Form over Function = Art

ktm-610-supermoto-hmc-redbull-factory-race-bike_3I take a fair amount of crap over my dislike for motorcycles with “personality” and intolerance for form over function (choppers and other non-functional toys). For starters, I’m not particularly visual: ask me what my favorite color is and the answer will be “Who cares?” There are a few colors I don’t like, a lot of colors that are acceptable, and a few that I prefer under particular conditions. Likewise, I tend to look at mechanical things as tools and tools are either useful or not. If they are really useful, I don’t care what they look like at all.

clip_image002My wife is a visual artist. She is very visually oriented and wouldn’t recognize a function if one were staring her in the face. The function of plastic bags evades her, or (like me and colors) she doesn’t care about even basic functions. I buy large bags of bird seed for our outdoor feeders and if she beats me to being first to open a new bag, the bags look like a rabid squirrel chewed its way into the package.

This might not seem like a thing to a more normal person, but I have a system for filling the feeders, mostly because I hate squirrels and spillage attracts squirrels. My system is fairly anal, I admit. I cleanly cut the top off of the bag, spread the bag so that it fills the can, stick the feeders all the way into the bag, and fill the feeders with a pitcher so that all of the excess falls back into the bag. She, on the other hand, disassembles the top foot of the bag, pours seed randomly in the container, around the container, and even some into the feeders. Squirrels love her.

So, for 49 years we’ve lived together with disparate interests and conflicting styles. Art, as I define it, comes from an old Greek (or Chinese or Abo) word meaning “not good.” If something is art, the execution will be amateur, the choice and use of materials will be juvenile, and purpose will be obscure or nonexistent. My wife and her artist friends are convinced that I’m too obsessed with purpose and artisanship (an insult, to the art crowd). I’m convinced that if the workmanship sucks, I don’t care about the rest. When I look at a piece of ironwork art, I look at the welds first. If they are amateur, poorly formed, or ground off to hide the poor workmanship, I don’t take the rest of the work seriously. Same for woodworking. I’m looking for a level of workmanship before I start considering the form. As a mediocre musician, I have always required music to be something more complicated than I can perform if I’m going to spend my money on it.

clip_image001The fact that this motorcycle is unrideable except under the most restricted conditions defines it as art and not a functional vehicle, in my mind. I’m a big fan of engineering, like the KTM at the beginning of this essay and not much of a fan of cobbled and useless art, like this cruiser. I’m not bragging here. I realize that this function-over-form requirement limits my ability to appreciate purely form-based art. I don’t see anything but discomfort, impracticality, and unnecessary complication and expense when I see a bike like this cruiser. I don’t have a mechanism that allows me to appreciate it as art alone.

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