Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Death Of Small Detail


Photo courtesy Flickr

Surfing Issey Miyake the other day, I discovered that the man who brought the world Steve Jobs’ turtleneck also designed costumes for a German ballet of the same title as this post.

I know nothing else about the dance work, but the phrase grabs me as a particularly apt expression of the notion of minimalism, or as another designer put it, essentialism. Essentialism turns its back on privation.

An acquaintance described the impression left after her tour of Mr. Jobs yacht as “absolute simple elegance”. There seems to be common ground between the yacht design and, certainly, the man’s wardrobe.

A photographer introduced me to the idea of “visual information” in an image. He was talking about old snapshots and how often the stuff in the background ends up being more interesting than the people. Armed with the notion of visual information, I began to scrape away layer after layer of distracting focal points from the walls and horizontal surfaces of the house. I’m sorry to compare the process to vivisection, but that’s what it has been, subtracting furnishings until a system doesn’t work any more, then adding what’s needed.

Electronic, and especially digital, furnishings carry such a wealth of information under the roof that there’s little need to entertain myself with knick-knacks. I say knick-knack respectfully: usually a small furnishing has an original function. There are very few things in the house now that are too precious to use. I keep the decks scraped bare and bring little treasures out to set a table or vary a display here and there. 

The venerable twentieth-century Scottish/Kenyan big game hunter John Hunter talked about “wait-a-bit” brush in one of his riveting stories. Wait-a-bit brush has recurved thorns that catch the skin and can only be removed by a painstaking process of manipulation. Hunter describes doing so while following a wounded and enraged buffalo he feared had turned the tables and was stalking him.

Any householder who’s tried to make a fast exit while keeping public health authorities satisfied has had the same experience, albeit with lower stakes. A fundamental principle of efficiency is to leave things ready to use the next time. The fewer things one has, the easier it is to comply. I still have a zillion small details, but the laptop does the storage and organizing for me.

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