Yesterday I went to the Apple Store. I had no need to go to the Apple Store -- indeed, I had just been there the day before to ask them some dumb question about backing up files to my new LaCie hard drive. But I was walking by, and its vortex just, you know, sucked me in.
The store, as always, was teeming with busy shoppers, gawkers, obsessives, tourists, and people like me, who just got sucked in walking by.
As I watched a young woman finger a tiny red iPod shuffle, I got thinking about the appeal of these very perfect and very artificial objects. As often when I get on this train of thought, I was reminded of Mondrian, the artist who made those colorful paintings of lines and squares.
Piet Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Blue, and Red, 1939-42, oil on canvas, 72.5 x 69 cm, Tate Gallery. London. Image in the public domain, according to Wikipedia.
When I first encountered the idea that these paintings were supposed to have something to do with utopia, I didn't understand. I like them, but they seem so cold, so impersonal. What could they have to do with something so charged as human perfection?
But it turns out the coldness is part of the point. "Curved lines," Mondrian said, "are too emotional." What is necessary is a "detachment from the oppression of nature." This I do understand. People like to get all warm and fuzzy about nature. But it is oppressive. It's messy, often ugly; it's boring; it gets in the way; it's the source of disease, decrepitude, and misery.
But there's no disease, decrepitude and misery in these paintings, and there isn't in the Apple Store either. These objects aren't like us: they stay clean and shiny; they are perfectly responsive, their proportions are perfect and never change.
Mondrian thought eventually, if we played our cards right, we would no longer need artwork, because we would live in a created world. "In the future," he said, "the realization of pure plastic expression in palpable reality will replace the work of art." (from Plastic Art and Pure Plastic Art, 1945, p. 32).
I'm all over that. Artifice gets a bad rap these days. But what is artificial is just made by us. Artifice is humanity. Yes, we need nature, but this is a practical matter, and not an ideological one.
When the realization of pure plastic expression comes around you can count me in.