Everyday Beauty IV: Aesthetics

Ayn Rand argued that mechanical function was in itself beautiful and that decoration did not make it more beautiful but less. In THE FOUNTAINHEAD, she uses architecture, which at the time often hid the functional aspects of a building behind a facade of classical motifs, to argue for function being beautiful in itself and that decoration was fake.  I do not disagree at all that functional things have their own inherent beauty, and that adding a fake exterior to hide the functional beauty does not add but may even detract from the true beauty of the object, but why must decorative elements always be wrong?

A tunnel may be beautiful, and it may be lined with tile. The functional curve of the tunnel is pleasing. This curve is beautiful. The material of the tile lining the tunnel is functional and pleasing to the eye. The tile is beautiful. Choosing carefully some colors for that tile adds an element that one may like or dislike. Thus the beauty of the tunnel goes beyond the functionality of the shape and materials used into the realm of the aesthetic. One may argue that the choice of color may have some function beyond the pleasure of color; this is true, a bright white may help keep the tunnel from becoming unpleasantly dark- but the addition of a bit of blue tile along the walls does not eliminate the function of the white for brightness, yet adds its own value in being pleasing to the eye.

I find myself so often disappointed in Ayn Rand. She conflates aesthetic function with mechanical function then calls it beauty when they are two distinct aspects of beauty.  Wasting resources to hide a perfectly beautiful building is not the same as selecting for its aesthetic value some detail that exists because it is pleasing.

Dear Lord, please help us to avoid wasting resources while never forgetting that beauty is more than merely the function of what we build. +Amen.

Comments are closed.