Sense of Sensibility.
Or, ‘where do you get your crazy ideas from?’
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to be inspired by myself. That probably sounds self-evident, but new ideas kind of need to come from outside the city walls otherwise you tend to spiral down, chasing the thing you did before but forgetting why you did it all.
But there’s a lot of stuff outside the city, isn’t there?
I’ve previously mentioned how I don’t particularly enjoy the fairly route one approach asking artists about influences and references that are in their field, as everyone’s inputs come from a vast array of sources that are often unrecognised. However, I do believe in sensibility. This is obviously a tricky thing to define, but as a judge once said in an infamous case discerning the difference between art and pornography; ‘I don’t know the difference, but I know it when I see it’. Let’s dive in.
For me, sensibility it is so much stronger than aesthetics, and much more delightful. There are some people who make very similar looking work to me that I don’t really have any reaction to at all, and then there are those who share nothing of my style, but I spot that ember of connection within it. Jon Berger described it as recognising a ‘co-conspirator’, which is a description I like a lot.
I’ve lost you, haven’t I? Okay, it’s time for one of my famous case studies. I love the hip-hop pioneers, Beastie Boys and the modernist interior designer and architect, Charlotte Perriand, and furthermore, I think they share a sensibility. The link is not instantly apparent, but I think it’s seen in their response to the world, how it responded to them, and the creative and moral choices they made in the face of that.
I’m not going to recap either party’s work in any great depth, but after riding out the gates on a wave of controversy, Beastie Boys became know for their inventiveness, wide variety of influences and constant exploration. Sonically and lyrically, it was a delightful blend of taking things seriously and lightly, peppered with reference to the other interest in their lives. Charlotte Perriand put her initial pin in the map by creating an ultra-modern, industrial looking bar in her attic apartment. It attracted the attention of Le Corbusier, who brought her in to work for him, much in the way Madonna took the Beasties on tour with her in the early days. In both cases, neither should have been in either situation, and they knew it.
Grateful for the success it afforded and what it meant; both took a left turn to explore what they were really about. They experimented, travelled, worked with others and essentially opened themselves up to the world and its possibilities. All this was done with an open notebook and a keen eye or ear. Perriand working with people like Jean Prouvé or travelling to Japan and infusing what she found into her next designs, the Beastie Boys working with The Dust Brothers, moving to the West Coast and sampling everything they could get their hands on. The joy of this exploration is so evident in the work they created, and for me, that is the sensibility they share.
Perhaps Perriand and the boys would have been friends, perhaps not (although it seems likely to me, I mean, Adam Yauch was a keen snowboarder, Charlotte Perriand loved to ski, Michael Diamond even dabbled in interior design…) but either way, I think that at the very least, they would have respected what the other did. Certainly in my own life I love the creative friends I have who make the work that I would not (and could not) make myself. But if we share a sensibility, I have nothing but admiration for them and will always be excited to see what they do next.
It’s hard to make connections in these times of complete connectivity, but it’s always worth reaching out, and if you do, let sensibility be your guide. I find that it’s here where inspiration frequently comes from too, not the aping of a similar aesthetic.
It won’t always work out of course, and that’s okay too. I mean, Charlotte, Mike, Adam and Adam probably wouldn’t have given me, or my work, the time of day. I don’t rap or design furniture, but I don’t think that would have bothered them in them slightest if they liked what I was about, so in my head, I think we probably would have at least got on.
My proof? Here’s the Beastie Boys playing pétanque.
We can only imagine that Perriand would have enjoyed the odd game of boules too, but alas, no picture of that exists, so here she is flashing a mountain instead.
If you’re new to both, I doubt you will have got this far, but if you’re curious, these are a few of my favourites, which might serve as a jumping off point for further exploration.
The Beastie Boys’ three album run of Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and Ill Communication are so great and feature much of what I’ve discussed here. I would also really recommend Beastie Boys Book, which is an incredible chronical of their creativity throughout their career. Of course they would turn out be unique auto-biographers too.
Charlotte Perriand’s shelving systems are a masterpiece and you see iterations of them everywhere, but I can’t get enough of their simple, flexible, functional forms. Her pivoting wall lamps are also great, and her general approach to materiality is quietly stunning. There are many big coffee table books about her, and I urge to get your hands on one and pore over everything she created.
Okay, that’ll do you all for now, I’d better get some work done instead of rambling on about exploration and such. But enjoy your day, and keep your eyes open. There’s lots to see.
Owen D. Pomery.
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