Beauty & Utility

Beauty and utility are mutually generative. In the past, rarely was beauty and end in-itself. The magnificent stained-glass windows of Chartres were no less utilitarian than the Parthenon or the Pyramid of Cheops. The function of the exterior decoration of the great Gothic cathedrals was to invite entry; the rose windows inside provided the spiritual mood. Interpreted in the light of our own experiences, this philosophy still prevails.

 

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John Dewey, commenting on the relationship between fine art and useful, or technological art, says: "That many, perhaps most, of the articles and utensils made at present for use are not genuinely aesthetic happens, unfortunately, to be true. But it is true for reasons that are foreign to the relation of the 'beautiful' and 'useful' as such. Wherever conditions are such as to prevent the act of production from being an experience in which the whole creature is alive and in which he possesses his living through enjoyment, the product will lack something of being aesthetic. No matter how useful it is for special and limited ends, it will not be useful in the ultimate degree -- that of contributing directly and liberally to an expanding and enriched life. 

 

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Extracts from John Dewey's 'Art as Experience' and Paul Rand's 'Thoughts on Design'