Applied art

On beauty

If you are on the nito nito pages, you must like beautiful interiors and objects. You select your furniture and accessories with care. You collect textiles, ceramics and lighting. But what if you need to buy a hammer? Or a colander? Or a dustbin? Well, such items can also be both functional and pretty. In this article, I show you everyday things that you would probably never think of as "beautiful" . I have also used them as a pretext for a short discussion about the true beauty of things. Japanese way.

The great suffering

I have long called myself a hopeless aesthete. Hopeless, because being an aesthete is as much a gift as it is a torture. It's been some time since I reached the point where I've eliminated almost everything from my environment that doesn't satisfy me visually (and morally!). From meat pestles to hair elastics. I love applied art and I get very tired of ugliness. I see what is happening to the world, so I try to choose consciously. I check brands, ingredients and the first digits of products' barcodes, because the place where these products are produced is the beginning of a chain of events and relationships that affect the lives of people, animals and nature. I am most keen to buy second-hand and handmade stuff. Sometimes you have to pay a lot for quality items, even second-hand ones, but by analysing how and how long these things serve me afterwards, they end up costing me less. What's more, their price or the circumstances under which I bought the item make me respect such purchases more. But the question that concerns me is: where does people's love of beauty come from? And what does it mean that something is beautiful?

Why we need beuty in our lives

I have always loved beautiful objects, but I have also often thought about the fact that owning things, their appearance, do not really have any fundamental importance in relation to values such as health, love, children, and family. They can significantly improve the quality of life, but in the end, they are just things, transitory companions on our earthly journey. We are born and die without them. So why are nice objects so important to us? And no, I don't mean that they are an indicator of social status or a seemingly good cure for sadness. Rather, why do we actually look for the beauty around us? And what criteria does an object have to meet to be considered objectively beautiful?

I looked for the answer in Japanese aesthetics and, more specifically, in the words of Sōetsu Yanagi's, founder of the Japanese mingei movement (a popular art movement inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement in the UK - note nito nito), author of the book The Beauty of Everyday Things and father of the famous designer Sori Yanagi (creator of the famous Butterfly stool). The way Yanagi explains the world of things opened my eyes not only to our relationship with everyday objects but also to the definition of true beauty, which derives from the truth. He also deals with, among other things, doubts about the mass production of things, explains where the beauty of symbols lies and where the Japanese love of irregularity and lack of symmetry came from. In my opinion, every aesthete, without exception, should familiarise himself with Yanagi's views.

But let's get to the point. Yanagi claims that aesthetics and beauty in human life are in a sense taking over the function of religion. In the face of numerous crises and the associated loss of faith in god (any god) and the meaning of life, it is beauty that becomes the new religion, the dove of peace for humanity. How remarkably topical in the XXIst century! This 'new gospel' sits beauty and truth, high art and applied art, at the same table. And it recognises any work that has been made by human being, with a view to function, to last, and into which heart and care have been put, as an expression of reverence for life itself. And this 'reverence for life', this purity of intention, focus on function, and a kind of 'truth of the material used' ('honest design', which I mention so often), is precisely what appeals to me so much and allows me to function with ease in a world full of things. It also explains my love for antiques, restoration and natural raw materials.

The beauty equals the truth

What does beauty have to do with truth, you will probably ask? Let me demonstrate this with an example from my own life. A few years ago I ordered a stone worktop from a stonemason. I recall his face when I asked for the edges of the finished worktop to be left completely raw and smooth. He then asked "But how? Without any chamfer?! It will look bad, and will crumble?" I then I left him with a short "let's just do it". And I'm glad I haven't changed my mind. As a result, the dark stone slab I had chosen was merely cut to the shape of the kitchen cabinets. It was supposed to be strong, durable, and beautiful with its stone nature. With natural pores or small chipping that appeared over time. Its beauty comes from the truth of the material and its function. I would not have achieved such an effect if I had asked for a chamfer or, even worse, a coarse bevelled edge, which was (and probably still is today) quite fashionable.

Yanagi described the same phenomenon using the example of a Korean carpenter he met during one of his travels, who was working on still green, sap-soaked wood. Yanagi, having asked why he was doing this knowing that the wood would crack as it dried, heard in reply: "What does it matter? I'll mend it". Yanagi then had the sudden epiphany that the natural beauty, the beauty of an object made from wet wood that would later be repaired, would be an unintended side effect of its function. Its beauty will be born naturally during the process, rather than intentionally created. This is all thanks to 'free form', which is born in an atmosphere of Buddhist freedom from all the dualisms of this world such as beauty - ugliness, perfection - imperfection. What the Japanese refer to in the words wabi, sabi or shibui, which are widely known but not necessarily understood well, is a beauty that strives for neither imperfection nor perfection. Finally, a phrase that keeps ringing in my head: any intentional attempt to artificially achieve an irregular, asymmetrical naturalness is nothing but captivity and a departure from 'free form' and true beauty.

Unsightly category?

But let us return to the beauty of the mundane of life and everyday objects. Autumn is already here and many people, including myself, are preparing their homes, terraces and gardens for winter. So today I wanted to show you some objects that you would probably never think of as 'beautiful' and beauty of which comes from their function and the materials used. And let it not surprise you to learn that many of these items were produced or handmade in Japan or Scandinavia, especially Denmark, which, according to the aforementioned Sōetsu Yanagi, is the only country able to get the best out of the handmade and mass produced.

Tools that are decorative elements in the Copenhagen home of architect couple Mads Odgård and Mette Lyng Hansen. Via ALT.