credit and social standing

i am on the mailing list for design within reach, a modern furniture catalogue and retail chain that features internationally known furntiure designers. often the memos feature interesting if tangential inquiries into aesthetics and design, written for the most part by the founder of the company, rob forbes. i have often appreciated these newsletters for their somewhat erudite and non-partisan orientation, meaning they are not selling you merchandise. so today i received a newsletter whose topic involved the chance encounters of the dwr founder with aesthetic contrasts that he surreptitiously stumbles upon while travelling. at first i was impressed by subject of his article, and again, impressed that he was making a nice departure from trying to sell merchandise, like he truly cares about the world of design. so a couple of his examples of flashy objects contrasted and emphasized by their surroundings were: men sitting in chairs in cuba, black bodies and spindly limbs situated haphazardly in cheap chairs in stark contrast to the dull communist block streets and buildings; metal spikes in a worn piece of limstone on some building in new york city; and (the worst in my opinion) a stack of plastic chairs in a back yard lawn somewhere. i liked the arbirary quality of his subject matter and his writing… but then a couple of times his tone set something off in, well, in my head. i like the photos of cuba (see, but then i thought, “wait, why are you taking photos of stacks of plastic chairs and running them through strange considerations of logic of placement and aesthetics? really you’re just taking a photo of a bunch of plastic chairs and talking at length about them. this perhaps touches on one of the very annoying attributes of the art world. i understand that it must be hard to come up with new subject matter each week, but should we really resort to plastic chairs? then i looked at his thought process a little: he goes through a veritable interpretation of this photo he took of some spikes set in concrete (or stone, i’m not sure) and states: “These worn stone columns and stonework details from a building front in New York become a gripping still life because of the contrast with the lethal metal daggers embedded there to ward off birds and bums.” Lethal metal daggers? Ok, i can sort of see what you mean, but then he just trapses over a delicate social issue: the homeless. he’s making light airy educated statements about the absolute virtue of these “contrasts” of the visual realm as he’s meandering around the world’s great cities, and says, look how great this item is: it’s for warding off birds and BUMS. i can’t believe he just said that! what is a “bum?” i guess you gather from context and linguistic and social seasoning that, in this context, “bum” means someone without a home who is being warded off from this stoop. i have to admit that i have used the expression several times, but not after i thought about what it meant, and not in a high profile context. so why does rob forbes call these guys bums? bums don’t buy furniture. and a bum would certainly get in the way of this lovely photo of “lethal daggers.” bums have no place in the world of DESIGN WITHIN REACH. so, all around, he’s glad that these daggers are placed in the concrete: they’re vivid in their stark contrast with surrounding banality AND they keep bums away. two birds with one spike! so, mildly offended, i continued to peruse the clipping… of design within reach. some of the prices seem “reasonable” and others inordinate. that’s fine, i’m not passing judgement on what the market bears, i mean, i make my living building furniture and selling it for a certain price… but then there’s another statement that catches my eye. under the advertisement for the dwr credit card there is this statement of what a credit card IS: “The whole point of a credit card is to make your life easier and to provide you with a world of possibilities. The DWR Credit Card account does both, with straightforward payment options, a Low APR Equal Payment Plan and numerous exciting ways to access the international design community.” to make your life easier and provide you with a world of possibilities? no, that’s not at all what the credit card IS. so after this feature article which seems to be almost completely explicit in its deliniation of what things are, of their qualities and attributes, we get this slap in the face statement of essence. a credit card is for spending money you don’t have: what a horrible thought: spending $117/mo. on the parentesi extension table! it never crossed my mind that people would buy this furniture on such terms. it all of a sudden seemed like a very dirty business to me. these pieces are already priced at near artwork levels, meaning they’re overpriced based on someone’s reputation and status… an now you can pay 20% more than that per month just for the pleasure of getting this flimsy table RIGHT AWAY. what a blatantly ugly thought. the aesthetic character of this sentiment is antipodal to at least the claim of the newsletter, i.e. interest in a kind of transcendental artistic endeavor. i realized how little, all of a sudden, i appreciate this world. i like looking at the design and thinking about how these things are built, but the realm into which they’re going… what is that? aesthetically speaking, and strictly speaking, i greatly prefer some guy’s basement apartment with a few sarongs tossed around and piles of books on the floor and an old chair that he found on the street (that he reads in) to some asshole’s apartment with all this design crap purchased on credit. i am developping a philosophical idea/pattern called the rule of contradictions… it is based on the idea that once something becomes very well developped and makes money easily and has “a foot in the door”, well, once IT begins making assumptions about pure concepts, like truth and beauty, etc. once can ASSUME an opposite stance and PRESUME that it’s true. i guess i’m trying to make a joke there. i don’t actually claim to do philosophy. maybe i just have a little too much time on my hands to read the design within reach newsletter.

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