Mingei and the genius

Daring Fireball linked to this article by Alice Rawsthorn on the 1957 Arne Jacobsen flatware used in Kubrick's 2001. Rawsthorn on why the design of these pieces is so great:

Ignoring convention, Jacobsen started from scratch by imagining what eating utensils would be like if they were natural extensions of the human body, and came up with abstractions of the traditional shape for knives, forks and spoons. The light, slender slivers of metal are designed to fit neatly into the hand at one end and the mouth at the other, with wide, flat surfaces for the fingertips to hold on to. [...] By basing his design on an intuitive physical gesture, something as natural as how food is placed in the mouth, Jacobsen took it out of the realm of period or style.

It so happens that we own a wooden cooking spatula, a kibera 木篦, designed by Studio Nanaya 工房菜や along surprisingly similar principles:

Look at those splinters and scorch marks. I am not exaggerating when I say that this spatula hits the teflon in our kitchen virtually every night. (Significantly, the principle exception is curry duty.) That uncompromising wedge design may look a little stark, but it feels like genius.

This is the edge that "design" has over "mingei" and related movements. Mingei rejects genius by definition, in favor of anonymous tradition and refinement of what came before. It's a great way to get everyone to local maxima cheaply and efficiently, but offers no built-in processes for integrating advances in ergonomics and materials science. In particular it is not very welcoming to the idea of tearing the tradition down and starting over (that sort of puts you in outsider art territory).

The irony of course is that the mingei movement itself was heavily reliant on lone geniuses — it's just that they were in editorial rather than primary-creative roles.

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