Friday, December 17, 2010

As an artist dealing with environmental issues, one quickly realizes that what material you choose to make your art out of becomes a major issue. Almost everything we touch today comes from non-environmentally friendly sources. Perhaps, the best way to be an environmentally friendly artist is to just not make art? This was an interesting topic to think about in relation to this woodworking class.

I decided to look into George Nakashima, after remembering the slide show at the beginning of the semester showing his very natural looking furniture. I thought his work was interesting because of the way that he would leave much of his wood in its sort of original state, and how he would try to play up the natural beauty that was already present in the wood.

In doing some reading on him, it was interesting to read that he only ever worked with large furniture designers twice, each time being problematic for Kakashima. This was because the large designers would create short cuts and use artificial grains to make the furniture. Obviously this would not work for furniture designed specifically to draw upon the natural anomalies in the wood.

This relates to a conversation that myself and a couple other students in the class had in regards to furniture, such as Ikea, versus furniture made out of hardwood, like the tables we made. This circles back to the question of which is better for the environment. One maybe tempted to argue that Ikea furniture, being less wood intensive is better. It certainly is cheaper. However, as someone who as a poor college student bought Ikea furniture, I would argue that it is definitely not environmentally friendly. Ikea furniture is not designed to last. It is highly functional, which plays towards its appeal, but I’ve already broken a TV stand, and most of my furniture from Ikea will not make it past their life as college student furniture.

While going home for Thanksgiving break, I saw all the hardwood furniture my parents have. Much of it is a couple of generations old. Hardwood furniture will outlive us. This fact clearly shows that hardwood furniture, though perhaps not completely environmentally friendly, would have the lower environmental impact. If you’re hard wood coffee table is going to outlast you, how many are you possibly going to need to buy, right? This in comparison to Ikae furniture, which seems to need replacing fairly regularly. Of course, one has to consider price, and why a place like Ikae would do so well.

Ikae is based on functionality and inexpensive. (Though I sometimes wonder how inexpensive they really are.) The fact that they are inexpensive is very attractive to anyone with a limited budget. If you are trying to furnish an apartment on a limited budget, you are going to buy perhaps five pieces from Ikae instead of the one hardwood piece that same budget would.

Hardwood furniture seems to be what you buy when you get older. My parents either inherited pieces, or bought their own, when they finally could afford it. These pieces are all classics, and will outlast me assuming no unknown forces happen.

So the question could then become, how do you turn pieces like George Nakashima’s hardwood masterpieces, that use local woods and are clearly more environmentally friendly, into pieces that the masses can consume without going bankrupt? After working on the table for this class, it is clearly not an easy question to answer.

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