On Beauty in Practicality and Practicality in Beauty

November 23rd, 2020

In today’s seminar, the “and” in “Arts and Crafts” clicked for me. I had vaguely understood the movement as of the two coming together, but still saw them as somehow standing beside one another. I am realizing now that it is perhaps not a standing beside, but rather a standing as is, as one. Something can be both practical and beautiful, and furthermore, the qualities — practicality, beauty — can and do feed into and bolster the other.

Something made with practicality in mind — a handle that is expertly placed for easiest lift of the hand, curved in just the right way to nestle a thumb — is beautiful. To me, craftsmanship is about attention and care. When I see in things made that attention and care, I see beauty. The aesthetic quality of something can, too, I think, add to the item’s so-called practicality. (This is a harder thought to articulate, so please bear with me.) When a book cover is made beautiful, such as The Pageants lilac pink and embossed gold, it becomes an item for the holding, for use — for the partaking in the small moment of delight.

The question arises: how are we defining practicality? Is that a label reserved only for tools and furnishings? A book cover is practical because it serves a function (to protect, to invite), and if that book cover is also beautiful, that beauty, I would argue, is not an accessory nor optional in the claim to practicality. Is running a hand over a beautiful book cover not a practical act? To practice is to use, to do. In partaking in the beautiful, you do, and that doing is the beautiful’s mode of “practicality”: delight.

Alevtina Lapiy

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