For most of my life, I have without hesitation and with emphasis answered ”Function!” to that question. I have believed that function is everything and beauty…well, maybe not nothing, but certainly not important. I would even say I have prided myself on this opinion.
About five years ago I suddenly felt an urge to get myself an impractical piece of clothing. It was not the case that I saw a specific garment that I wanted; it was rather a feeling of just wanting an impractical piece of garment. So I bought a jumper. It was loosely knitted, so it hardly helped keeping me warm. In addition to that, it had wide arms, so it was diﬃcult to fit it under a jacket, and it was white, so every little smudge showed. I loved it! In hindsight, I think this urge for something impractical was really a longing for beauty, a first step away from this worldview of everything having to be functional.
Recently, I have had the opportunity to explore this further. What is beauty, really? Does it have any meaning? And how does meaning relate to function?
Consider music, as an example. Surely music can have a function, like march music’s rhythm to make soldiers walk in the same pace, but music can also just be beautiful. Does that indicate that it has no meaning? No! Surely music has meaning, even if it does not have obvious function. We enjoy beautiful music, it makes us happy. I guess music could be played in order to get it done with, to get to the end, but that is just sad and would most likely ruin the beauty of it.
Function is more of that character of getting things done, of producing a result. So what happens when we produce a result, does it make us happy? Not really; maybe we can get a feeling of satisfaction of having produced that result, but I don’t believe it makes us happy.
The other day, while discussing this, I got the question ”So what do you do when you have been very functional and produced a result eﬃciently?”. Well, I guess I go on and produce the next result…and then it hit me: that’s what it is like in the famous hamster wheel! When we run like crazy round and round and there is no stopping, no getting oﬀ…. There is only one way to make the hamster wheel stop spinning, and that is to stop running!
Comparing to the Intent Thematic, we can say that function is about producing a result, while beauty is about the process, the doing, the experience. Beauty is related to paying attention to what we are doing, and to doing it well. And when function at best can give us a feeling of satisfaction, beauty has the ability to make us happy. Beauty is about enjoyment, being in the moment and about happiness.
When I was a child, my mother would bake all our bread. She baked very good bread, but she did it mainly with the purpose to produce bread, not primarily for the beauty or enjoyment of it. We didn’t have that much money and buying bread was expensive. As we grew older and my parents’ economy got better, she stopped baking bread and started buying it instead, probably because she could. By then, she had the money and didn’t have to bake bread any longer. Supposedly, she had baked all that bread because she had had to and it represented function for her rather than beauty. Now on the other hand, many years later, I have noticed that she has started to bake bread again. Now she doesn’t have to, she does it because she enjoys doing it. That doesn’t mean to say she doesn’t appreciate the result, but the result is just that: a result. In the same way, there is no contradiction between function and beauty, but if we only think of function and want to get things done, we risk missing out on the beauty of it.
By seeing things as they are, we are able to see the beauty in them and pay attention to doing what we do well. Beauty is all around us, all we need to do is to see and recognize it. Then we don’t have to choose between function or beauty, but will instead have a beautiful mix of the two. And I nowadays tend to think that of the two, beauty is the primary and function is the secondary, just like process is primary and result is secondary.