The Great Debate
Art takes on many forms of expression but the one thing that unites discussion about it is the concept of a creative process. Furniture and art may be at two polarities of creativity—you can say the former is about a design that often relates to human usage and behaviour whereas the latter is often considered solely about aesthetics and visual form. Once you put aside furniture’s functional aspects and consider it as an object of beauty, it can easily be considered art. Many great 20th-century modernists push the boundary between design and art, especially for everyday objects like furniture. They create pieces of sculpture that make use of or play on the idea of furniture. Or they create pieces that are at once functional but with high aesthetic value. On a recent visit to the Ai Weiwei exhibition in London I found his artwork of folding Ming furniture compelling. The furniture is dislocated and reassembled into something no longer representing the traditional function of tables and chairs. A very visceral example of how furniture can of course be art.
Michael is an architect and partner at Foster + Partners
The purpose of art is very different from the purpose of furniture. For me, art is something that adds colour and beauty to our lives. It should be something personal; it should speak to you. It is something that you can study and invest in. One can forge an emotional connection to beautiful pieces of art. Furniture, on the other hand, should perform a function. If a chair or a table is not functional it becomes ridiculous. Too many designers value aesthetics over functionality. Chairs should be designed with the intention of providing comfort and good posture. I’ll never understand deep sofas with soft cushions; they’re impossible to get out of—one has to plan the escape a good five minutes in advance. Statement furniture pieces are often vast and heavy, and I know from experience that you can damage your stockings or your back when you try to move them. Solid marble tables with engravings may look impressive, but they are hard to clean and nearly impossible to move. All in all, furniture attempting to be art fails the test of purpose and practicality.
Carol Murray is managing director of stockbroking and property firm Zimmern