Art and the automotive culture

In Lifestyle by Fabian

The human touch was once expected in society, a requirement that sadly disappeared with advance of industrialization. Nowadays hand made products have become a luxury and the majority of those companies, using these traditional methods of manufacturing have to struggle to survive. The automotive industry has converged towards an increasing and mutually share will among managers to optimize synergy effects. Cost reduction in R&D has become the number one priority of managers. All the more astonishing it is that little artisan companies the like of Pagani Automobili are able to find a growing demand for their products all over the world. Although produced quantities are counted in double digits rather than in millions (prices being inversely proportional) this represents an encouraging sign of customer´s appreciation for manufactured products. Furthermore it gives the impression, that the automotive industry has not yet completely become a monotonous and homogenous entity. However this gleam of hope has led journalists to increasingly make use of the notion of art in the context of outstanding automobiles.

The following words summarize an attempt to sketch my perspective of cars and its often deliberated but – in my opinion inexistent- connection to art. Being a virgin in the journalistic sphere, let me underline, that my intention is not sourced from the envy to write a senseless provocation à la Clarkson, but instead to leave a purely personal note regarding a highly polemical topic. Text : Fabian S. Images : All rights reserved. ©

Art is art, right? A matter of definition

“A man from the Tate Gallery told me the other day that a car can never be art, because for something to be art it can have no purpose other than itself ” said Jeremy Clarkson leaving no doubt that he disagrees with the man he cites.

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The Wikipedia definition of Art -sourced from the very notorious OxfordPress- mentions aspects such as “product of human activities” as well as “a product of a creative procedure”, “visual arts” or “culture”, all of which can hardly be assigned to a function. In fact there is no unanimous definition of art, even the existence of a definition itself is a matter of controversy.

However, and without intending to catapult you back into your art courses back at school, let me briefly mention the essence of what I understand as being art. In line with many experts, I believe in a defining and central concept. For an object to be discerned as art it should be free of any form of utilitarian purpose. Cars do not fulfill this requirement. Consequently I see the analogy between art and cars as problematic.

Originally cars were conceived to fulfill needs and to facilitate people´s duties, likewise computers, phones, planes, washing machines or even bicycles. A clear function was associated to these inventions. Over time the purpose of these objects has remained unchanged whilst other objects, have lost their relevance in contemporary societies or been replaced by other inventions. The latter case for instance could be described by the invention of the typewriter. Having become dispensable through the introduction of computers, there is little chance that people will consider a typewriter an object of art. Neither does the fact that even the Museum of Modern Art in NYC exhibited a Jaguars E-Type convince me to reject my initial thesis. Those industrial products, irrespective of their level of craftsmanship, were essentially built to fulfill needs. The fact that they are displayed in museums for aesthetic, cultural or historic reasons does not change the nature of what they were intended to be built for.

There is however a little – but to us passionate tremendous- difference that remains between that typewriter and our beloved cars: the lucky byproduct of the four wheeled invention results in fun and desirability. A desirability and attraction so powerful to some aficionados in fact, that led to the use of human characteristics (words such as soul or heart) for dead matter.

Back in the days, the latest typewriter might have triggered desirability, comparatively to what the newest Iphone does nowadays (…to some people at least). In automotive terms, the freshest BMW 5 Series, by way of example, is an impressive technological achievement and will trigger similar desires. However in the context of art, the time aspect induces a new question: would, in twenty years’ time, that same 5 Series still arise this sensation of “I want to have it” ? Naturally that remains personal, but for a majority of people, especially those less dedicated to the automotive culture, I don’t think it will. The BMW F10 might convince buyers mainly because of its technological avant-gardism, yet becoming obsolete several years down the road. Technology is ephemeral and short lived. Plus, the novelty factor will be long gone. Considering that, even the image of a brand the like of BMW won´t be able to compensate for it. I will be an old car (…and not a vintage classic)!

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Sportscars generally do not face similar problems. The nature of emotion triggered is different. Craftsmanship and emotions based on speed and excitement are timeless! Hence the probabilistic expectation of them becoming a cult reveals to be higher than for conventional automobiles. Or do you see an old E34 breaking bidding records at Bonhams? It goes without saying that the exception to the rule is believed to exist as well… and the height of biddings at auctions not considered to be a representative measure to assess the cult factor of a car.

A car is not a sculpture … and not even close

In Clarkson´s testing of the Alfa Romeo 8C he tries to find out, whether a car can ever be art. He comes to the conclusion that yes it is possible and that all the car needs is four pieces of Blu-Tack to stick it to the wall.

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Although there is some irony in his words, that’s the part of the conclusion I disagree most with. In no circumstances would I display a car in my living room for instance and regard it as a sculpture. But please don´t get me wrong. In the history of the automobile, there has been more some cars with gorgeous robes of steal. Aston Martin DBS, Ferrari 250 SWB, Mercedes Count Trossi or Porsche 356A do account to the most beautiful curves of any object all categories considered. However their beauty is the result of creativity sure, but purpose as well. The reason for its four wheels to be placed on all four corners is due to a necessity and not for embellishing purposes. Form follows functions. As Chris Bangle mentions in a very interesting TED speech, designers do regard their work as sculptures. But those sculptures would undoubtedly look different if the engineering process would have been left out of the equation. Usually, a designer´s job is to solve a technical problem to most aesthetic or interesting way possible. I believe that this process of technical constraints makes design much more interesting and is the source for some new shapes. Without aerodynamic issues for example no one would ever have thought that sport cars would be shaped the way they are today. Without them shapes, such as the Porsche Carrera GT or Lamborghini Countach would never have happened. Cars would rather look like prewar Mercedes SSK or Maserati Type 26s. And I don’t even say they look ugly.

Furthermore I do not disregard the fact that a required technical solution can become eligible to be part of a work of art. In architecture, this practice is often observed. But an automobile is more than a sculpture or a building. It is defined by its ability of motion.

As to some extent art is a question of personal interpretation, let me draw the following conclusion. Both terminologies, art and cars, find unification in what I´d like to call, the art of motion. Not the car itself should be regarded as an object of artwork, but the process of getting from A to B. It goes without saying that this process can change widely depending on the car one utilizes. A drive in the sunset on a large canyon road in an agile and generously motorized vehicle undoubtedly differs from the grey mutational ride to work in an underpowered hatchback.

…and then came Horacio !

Considering the existence of the recently launched Italian automaker Pagani Automobili makes it hard for me to stick to my initial thesis. Its founder Horacio Pagani operates his business under full dedication to outstanding craftsmanship, following the ideas of the presumably greatest artist of Italy´s Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci. And he is not alone! Several design studios, selling now and then one offs, sculpt the steal or aluminum bodies of their creation with the simplest tools such as hammers.

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Pagani’s idea does not view art and science as a contradiction but rather as two notions that can go hand in hand. And I do absolutely consent to his theory. Designers, for instance should be considered as artists. The shaping of forms is regarded as a highly artistic process. Science, on the other hand, does influence this work.

However, I still consider the resulting product, regardless of the level of craftsmanship, as an object of purpose. Unlike before the 17th century, when craft and fine arts did not find any distinction, nowadays artisans are not necessarily making art. There is no specific function assigned to art, whereas cars have to fulfill the requirements of moving from A to B ( in the first place). Zonda R, FXX or Sesto Elemento are amazing machines, solely intended to go fast and to rush the adrenalin through your veines. Sadly though they are not homologated for the road. In a sense the purpose is gone and with it comes a certain taste of toyish.

In the end living the automotive way is not a lifestyle equally understood by all car passionate but individually interpreted from culture to culture, nation to nation and from person to person. However I believed that we are united in one aspect that is the passion. Rationally argumentation on such an emotional topic won´t bring us far, as individual taste do not need to be justified. With this in mind: Live the automotive way!

Cheers,

F.