An empty desk is functional but is it beautiful? A cup holding pens is functional, but a pen cup made from cut glass in a metal frame is beautiful beyond its function. So it is with all things pertaining to beauty including the art of tidying. Marie Kondo, in her book, THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP, writes of taking an object into one’s hands and asking, “Does this object bring me joy?” That action is about aesthetics, not about function. An object may be beautiful due to its function but what causes you joy is not merely function–it is aesthetics.
The cut glass vase and the can have their own aesthetics, both do the job I need equally well. I find the glass vase pen holder more beautiful; the glass fits the over-all aesthetic of my desk. That does not mean that the can would not be the better choice in another aesthetic!
I own several can openers. Two are of the older kind, functional, but not particularly comfortable in the hand. They work reliably. If beauty were merely in the purity of function, these are a good use of the materials and do the job at hand efficiently. BUT, I have another can opener that does the same job and is pleasing to the eye and feels good in my hand. If a can opener could bring me joy, I would have no difficulty choosing. My husband argues that the beautiful one is also more comfortable to use and so it is the improved function that creates the beauty, but it did not need to be a nice matt-black finish against chrome. It could have been whatever color the plastic is before additives give it a particular color, the function would have been the same, but the beauty would not have been as great.
When a space is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, a person finds it easier to keep it tidy. This suggests to me that functionality cannot be the sole arbiter of the beauty of a thing.
Another example relating to my desk are the pretty frames. Each frame is different, each is aesthetically pleasing, each is functional; I find them collectively and individually beautiful. A group of simple black plastic or wood frames would be equally functional, but not beautiful in the same way this set of frames is beautiful. The set of plain black wood frames may have its own aesthetic, but the functional beauty would be exactly the same. Now, I was given a frame that has such a small opening that it fails to function as a frame is intended–I do not find that frame beautiful at all. An object must fulfill its function to be beautiful, but the two sets of frames show that beauty goes beyond function. That is important to know.
Dear Lord, help me to remember that beauty is more than function but that an object that fails to fulfill its function cannot be beautiful. +Amen.