March 22, 2002

Form and Function

In every man's heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.

Christopher Morley

I am a strict functionalist. For me, something beautiful is something that works. What it looks like is immaterial. You might think that a hippopotamus is the ugliest thing in creation, but not to me. A hippo is a beautiful thing because it works. A thing that is purely decorous and conforms to someone else's idea of what is beautiful leaves me cold. A modern peeler is beautiful because you can use it to peel a potato or carrot efficiently, without cutting your finger. Before its invention, peeling something was a chore. A knife, sharp or dull, doesn't do a very good job. You also waste a lot of the vegetable. Of course, the best way to do a potato is not to peel it at all, just boil it or bake it. Carrots, which I like to eat raw, should be peeled for health reasons because they might have harmful bacteria on the surface. There is no point in peeling something that is going to be cooked or baked.

A woman can be beautiful, but what she wears leaves me cold. I prefer a woman to be as close to naked as she can get without upsetting the clergy. Now that's beautiful. I consider tattoos to be ugly because they focus the spectator's eye away from the person. I suppose if someone is very homely or stupid, tattoos might not be a bad idea. The same is true of most jewelry, especially the kind that requires that new holes be made in a person's body. Men and women can be beautiful, unadorned. Most athletes have beautiful bodies, but muscle builders seem to me to be grotesque.

When I designed and built my home (A home is not just a house) I knew what I wanted and designed and built it. To start with, I wanted a south-facing greenhouse attached to it. So, one evening, when I was laying out the house, I ran a line from south to north by sighting it on the north star. The next day, I laid out the rest of the lines and checked the diagonals to make sure that it was perfectly square. Why square? Because I find anything but right angles to be too complex. My radial arm saw cuts right angles without further adjustment. Besides, in a world where almost all beds are rectangular, as are tables and bookshelves, it seemed silly to unnecessarily complicate my life. Believe me, I had enough problems with right angles without complicating it with things like hexagons.

My kids keep sending me doodads that do absolutely nothing but clutter up the house. They are supposed to be beautiful. Not to me. If it won't do anything, or if I can't eat it or use it, I have no need or desire for it at all.

Some people love doodads and their houses are full of them. I don't mind pictures, but I draw the line at wind socks, and the inane sound of wind chimes interferes with the lovely sound of the wind. If I had my way, I'd sell all of the doodads that people have given us. The proceeds would go to provide toys for poor kids so that they would develop an appreciation for useless things. When they grow up, they will spend their hard earned money on them, which will help to keep the economy going.

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