Form Vs. Function


The following selection was performed at Write Club Atlanta in 2011.

All I have to say is that FORM WILL ALWAYS FOLLOW FUNCTION.

This one line should suffice. I’m sure you’ve all heard the legend of the one-word, college-philosophy exam. The one word, WHY? One confident student writes down a two-word reply, turns the paper in and walks out. The two words, WHY NOT?

I only wish that I were that bold.

FORM ALWAYS FOLLOWS FUNCTION. Here’s my paper, Thank you and GOOD NIGHT.

Like any paper I need to give attribution to the work that isn’t mine. The aesthetic wisdom that I have given you belongs to Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan. And even Wright’s most well known work, Fallingwater, serves a FUNCTION. It’s a home, a shelter; place to keep us dry from the rain, warm in the winter and until 3 years ago, a good investment. It’s a perfect example of FORM following FUNCTION.

But If you’ve ever paid attention to a body building competition, you’d realize that these athletes are trying to avoid this vital law. You might think that body builders are the ideal representation of how strength should appear in human form. The ridiculous posing and flexing only highlight the fact that you’re seeing men and women who have been starving and dehydrating themselves, so there muscles appear closer to their skin. Their waists and legs are skinny by comparison to their bee stung, swollen upper bodies. They are not the model candidates for pulling an airplane with a harness or placing Atlas stones on high platforms in record time. You clearly need a person named Magnus, Svend or Thor to do this kind of work; a person who still has fat reserves, a thick core and beefy, wide legs with a neck that matches in girth; someone who could defeat a bear in the wild with their naked hands. Speaking of bears in the wild. Bear Grylls may not be a hammer wielding Norse god, but I’m confident that he could get you safely through the woods to grandmother’s house. I don’t think that anyone with calf implants or an oiled chest could do that with ease that he could. Although grandmother better have mouthwash ready for you when you get there, just in case he’s made you drink your own piss after you’ve run out of water.

I’m obviously not a body builder, but I did start indoor Rock Climbing this year and what I realized is that women are naturally better than men. They aren’t trying to out muscle each other like men tend to do. They embrace the wall like a hug and move up the sheer surface with ease. Women climbers have “GO” muscles, not “SHOW” muscles. The first time I heard that comparison I thought back to my dad when he was working at the mill. My friend Brandon was interning there while going to school at Tech. Tired of hearing my dad rib him with phrases like “hey, egg head, for a smart guy, you sure are a dumb ass”, Brandon, in a show of machismo, challenged my father to an arm wrestling match in the work cafeteria to try to assert his dominance in the blue collar arena. Brandon, who appeared larger and more muscular, was stunned when he didn’t win. He hadn’t considered that my dad’s chopping wood every night and taming wild horses for fun had rendered his wiry frame with practical “GO” muscles that out performed his younger, “SHOW” muscles. This was probably then first time that a conflict had been successfully resolved through arm wrestling since the classic 1987 Stallone film, “Over the Top.”

Chopping wood and taming wild horses can build up an appetite. You might be craving the most savory, boneless duck, stuffed inside a boneless chicken, deep fried within a turkey, or a half pound patty of the fattiest beef served between two glazed doughnuts, or you may just want dessert. Marscapone sculpted over layers of shortbread, Styrofoam and wooden dowels made to look like Hogwarts.

But before you get to eat that turducken, the Luther Burger or that award winning Harry Potter cake that gets noticed as a fantasy / nerd masterpiece, we must simply face the fact that it is food. Food that we MAY NOT need to eat, but food that is still transformed into energy that allows us to FUNCTION, energy that allows Stallone to triumph in the World Arm-Wrestling Championship and finally win the respect of his estranged son.

FUNCTION triumphing over FORM is also apparent with some dogs. Hunting and working dogs are bred for their intelligence, speed and instincts. Show dogs are bred to be… PRETTY. When we screw with nature for the desire of aesthetics, sometime the results aren’t so great. We get ATTRACTIVE, PURE BRED canines with hip dysplasia and general poor health.

Look, I’m not suggesting that WE start breeding for FUNCTION. This isn’t Sparta. I don’t want anyone throwing their sick babies off cliffs or taking their 8 year olds to the wilderness to fend for themselves, even with the help of Bear Grylls.

Before the Spartans were practicing eugenics, early man may have been tired of stepping on his hot, blacktop driveway just to get his junk mail, so he started covering his feet in leftover cowhide. Then he fashioned waffle souls, pumps and even the Reebok pump. Now we have small museums and art shows dedicated to the shoe. We’ve taken an item of FUNCTION and have pushed it past its limits to the point where the design has started to devolve into footwear like Crocs.

Clothing has lead to fashion design. SO in turn, FUNCTION has again lead to form.

belt

And Tim Gunn need not critique superhero costumes. Batman doesn’t wear a flexible band across his mid section to divide the blacks and the deep blacks of his crime-fighting ensemble. He needs his freakin’ utility belt for beatin’ up the Joker and holding his shark repellant.

In the beginning, before dogs, footwear and even Batman, the earth was a formless void. Some say that God quickened the world with his own word and hung the stars in the night sky. Whether you believe in God or not, we can all agree that they stars were here WAY before us. Is their purpose only to shine or are they also here to guide us at night like a map? Are they just the remnants of an enormous mass that still generate heat and light? I don’t know.

“We are all made of stars” to quote the popular astrophysicist Moby, who in turn, was quoting Carl Sagan when he said “We’re made of star stuff.” Meaning the atoms and elements that were floating along in outer reaches from billions of years ago are in our bodies right now. My ancestors, my future child and his children’s children are, on a basic quantum level, made from the stardust of our universe’s past. Every creature on earth, everything with matter, shares this with each other. To me, this is one of the most romantic ideas that I’ve ever heard.

The long dead stars, whose light we still may be seeing, may have a grander purpose than illumination. Maybe their real FUNCTION is to remind us that we are all the same. All the beauty that you’ve ever beheld, will ever behold in your lifetime and all that our decedents will ever see, feel or create is related.

Form cannot exist without function, but function’s FUNCTION, if you will, is to support beauty, just as the canvas of a beautiful painting cannot be supported without the frame that it is stretched over. So, to the Philosophy Professors who ask WHY or to anyone else who asks why do you feel the need to create? The answer is simple. We are human, the children of star stuff, … simply,

IT IS OUR FUNCTION.