"But is it art?"

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Thu, 2007-03-08 06:19

The famous Mackintosh 'ladder' chair by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, left, and there's one in the location for which they were designed, at Hill House, Glasgow, right. (1903)

An ornamental bank teller's grille by architect Louis Sullivan below left, and the bank for which the ornament was designed, below right. (1908)

QUESTION: Is the chair, on its own, art? Is the ornamental grille art?

They're both very nice -- exceptional, in my estimation -- but is there enough in them on their own to be that "shortcut to our most deeply-held premises" which is the defining characteristic of art, particularly good art? Is their sufficient scope in a chair or an example of ornament to perform that role? Or are these things somewhat like a good and well-crafted phrase in a poem, or a peculiarly apt metaphor in a short story, or a telling chapter in a novel: things we can sometimes enjoy in their own right as well -- particularly if we know they came from and are part of the same theme as a major work -- but which we nonetheless know are part of an art work?

In other words, is it true to say that the ensemble is art -- the sum of all the parts -- but not the parts themselves, however attractive?

As they say in Glasgow, "What say you, Jimmy?" (My own answer, if you haven't guessed already, is of course suggested in the questions, but I've sketched it out a little more here and here.)

Oh, and the New York Times has a very brief piece on Sullivan's beautiful series of banks. And antiquarian Eric Knowles does the job for Hill House.

RELATED POSTS ON: Art, Architecture


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Could have been NZ dollars

Jameson's picture

as converted from pounds. All I truly recall is that he never came out to the pub with us, preferring a quiet wine at home on his Mackintosh's.

Yes but

Kenny's picture

Mackintosh was not so much an artist but an architect and designer. You have view his buildings and furniture together to get the full picture. Eric Knowles, whom I admire as a commentator and writer, is spot on!

BTW, that's a lot for a replica, Jameson.

Och Aye, they'rrre Gorrrgeous!

Jameson's picture

But it's my understanding that Mack's fabulous furniture falls into the category of Applied Art: something with form and function, an object embodying considerable aesthetic ideal, which may be utilised practically.

I had a friend in London who spent every spare penny buying one ladder-back replica at a time at 3000 pounds a pop. They looked amazing in his high-stud, 30 square-foot Holland Park apartment.

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