Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Guest Blogger - Furniture & Art

Furniture and Art
Starting off an article with definitions from a dictionary is so trite, so hackneyed. But, I was faced with a mild dilemma: Can furniture be art or can art be furniture? Especially regarding old furniture. To rid myself of any preconceived notions about art that I may have developed over the years, I decided to take a fresh reading of a definition of words as supplied by a dictionary. Perhaps by refreshing my mind in that way, I would be able to come up with an answer about art and furniture that would please me, and hopefully satisfy most of those who might question my ideas linking the two.

Defining Art, Aesthetics, and Furniture
So, to the dictionary and the definitions! Art: The conscious use of skill and the creative imagination, especially in the production of aesthetic objects. Works so produced. Hmm. Aesthetic? Thumbing back a few pages – Aesthetic: Of, relating to, or dealing with things beautiful. Then a bunch of pages forward – Furniture: Equipment that is necessary, useful, or desirable. (I've taken some freedom translating the definitions.) The definitions pleased me enough, and they led me to rethink beauty being in the eye of the beholder, reintroduced me to the idea of aesthetics being the study of beauty, and I liked that the definition for furniture included the word “desirable.”
Art as Furniture, Furniture as Art
Then semantics became an issue. Furniture as art is a bit different from art as furniture. The first is a little like hanging a chair on the wall where one might hang a picture. The second is more like focusing on the use of a piece of equipment, but approaching that usefulness with an aesthetic sense. You know, along the lines of making an easy chair look like a beautiful high-heeled shoe, or using old materials to make a beautiful object that is also useful, such as a chair made out of old CDs. Yes, it has been done; but are CDs furniture? A CD is a piece of equipment that is useful, sometimes necessary. Remember the furniture definition presented above. And is the new CD chair now art? Or just a chair? Maybe both, maybe neither. After all, who wants to sit on old CDs?

Art from Old Furniture
Well, after considering definitions and semantics, I decided that art could indeed be furniture and furniture could indeed be art. And that making art from old furniture is probably okay, but that not everybody would agree. I needed to study old furniture and think about how some of it could become art. Plus, I think just hanging a chair on the wall, where a picture ideally might go, is letting off the “art” end of the idea – furniture as art – a little too easily. Of course, what constitutes art, what is perceived as furniture, and even beauty itself, are all in the eye of the beholder.

Bits and Pieces or Intact Old Furniture
A trip through Google's image gallery, after punching “Art from Old Furniture” into the search box, was an eye-opener. I found examples of furniture as art, art as furniture, and ways old furniture can be used to make new art. When making new art from old furniture, you can use the entire object or just bits and pieces. The artist is the arbiter. You can drop a piano off a roof (Itself an act of art?) and use the pieces, or you can paint the whole thing in a paisley pattern and put it on a pedestal for a gallery show.

How Art Happens
Without getting into too lengthy a discourse on art theory; some thoughts exist that I think are fundamentally true, especially when it comes to furniture as art:
     Occasionally art just happens. (Like a piano falling off a roof?)
     Sometimes serendipity pushes art along. (Perhaps noticing how piano keys could be used as teeth?)
     Once in awhile an artist knows exactly the message he or she wants to impart and the           best medium to use to share it. (And sometimes that medium can be old furniture.)
     Often enough artists look at something they have made and wonder to themselves, “What hath God wrought?” (Or, in a more earthy way, “What in the heck is this?”)

The Medium Vs. the Message
So, it seems to me, considering furniture as art and art as furniture, that the furniture artist has two mentally creative paths to wander:
     Render an old piece of furniture (or its pieces) into something surprisingly beautiful.
     Use an old piece of furniture (or its pieces) to send a message to the masses about the state of their world, its beauty and its politics.
Notice that using old things, or old furniture, to make new furniture, is not included in this discussion, except peripherally. Back to making a chair out of old CDs – the resultant chair may look surprising, but is it really art? Or just an interesting chair? And using old furniture to make new furniture does not, by itself, qualify the new furniture as art. But, it could be.

Look Out Old Furniture! Here Comes an Artist!
Now that we have the finer points of art and furniture out of the way, the question arises: Well, how do you do it? How do you turn old furniture into new art? The answer: “Any way you can think of.” Only your imagination holds you back. Paint it, sand it or beat it up (euphemistically referred to as “distressing”), put sparkles on it, use it with other items, and the list goes on and on. For instance, take a picture of an old credenza using lens filters and using Photoshop manipulation to send a weird message or to make an “artistic” photo. (At least it has not been smashed, so the credenza can go on being a credenza.)

Raising More Questions
One nice thing about using old furniture in artistic endeavours is that there is so much of it. And, if you can buy it or find it on the curb, you can do anything you want to it. The furniture art world is your oyster. Still, questions go unanswered. Would a sofa made to look like an open oyster be art? Could an oyster shell be thought of as furniture (for an oyster) and thus pass muster as being old furniture turned into new art? Hmm…

Still confused about furniture as art and art as furniture? Don't be. All that really matters is that there's plenty of old furniture hanging around out there; so why not extend its life as a piece of art?

About the Author: 

Aileen Pablo is part of the team behind Open Colleges, one of Australia’s leading providers of   When not working, Aileen blogs about travel, lifestyle, home improvement, and beauty tips. She is also often invited as a speaker in Personality Development Seminars in the Philippines.If you have a blog and would like free content. You can find her on Google+


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