Design slogans such as “less is more,” “form follows function”, and “machine for living” are dirty, shallow, arrogant ideas to some. These ideologies inhabit the very worst of modernism and industrialization. That mass production and marketability are inherently more valuable than craftsmanship and the work of an artist. That one sort of usurps and takes precedence over the other. That purposefulness and use cannot go hand in hand with form and one must come first. That aesthetics are somehow trivial and insignificant and a mere deterrent from what is really important.
The refutation of this ideology was shared by established furniture maker, George Nakashima. He valued aestheticism, as well as creating something which would have the ability to transcend time and to maintain its value. He believed in education and craftsmanship, in manual skills, altruism and nature, the beauty of simplicity and working in harmony with your surroundings. He would reflect back upon prior eras where every physical thing that was created was special and meaningful in its level of quality. He would look upon design as something greater than creation, as a way to give back. In fact, it was his dream to create a peace foundation, to create a sacred place, altars for peace, one on each of the seven continents, and this dream has been realized on several continents thus far.
Nakashima’s woodworker creations continue to be made to this day. His creations are still produced with the same level of responsibility, skill, and quality. He fought for the ability to create the way he saw fit and even unto this modern era of throwaway culture and newer is better, his vision has persevered.
“In a world where manual skills are shunned we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product, but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming. We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered.
It might even be a question of regaining one’s own soul when desire and megalomania are rampant – the beauty of simple things…
To look for clues, we can go into the past: the moss garden and tea house at Sai Ho Ji, the wonders of stone and glass at Chartres, the dipylon vase. These are all examples of excellence that can go unchallenged but also unnoticed. They are all formed inwardly with a nearly impersonal experience. Compared to our day, with its arrogance of “form-giving,” the shallowness of slogan design such as “less is more,” “machine for living,” or even “form follows function.”
In proportion to the flood of consumer goods, we are probably at one of the lowest ebbs of design excellence that the world has seen. It requires a genuine fight to produce one well designed object of relatively permanent value. One of the difficulties is the lack of integration between the designer and the producer – the evolvement of material and method into a well conceived idea. Big city architecture has reached such a profound state of boredom that man might unwittingly destroy it in one last tragic gesture – without humor. Sentimentally again, we can look back to the thirteenth century, when almost every hinge was a museum piece. Where there was a touch of greatness in the majority of acts and conceptions.”
Warm Thanks to Nakashima Woodworker, 37 Signals, 1st Dibs