Ornament and iOS7

Adolf Loos contributes to the iOS7 debate:

“…Nowadays, putting skeuomorphism on objects which, thanks to progress, no longer need to be decorated, means a waste of labour and an abuse of material. If all objects would last as long in aesthetic terms as they last physically, the consumer would be able to pay price for them that would allow the worker to earn more money and work shorter hours. For an object from which I am convinced I will get full use until it is superseded by an updated handset, I am quite happy to pay four times the price of another I could buy, and would gladly queue up from 3am in the morning to do so. I am happy to pay forty crowns for my iPod touch, even though there are mp3 players for ten in another shop. But in those trades that languish under the yoke of the skeuomorphic artist, no value is put on good or bad workmanship. Work suffers because no one is willing to pay for it at its true value…

…A modern person, who regards skeuomorphism as a symptom of the artistic superfluity of previous ages and for that reason holds it sacred, will immediately recognize the unhealthy, the forced–painfully forced–nature of modern skeuomorphism. Skeuomorphism can no longer be produced by someone living on the cultural level of today. It is different for individuals and people who have not yet reached that level.

The ideal I preach is the technologist. What I mean by that is the person at the peak of humanity, who yet has a profound understanding of the problems and aspirations of those at the bottom. One who well understands the way the African inputs data into his Blackberry according to a certain rhythm; likewise the Persian coding his GPS device, the Slovak peasant woman making her Android user interface, the old woman making marvelous algorhythms from lines of secondhand code. The technologist lets them carry on in their work accustomed way, he knows the time they spend on their work is sacred to them. The revolutionary would go and tell them it was all pointless, just as he would drag an old woman away from the wayside shrine, telling her there is no God. But the atheist among the technologists still raises his hat when he passes a church.

My shoes are covered with skeuomorphisms formed by sawtooth patterns and holes. Work done by the shoemaker, work he has not been paid for. Imagine I go to the shoemaker and say, ‘You charge thirty crowns for a pair of shoes. I will pay you forty-eight.’ It will raise the man to such a transport of delight he will thank me through his workmanship and the material used, making them of a quality that will far outweigh my extra payment. He is happy, and happiness is a rare commodity in his house. He has found someone who understands him, who respects his work, and does not doubt his honesty. He can already see the finished shoes in his mind’s eye. He knows where the best leather is to be found at the moment, he knows which of his workers he will entrust with the task, and the shoes will have all the sawtooth patterns and holes an elegant pair of shoes can take. And then I say, ‘But there is one condition. The shoes must be completely plain.’ I will drag him down from the heights of bliss to the depths of hell. He will have less work, and I have taken away all his pleasure in it.

The ideal I preach is the technologist. I can accept skeuomorphism on my own person if it brings pleasure to my fellow men. It brings pleasure to me, too. I can accept the African’s skeuomorphism, the Persian’s, the Slovak peasant woman’s, my shoemaker’s, for it provides the high point of their existence, which they have no other means of achieving. We have the art that has superseded skeuomorphism. After all the toil and tribulations of the day, we can go to hear Throbbing Gristle or Florian Hecker. My shoemaker cannot. I must not take his religion from him, for I have nothing to put in its place. But anyone who goes to Instal and then sits down to design a wallpaper pattern is either a fraud or a degenerate.

The disappearance of skeuomorphism has brought about an undreamed-of blossoming in the other arts. The Gristle’s symphonies would never have been written by a man who had to dress in silk, velvet, and lace. Those who go around in velvet jackets today are not artists, but clowns or house painters. We have become more refined, more subtle. When men followed the herd they had to differentiate themselves through colour, modern man uses his dress as a disguise. His sense of his own individuality is so immensely strong it can no longer be expressed in dress. In iOS7, flatness, and a lack of ornamentation, is a sign of intellectual strength. Modern man uses the skeuomorphs of earlier or foreign cultures as he likes and as he sees fit. He concentrates his own inventive power on other things.”

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