Art in Wood

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Art in Wood

Andy Warhol once said, “If it doesn’t make sense, its art.”   That statement says art is symbolic – it’s form for its own sake.   I’ll admit that many works of art don’t make sense to me.  But don’t you see things every day that are sensible, functional and yet beautiful?  When do practical items cross over and become ‘art’?  Isn’t it possible for something to be both useful and artistic?

Often, the beauty in everyday functional items comes from the elegance and simplicity of their design.  In 1896, architect Louis Henri Sullivan said, “Form ever follows function.”  His thought was not that function is all that matters.  He felt that form and function are inseparable.  A well-designed object will have an elegant beauty that appeals to the eye as well as satisfying its practical purpose.  A sports car would be an obvious example, but what about an elegant kitchen faucet, or a sleek hammer?  Many objects fulfill their basic design intention and yet are pleasing to the eye.

It doesn’t matter with pure art, but we generally will chose items by first looking for some floor level of utility that we must have in that item.  Once that minimum level of functionality is met, we usually are drawn by the more subjective, artistic factors like how the object looks and feels.   Or in some cases, how it makes us look by reflection.  Who among us hasn’t thought about how good we would look in that new sports car?   Which leads me to wood – many objects in our everyday lives are made of wood.  Wooden objects can be perfect examples of form following function.

Wood has long been used for symbolic art that did not serve a functional purpose: figurines, totem poles and statues.  Today you can find representational art in disciplines like marquetry, pyrography, and intarsia.  But it is a medium that perfectly illustrates the potential to intertwine art with function.  Historically, many cultures have used wood for everyday necessities and yet they often chose to embellish them with carvings and other decoration.  It is a very practical building material that can be cut, shaped and joined.  Yet the grain and colors add an extra level of beauty and complexity to any project.

Wood art can range from traditional to very modern.  Woodworkers over centuries have refined methods of building everything from homes and their furnishings to musical instruments.  Styles range from the highly ornate Victorian to the simple lines of Mission furniture.   And it’s not just furniture; wooden toys, violins, boxes, turned bowls, pens, pool cues and much more.  Their design and craftsmanship can yield true works of art.

How do you recognize a true woodworking artist?   Louis Nizer said: “A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”

Look for artists that enhance your surroundings with their work.


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