If there’s to be a discussion on hand-made beauty, one cannot ignore the automobile. At last week’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, hand-made beauty was on full display. It is here that every year the world’s top vintage car owners are invited to display, sell, race and compete for the world’s most “elegant” car.
There is no greater stage for antique automobiles than at Pebble Beach to demonstrate the connection between the hand-made and the beautiful. Although some relatively modern cars are on display, such as Ford’s GT40 or a rare Lamborghini Miura, it’s the older models that make up the majority of the Concours (French for public contest), and that draw thousands of spectators every year from around the world to California.
From the time man unhitched from the horse and made his way under mechanical power, the “motor carriage” became a race of aesthetic artistry and mechanical genius.
As in any new technology, the first models much resembled their predecessors, a horse-less carriage that had yet to capitalize on the difference in its mechanical propulsion- but as technologies improved and man found himself unbound by speed, everything changed.
As the combustible engine developed, so did man’s romance for the automobile. An entire cottage industry was born overnight as craftsmen sought to design the perfect marriage of mechanical power and beauty.
In a day before mass production existed and “built-in obsolescence” was a concept, every detail was carefully and purposely considered. In the efforts between the engineer and the craftsman every wire, every lever, every line and every finish was an obsession for perfection.
As technologies improved and speed grew, so did the idea of aero-dynamics begin to shape design; not necessarily the science of aero-dynamics, but the idea of man in the slipstream of the ether in which he traveled. Inspiration came in many forms; the seductive curves of a woman’s body to the fluidity of water; or the fins of a shark, to the wings of a falcon.
Elegance and beauty were not the result of complexity; in fact, it was just the opposite. Elegance was found in the purposeful and the considered.
The fact that the craftsman had fashioned every element by hand meant that there was a direct connection between man’s inner notion of beauty and the results of his craft. Proportion, shape, composition and function ruled every decision- and the result was often no less than spectacular.
In the years since the Second World War fewer and fewer automobiles were made by hand. Assembly lines replaced individual craftsmen and the speed of production replaced quality and aesthetics. Mass production and innovation today often translate into throwaway technologies and beauty is seldom the focus of design; whether in automobiles, household products, architecture, or even art. Today, computer design even further separates engineers, architects and designers from an empirical connection to that which they design.
Perhaps, early thinkers like John Ruskin had it right in their reaction to the early Industrial Age- that true sustainability can come from art and from craft. What if greater numbers of graduates were taught to draw and to craft with their hands?
Could it slow down the endless cycle of mass production and consumption? Would people pay more to have something unique and beautiful–something worth cherishing over time, rather than pay for something lesser (the same thing) many times over their lifetime?