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June 22nd, 2020
This episode is dedicated to the Twitter handle @BlkCab2016
What’s the difference between something that simply works, and something that works just as well but is also beautiful?
How much do aesthetics play in the efficaciousness of any given product, tool, or even an argument?
Most often we just need something that works, something that gets the job done. Beauty is an afterthought. A worthy example of this is ropework. During the golden age of sail, the sort of ropework that evolved is truly a thing of beauty. The far less august practice of macramé grew out of the ropework developed on ships. When it comes to rope on a ship, there’s a simple, effective way to get it done, and then after that there is an endless number of ways to accomplish the same task in ways that are increasingly beautiful. Naturally, these ways require time for the effort, something of which sailors at sea had an abundant amount.
When the chores are done, beauty is the thing we seek.
As we learn a new skill, our efforts are almost never even concerned with the notion of performing that new skill beautifully. When beginning, we just want to make something work. We seek to gain the agency. It’s only afterwards that our style of agency becomes a point of focus.
Where exactly is the threshold that separates and joins these two realms of human endeavor? What is the moment and point when a functioning tool begins to express a sense of beauty, designed or not? At what point does the young sailor stare at the rope work and begin to see a larger pattern, that is then in the mind remixed, rearranged with a higher sense of design that doesn’t just achieve the original goal, but does so beautifully?
The realm of beauty is not separate from the function we design into our tools, our toys and our lives. Beauty emerges as the original intent to creates reaches ever further toward the goal which it may have already achieved. From there, questions of efficiency and improvement become investigations in elegance. Beauty emerges as function is informed by aesthetics for the better, when the task is not merely done, but done well, and then done beautifully.
The best performers, athletes, sailors, carpenters, painters, dancers, all of these people achieve a better form of their art with an economy of effort, making their work look effortless. And what does such a paring down of effort and energy achieve? What is the grand point behind such aesthetic pursuits?
When an artist, or a craftsman has winnowed down their own abilities to bare essentials based on fundamentals, the mind and its energy is then free to abound upon new possibilities with fuel and focus that was once dedicated to sorting the mechanics of function. Now the artist explores an insipient land. Function is no longer enough, and the task – to stay challenging cracks its own shell to reveal new aim, seeking forever more to refine itself down to an impossible point, always revealing more space to range, like the gap between the mathematician’s asymptote and the number it never reaches, seeing always with a wider imagination, a narrower, deeper realm to venture.