Furnishings as a Functional Fine Art

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Functional art has always intrigued me in a way that most forms of art can’t. I think it’s easier for me to understand artistic expression when the piece also serves a physical purpose. One of the forms of functional art that I notice the most is furniture, which I chose because I could talk for days about cars. It might seem silly, but there was a time when furnishings beyond the most mundane were reserved for the elite, and every piece was hand-crafted by an artisan. Finding a well made and beautifully designed piece of furniture to remind us of that is refreshing, especially in this day and age of mega-stores selling cheap modular furniture by the ton.

Modern ways of thinking have somewhat cheapened furniture to the point that it’s easy to forget that a chair is more than just the thing we sit in; furnishings create out environment. Our environment affects us in untold ways. Studies have even concluded that your surroundings’ paint color can affect your emotions. Surrounding yourself with aesthetically pleasing furnishings is the same thing as hanging paintings on your walls. You do it to satisfy an inner need to see what you find beautiful.

In thinking about the aesthetic properties of furniture, I can’t help but think of interior design. When furnishings are brought together in a certain way, the results can be pretty drastic. If you’ve ever been to a high end restaurant or hotel, it’s easy to realize the effects that even just the style of furniture can have on the feel of a space. Think of those spaces with furnishings picked out by your grandparents.

I think a lot of people can relate to a love of wood furnishings. If you watch Parks and Recreation, the character Ron Swanson often speaks of his fondness for wood. If I were Ron, I could articulate my feelings for wood eloquently and succinctly, but Ron Swanson I am not. To put it briefly, wood is life. It’s one of our most abundant natural resources and it grows from the ground in a vast amount of varieties whose properties can be almost awe inspiring. When these amazing pieces of earth are made into something that you can use and look at every day, it’s not simply furniture and or art, it’s a collaboration between man and nature.

Wood is the medium that may first come to mind for when you think of artisan furniture, but of course there’s much more. Bamboo, metals, woven fibers, plastics, stone, earth; anything can be made into furniture, and has been.  Even living trees are made into chairs.

There are countless different “styles” of furniture, some of whose names you’ve likely heard in passing. Art deco, Art Nouveau, Chippendale, Victorian, Pennsylvanian Dutch, and post modern are just a few of the styles that we’ve seen over the past couple hundred years. If you’ve ever noticed the very deliberately chosen furniture on the show Mad Men, that’s mid-century modern, a style well regarded for the past seventy plus years.

I’m not saying that every piece of furniture is art, or that something needs to be extremely ornate or complex in order to be art, but the items that are artistic deserve appreciation. I think it also behooves someone to choose an artful piece of furniture for overall quality. Anyone who has spent several hours assembling something made of low density fiberboard knows what I mean.

  •  Have you ever come across a particularly stunning piece of furniture?
  •  Would you say that all furniture is art, or what draws the line between an artistic piece of furniture and just a plain old piece of furniture? Does it make a difference if it’s mass-produced like something from Ikea?
  •  Would you ever think of an interior designer as an artist?

 Other places to see cool furniture:

http://www.onlinedesignteacher.com/furniture_design/furniture_design%20history.html#.VEhHGPnF-ww

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/category/47

 Sam Pruyn