Bespoke

It’s 10:00 at night and I’m fucking exhausted. NOT that I had a particularly strenuous day. I hit Books-A-Million looking for something to spend money on and couldn’t come up with anything. Well…I could, but I price checked them against Amazon and left without buying anything.

It’s a damn shame and I’d rather spend money at a brick and mortar store. But my limit on the “local spending tax” is about 20 percent. If the price difference is any more than that, I’m just not spending my money in person. The instant gratification bonus is just not worth more than that to me.

It makes me sad, it really does. I’m watching the world change and I just don’t think it’s for the better, at least in this way. Sure, it’s great to get stuff cheaper. With the truly incomprehensible selection of things available to be delivered to my doorstep, sometimes within a couple hours is really little short of a literal miracle.

But it’s costing us in ways I don’t think we really appreciate. And no, I’m not about to presume I’ve figured out a bunch of ways you haven’t and then proceed to lecture.

Not…I suppose, that I wouldn’t. I mean, in fairness it’s a pretty me thing to do. But not this time.

What made me think of this today in particular, aside from this morning’s little instant gratification frustration (sounds like a grunge album name) is the juxtaposition between this morning and a brief conversation I had on twitter a few days ago.

There are a couple accounts that just post objects d’arte. I’m particularly enamored of Art Deco stuff. And graphic art is one thing, but Deco and Nouveau stylings of things I’m much more interested in, door knobs and lamps, desk legs, doorways and staircases. Interestingly, now that I give it even a little more than a little thought, I like Art Deco anything, but I’m not much for Nouveau in two dimensional art, but adore it when it’s made a bit more concretely manifest, as if the nominally organic nature of the form lends itself more naturally to 3d manifestation. I’m gonna have to give that a think.

Someone responded with something like “It’s a shame people don’t appreciate this kind of craftsmanship anymore.” That launched into a discussion about where one would even go to FIND such things, supposing with perhaps naive optimism that if such things were more easily obtained they would be in demand. Markets work both ways, after all.

Which brings me back to the point (believe it or not.)

The incredible ubiquitous availability of…stuff has contributed mightily, as we all are painfully aware, of the not so slow downfall of “mom and pop” stores. Specialty brick and mortar establishments are just closing up shop, unable to compete with the commoditization of goods available from institutions that can afford to put in place the perhaps literally inconceivable logistical infrastructure required to get us “pretty much anything” from “pretty much anywhere.”

As such, those products have gravitated, though not I suspect through necessity so much as through gravitational convenience, to generic lowest common denominator “solutions to problems” with little or no thought given to design past notions of necessarily generic mass appeal.

For instance, no one is truly mass producing steampunk light fixtures.

Oh sure, you can find some on etsy.com here and there. Maybe something on ebay or something similar. But such things as are “artistically designed” have become distant and few.

This was clearly on the way as a result of mass production to begin with. But the as The Internet Age gave way to The Internet Shopping Age, it’s really exploded and exacerbated that divide between the custom and the mass produced.

So what then has happened to the craftsmen? Where are the woodworkers, sculptors, engravers, stained glass…err…well, glazier isn’t quite right. But whatever they’re called.

Is there even a place near where you live where you’d be able to go if you wanted something ornate even made? I’d love to be able to go someplace and look at representative examples of an artist or craftsman’s work. Sure, there’s the odd gallery in the more prideful neighborhoods, though they tend to be little more than consignment shops.

Someone responded to this conversation with some pictures of work done “by local graduates.” And it…really didn’t help the case at all. Local graduate of what?

Say you wanted to work with a designer to have…oh I don’t even know because it’s been driven so far away from cultural consciousness by this phenomenon, a lamp. Let’s say a lamp. You want all the lighting in a room (if not the house) to be of a type, nothing bananas, just something that has some style to it.

Right now you’d go to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Maybe you’d go to Amazon, Pottery Barn, or Wayfair or something like that and you’d find a “collection” that you liked and, presumably working with your subcontractor, arrange to buy the “generic sterile ass fucking white and steel house with vaulted ceilings built so it looks like a picture on a magazine cover of a house with no soul” collection. (Which means it’s matte black or bronze and very square, but I digress, if only slightly.)

That kind of thing is what really passes for “fancy” nowadays or as though you had some part in the design process, instead of just bolting together commoditized crap and convincing yourself the result had some personality and didn’t look like it was something out of a little town in Connecticut named Stepford. NOT that I have any opinions on that.

I don’t even really mean that you’d need to go so far as having something custom made for you, working with an artiste who’d get to know you, come up with an idea, and make it happen. Just…one of a kind pieces.

I may be wrong. But it really is all but gone.

Of course it COULD simply be that I’m missing something that never existed. To me it seems unlikely. Sure, maybe the downstream of the industrial revolution having iterated a few generations has bred out unique works across all disciplines.

As bad as it was twenty years ago, it just seems like the gulf between made and created is growing impossibly wide, and I don’t really have any good answers on how to create/facilitate/enable an alternative.

There ARE things like etsy…but…that’s the only one I can think of, where you can go to get handmade stuff. It’s got its own problems, to be sure. But I’ll take it as a starting place.

Perhaps we’ve moved beyond the age of the hand made, of the personal.

It’s a kind of cultural soullessness at least as frightening as any Cyberpunk dystopia.