Apr 22, 2012

the argument for quality

Artists need to be in there from the start, making the argument for quality. The key to this thing is, for example, if you give an engineer a set of criteria which does not include a quality quotient, as it were—that is, if this sense of the quality, the character of the place, is not a part of his original motivation—he will then basically put the road straight down the middle. He has no reason to curve it. But if I can convince him that quality is absolutely a worthwhile thing and we can work out a way in which the road can be efficient and also wander down by the river, then we essentially have both: he provides quality in that the road works, I provide quality in that it passes by the river. In that way, art gets built into the criteria from the beginning rather than being added on afterward. In many cases, it may not cost any more, or just a bit more, for the road to wander by the river. As opposed to, say, giving the artist one per cent afterward—which is, hell, just tokenism to the nth degree. The best they’re going to be able to do is put in a few doodads. But if you affect this whole process from the beginning by putting in place some quality criteria and you look around and ask yourself who in this society are trained to make this argument for quality, the only ones that I can think of are artists. We’re the only ones with no real rationale for being except developing aesthetics, or quality—we have no other function. So our key role in our society right now—and what we’re really talking about here is translating values into dollars—is for artists to make winning arguments for why considerations of quality are absolutely necessary.
robert irwin
in lawrence weschler's new yorker article "in a desert of pure feeling" [PDF

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