Friday, July 4, 2008

In Defence of Shiny

William Gibson reportedly said when asked about Steampunk which some argue he helped inspire * (the punk anyway) that among other things he wished Steampunks would make things look more aged and distressed instead of shiny new.

One thing wrong with that idea is that Steampunks do indeed often make things look distressed to varying degrees of plausibility. Distressed Steampunk stuff tends to make the rounds less than the shiney new brass stuff. Which leads to my argument in defence of all things shiny:

Look at all the beautifully preserved historical objects and machinery in museums or private collections. From hand mirrors to steam tractors and trains, they look NEW. They looked new and were very much purposefully shiny and gilded when new, then a long series of people lovingly preserved them in near new condition. Sometimes a worn part might be replaced, especially in the case of machinery, so that in fact the parts of a given object may vary in age but the goal has been to keep it like new both in terms of working order and appearance.

There is a concept called "Beausage", a combination of beauty and usage referring to the natural, slow longterm wear or patina that can develop on a given point of contact. A key, knob, corner, a leather seat or handle. Whether the material be brass, wood or leather.
Even in this case it is not the intent of the manufacturer and often the end user for the wear to purposefully be there- it is a natural consequence and in fact can develop from the very act of polishing an item for a century. I'm guessing this is the sort of wear Mr. Gibson would prefer.

I have yet to see the artificially aged item that looks this way. It's an old trick of fakery and is a way to spot fakes for a reason- it doesn't look right. New looks like both new and well preserved old. Fake doesn't look like old, it looks fake. A mistake I've seen fairly often is to age the area or even the whole item too much- as if it was dropped whole into a swamp. All the common ready made faking craft supplies achieve the dropped-in-a-swamp effect.

In a very real way patina, rust etc certainly does not show loving use but neglect.

The easiest way to make your craftwork look like a well looked after museum piece is to leave it looking as new as when you made it. With a slight bit of work you can age a corner with a few light scuffs then polish again as someone would. But the single best way is to let it happen naturally from actually using your item for a few decades.

Perhaps someone a hundred years from now will cherish a certain brass keyboard complete with naturally worn keys from actual use. But an artifically aged item will be appreciated a hundred years later in the same way it was when it was new- as a poor substitute.

* The word Steampunk in the sense someone felt a need to marry an appreciation of Steam Age technology with Cyberpunk, but Victorian age inspired fashion and other creative outlets that have grown to become "Steampunk" would have happened anyway regardless of what we called it.

1 comment:

Cory Gross said...

Gibson's comment reminded me of Walter Benjamin's statement that the layer of dust on things has become their best part. What he seemed to be saying is that he wants "Steampunk" stuff to look like antiques from a century ago rather than something brand new teleported in from a Victorian Era that never ended. It's like believing that silent films and grammophone recordings always were dusty and scratchy.