43A Vane Attempt
"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows"
A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.
October 3, 2008
One happy result of growing up in the North American east was the immersion into history one experienced. Of course it is nothing like the immersion inhabitants of Rome or Athens or Giza might feel. North American immigrant history is fairly short, spanning a mere four hundred years. But great changes have been made in those years and to be reminded of them on a daily basis affects one‘s perspective. Wandering the downtown streets of Boston, New York and Philadelphia offered views of simple old architecture, meandering lanes and handmade craftsmanship. There was a natural disorder to the old ways of life, eclipsed today by the urgent drive for sober order and efficiency. In urban centers around the globe if you look closely you can still find the old world juxtaposed against honeycombed high rises and glass facades. And it’s in the very nature of that glass that we find new meaning.
A striking difference between the old and new worlds is in the appearance of glass. In our youth we marveled at old world glass making. Old colonial homes and buildings still bore window panes made a hundred fifty years earlier. It was marvelous glass, each pane a separate work of unintended art. Old glass bleached blue, green or purple, streaked by waves of silica and bursts of bubbles, was devoid of absolute clarity or perfection. To look through an old window pane was to realize the world beyond as lumpy and distorted. It was a schoolboy delight to peer through eighteenth century glass and be transported back in time. The cars and trucks on the other side became horse drawn carriages and wagons. The sounds of traffic became the cries of colonial street vendors and convivial conversation. And where air bubbles humped up inside the pane like a scattering of shot, we found a lesson in imperfection.
Seeing the world through the flaws of hand made glass was transporting. Admiring the work of the old world glass maker was evidence that we could live well in spite of the flaws. Because you realized that this was the way the old world looked upon itself. And though the handmade window might yield a distorted view of the world outside - it sealed out the cold and the rain and the snow. It was a protective shield of near magic proportion transmitting daylight while keeping the elements at bay. We grew to love those distortions the way one loves the curvy mirrors at an amusement park. Who could say that the vision through flawed glass was any less real than through perfected glass? Who could say?
Handmade work, the work of the craftsman teeters at the edge of extinction today. An appreciation of aesthetics which is what craftwork offers us, has been relegated to museums and the Sunday farmers market. In our headlong rush to adopt the most efficient architectural materials and designs we are tossing away a connection to ourselves. We lose touch with an inherent part of human nature.
Today there is a great push to build houses and buildings and machinery that achieves the highest levels of efficiency. These are technical pursuits of value. But they should not be the sole criterion upon which we build our world. As nature aptly demonstrates, the world is a cornucopia of diversity. There is not one species of flower or tree, there are hundreds of thousands. There is not one insect, there are millions. The nature of nature is difference. A difference that maintains balance amidst billions of variables. We cannot forsake those differences. We must not accept the idea that absolute efficiency is the paramount goal of life. It’s simply not true. We need old world design and influence and vision. We need hand crafted goods that reflect the natural flaws and extraordinary skills of those who work with them. We need to make choices based on the aesthetic of a design instead of its peak efficiency.
To that end we should not tear down our old houses or barns or buildings. And we should not build with synthetics and substitutes and artifice. Efficiency and technical prowess are but one influence in world choice. Appearance, beauty and aesthetics are of equal or greater value as they contribute to the quality of life. What real value is there in technically efficient life if it’s lived without quality? Without hand hewn wood, hand blown glass, visually pleasing architecture and design - we live in a mechanical world. Indeed, beauty and craftsmanship are imbued with natural flaws, but they are minor flaws - bubbles in old tinted glass. To try to live without flaw is to abandon the nature of nature. Which thrusts us into an unnatural, artificial world intolerant of aesthetics and intolerant of human value.
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