient and relevant as civilization, without which, the world becomes a fetid miasma of rootless ideas.