I had a great conversation this past week with the wonderful Mitchell sisters. We are, all three of us, very big on function. Just because something can’t funtion as the object it was created as doesn’t mean it’s not art. But if it can’t function as the type of object it is labeled as, should it actually be categorized as such?
For example, look at this ‘necklace’ … it’s huge! I don’t see it being worn comfortably or well for any length of time. So is it a necklace? Some people will say yes–it fits over the head and rests on the neck and shoulders. But what is a necklace for? It is to adorn the wearer, right? But what if no one will wear it long enough to say the person was even adorned with it? If something doesn’t really fit its function, I am for simply calling it art, usually sculptural art since sculpture doesn’t have a particular function. But if not, do we call if a failure for not fulfilling its function? I don’t know if we should go so far as to say it’s failed. let’s reserve that bit of labeling for things like bad toupees and monstrous high heels.
I am certainly not saying this piece is a failure or not worthy of our consideration. I saved it for a reason. I like the careful consideration of every plane on this piece–the sides, top, bottom, and insides are all colored and coordinated through their saturation. And the artist, Marjorie Schick, recognizes that her work pushes the boundaries of what can be called functional. A book collection of her work was titled “Sculpture to Wear” rather than something about art jewelry or sculptural jewelry. The work is acknowledged as sculpture first, and so we can say it fulfills its primary intended ‘function’–as art to be viewed without undue expectation about how it will operate and survive as anything beyond that.
But this brings us to a notable point about our work. If you are making something that is expected to perform a particular function, it should be able to fulfill the role–it should be able to hang, stand, or move as needed, it will not come apart when used with reasonable care, it won’t harm people when it is worn or displayed, etc. Looking good is, of course, important; but if you neglect to consider how it will hold up, how it will be worn or displayed, or whether it will be comfortable enough for the wearer to keep it on for the day or even a few hours, you haven’t made a successful piece, not to mention you’ll probably disappoint someone. Creating functional art means creating the functional aspects as well as the art.