Reading Response

The following text is included in Chapter 1 of Artful Design, as two adjoining block quotes coming from the mouth of picto-Ge holding a fully unzipped pencil case with eyes and teeth:

"There is a moment of revelation that goes beyond a criterion of purpose and into a realm of experience -- rendering the object more than its intended "use" and giving it a sense of completeness and personality.

Artful design includes a sense of inevitability, as if to say 'but of course! It had to be this way!'

It is a matter of aesthetics which is precisely everything beyond the sheer functionality of a thing -- when a thing becomes not only useful, but ... interesting" (Wang 2018, 27).

Let's work through these three ideas in reverse order. As a case study, the second bubble would indicate aesthetics are ostensibly the reason I have different sorts of sitting furniture in my living room. The sitting furniture in my living room comprises one three-seater grey-brown couch (provided by university housing) and two blue armchairs (which I purchased used). I purchased the chairs after approximately six months of living in the apartment with just the couch because:

So, the presence of sitting furniture in a living room is useful, while I introduced variety into such furniture to improve the...

...of the space. These are all very clearly aesthetic features of the sitting furniture of my living room, because they pertain to features of the furniture beyond their utility as places to sit. (Technically, if we were being fussy, one could also sit on the coffee table in my living room as well -- and I often do. For the purposes of this discussion, however, we will constrain sitting furniture to those with the explicit intended function as a place to sit.) Thus, my living room upholds the second bubble of text quoted above.

I would not claim that there is anything particularly artful about my living room or the furniture therein; however, it is a cogent example of the multiplicity of potential aesthetic considerations in a given design situation, ranging from the practical (if I add chairs, it solves problems I have with my living room) to the enjoyable (I like the enveloping sensation of an armchair). Regardless, in every aesthetic consideration I present, I would claim that the furniture situation did not "of course [have] to be this way." Further, I would claim the furniture situation did not explicitly have to be any way with respect to these particular considerations. By definition, a living room supports the function of socializing, and sitting furniture supports the function of sitting; my preference in the details of the seating arrangement in such a room is superfluous. In March, before purchasing the armchairs, I certainly experienced a moment of "of course, an armchair would resolve my dissatisfaction with my living room," but this was far from a realization of inevitability -- rather, it was a realization of opportunity. In this way, I find the latter two bubbles in the original quoted statement to contradict each other rather pointedly.

My experience of my living room's seating situation in its current state is not sublime (as the most artful of design artifacts may be), but it is very satisfying, and sensations along this vector are in some way surprising: if my living room seating did necessarily have to become what it currently is, I would have ceased to re-experience satisfaction with it. This sensation of satisfaction is well-corroborated by the first bubble, as we have taken on our experience of the living room seating. However, I find it stifling to move from the first bubble's assertion that artful design bestows a sense of "completeness and personality" to a sense that "it had to be this way," because this causality implies that there is a necessary hierarchy to all possible artful approaches for any particular design challenge; this is simply not in keeping with the rest of the text.


Design Etude 1

~ Part 1: Taking Notice ~

First, I would like to note my Golden Gate Bridge mug, which displays the bridge painted on the outside, with a blue base for the Bay. When the mug is full (with tea, of course), nothing about it is spectacular (aside from the fact you're drinking tea, which is nearly always spectacular); however, when the tea is gone, the inside of the mug reveals cars crossing the bridge! I purchased this mug as a souvenir from the Fairmont Hotel gift shop the first time I visited San Francisco (March 2017) after delightedly discovering the inside of the mug.

Second, I would like to note the happy meal toy that sits on my dresser, depicting Snoopy and Woodstock in the winter. The magic of this toy to Peanuts fans is that Snoopy spins as if ice skating, as he often does in the cartoons. This toy requires only moments for play, and I often spin Snoopy in transitional moments as I pass out of my bedroom into the rest of my apartment.

Third, I would like to note the Terman Fountain, on Stanford's campus. This quarter, I walk past this fountain on my way from Sequoia Hall to The Knoll on Mondays and Wednesdays, and bike past this fountain on my way to Roble Gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes I wander by in the evenings as well to watch the colored lights change in the fountain.

~ Part 2: Means And Ends ~

My mug is the means to the end of drinking tea (or whatever other less ideal presumably hot beverage one may choose to drink). The Golden Gate Bridge painted on it is art imposed upon the mug's surface. This painting transcends art to become artful design in its use of the inside of the mug as a surface for painting, as well as its use of the mug's function to reveal the punchline of the painting at the very end of one's drinking experience. While I appreciate and delight in the use of the inside of the mug as a space for continuation of the painting imposed on the mug, it also makes me a little anxious that the cars are "under water" for so long as I drink my tea.

My Snoopy toy is the means to the end of enticing children to ask their parents to buy them a happy meal. Beyond that, the toy is an end in itself in that one may play with it. This toy is an exemplary combination of ends and means in its dynamics: Peanuts fans (even those of us who long outgrew happy meals) will appreciate that Snoopy spins as if ice skating, and therefore will have an exceptionally pleasing play experience. Personally, I brought this Snoopy toy to California with me over a WWI flying ace Snoopy on a rolling dog house because its play dynamics were so much more delightful to me. On the other hand, in order for happy meal toys to be a profitable endeavor for McDonalds, the toys must be made extremely cheaply: the entire toy is plastic, and Snoopy's head is held near Woodstock's nest via magnets in both pieces. This simple engineering involves more diverse materials than many happy meal toys, but does so cheaply enough that the toy can be given away in happy meals and provide this elevated play experience.

It is difficult to say what end Terman Fountain is truly a means to; I would suspect there are some Stanford zoning regulations it satisfies. Further, it contributes to campus traditions of fountain hopping. In the daytime, people host parties near the fountain, or bring their children to play in it, or sunbathe nearby. At night, the tone of the space provides a gentle light show to accompany the flowing water sounds through fixtures in and around the fountain (as it is almost always too cold to enter the fountain at night). These features, as well as its depressed elevation relative to surrounding streets and abundance of sand, give the impression that the space is somehow separate from campus, even as it is surrounded by campus. I have my reservations about many parts of Stanford's campus, but this space always feels magical to me, and perhaps part of that magic is its sensational separation from campus.

~ Part 3: Guerrilla Design ~

One day this week I happened to cook dinner at a time when both my roommates were in and out of the kitchen, and they took an interest in the dish I was cooking: farro and chickpeas with mirepoix (with grated parmesan, of course). The combination of farro and chickpeas represents one of several combinations of a grain and a bean that ancient societies relied on for sustenance. Ages later, our modern understanding of nutrition would reveal combining grains and beans comprises a healthy complete protein alternative to meat. On the other hand, mirepoix -- the combination of diced onions, celery, and carrots -- is part of many cultural palates worldwide. In some versions, the mix includes bell peppers or tomatoes, and often how you cook the mix reveals just where in the world you are. I cooked mine Italian soffritto style (with parsley and just browning the onions), in order to match the Mediterranean combination of farro and chickpeas. My act of guerrilla design was to explain these details Great British Bake Off-style to my roommates as I cooked. They appeared entertained by my endeavors.


A ChucK Program That Makes Sound

I wrote a small script in ChucK that takes a fundamental frequency f0, builds a square wave-like form with a few partials of f0, and varies the frequencies of those tones periodically.