Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aesthetic Packaging

Aesthetic packaging. The layers of polish and finish that art objects undergo in order to make them digestible to the general public.

art that looks like it's packaging.

art that is conceived of as packaging

While walking around inside a Sears department store looking for an air conditioner, I noticed that all of the separate items for sale are each imbued with their own unique stylizations, which are designed to attract the eye of the consumer. For example, you only ever see spoons that have a pattern embossed on the handle... bowls are usually painted with a very particular design... stereo speakers are stylized with beveled edges and chrome touches, or unique grill cloth covers with emblems on them... and so on for most everything. It is hard to find anything that has no stylization.

It reminded me of the history of advertising in the auto industry, probably back in the 1940s. In order to differentiate their cars, manufacturers began to "stylize" the cars, where stylization was in terms of surface details. The cars themselves could be very very similar, often including mass produced engines and chassis. But from the consumer point of view, they were different because they were stylized. This meant that the relevant difference from the consumers point of view existed at the superficial level... either the consumer was superficial, or they could be persuaded to become superficial. 

Stylization was a shift of focus from the utility of the object, to the perception of the objects superficial qualities, and thus it ushered in the era of marketing... which has grown in sophistication and persuasiveness to where it is today. It is not necessary to love or hate advertising to see the truth in this remark. We only have to observe the power of the media to sell us all manner of objects and ideas.

Getting back to the Sears store... with all of it's stylized objects. It occurred to me that when an object is stylized, it becomes an end in itself, and therefore has a hard time functioning as a means to some further end. For example, we would hardly think to purchase lumber that had carvings on its surface. What would happen if we made a table out of it.. and all these fragments of the carvings intruded into the design of the table.. of which they had absolutely no connection. 

We see the wood (rightly) as simply a raw material.. a means to an end. Yet when we purchase the myriad of objects that we desire in our lives... we are forced to purchase them with stylization already attached to them... which is to say they cannot function (very easily) as means to an end.. they are fully evolved ends in themselves... every object is king.

The marketplace creates this situation, in as much as the reality of modern marketing requires that objects be sold in terms of these stylized features. People seem to prefer spoons with grape-leaf patterns on the handles, rather than spoons with a simple handle.

The market cannot sell us anything that we don't (at some level) desire, or that we cannot (by some logic) be led to desiring. In as much as our subconscious desires and unspoken belief systems are not at a conscious level of control, we are vulnerable to the marketing forces, whose purpose is to draw them to the surface as the basis for purchase decisions. It is true that if some marketer plays on my need to feel loved, and on that basis I purchase his product, that the marketer has not coerced me. However, the marketer has played a negative role in my life.

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