As Natural as a Yale Lock


If ordinary applied art has a personal stamp, this means that it is incomplete. The artist has not gotten past his mistakes or arrived at the typical solution that is just as ordinary and natural in form as a Yale lock, a fountain pen, a bicycle, a scythe, a shovel. Imagine if a bicycle bore the mark of the artist who had designed it!

— Poul Henningsen (1894-1967), Danish author, architect and critic

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23 Responses to As Natural as a Yale Lock

  1. Sean Hughto says:

    “incomplete” is not the word I would use …then again, perhaps if your goal is “ordinary” …

  2. I’ve read this over a few times, and I’m still not 100% sure what the author is talking about.

  3. This idea is referring to typology (in the context of design/architecture/urban planning).
    The suggestion is that design is different than art in that in that there is a necessity of function over expressionism and that archetypal forms have evolved because they are the best (simplest?) solution to a problem.
    I think the quote is deliberately extremist – the author is trying to make a point. Maybe ironically Henningsen was responsible for some seminal works of modern expressionist industrial design, including the beautiful Artichoke Lamp.

    • Please excuse the typo… the double “in that”…

    • Good explanation, typology is something I’ve had a concept of for a long time but without realising that it had a name.

    • jenohdit says:

      I don’t think it’s quite accurate to characterize that quote or the attitude of the time as entirely rejecting expression in the applied arts.

      It’s obviously impossible to discuss such a complicated subject in this format without resorting to very broad generalizations, but the Symbolist and Expressionist movements that had swept Europe in the previous couple of generation were primarily concerned with self-expression.

      A confluence of sorts between the impact of the Art Nouveau movement and the symbolist movements also resulted in a lot of decorative art with strong nationalist tendencies.

      In the post WWI environment, nationalist references were suspect. Symbolism etc. was old fashioned and the socialist tendencies of many artists and designers had them reject classical motifs which had largely been associated with the aristocracy.

      What was allowable to those embracing a new approach was the expression of some sort of scientific or otherwise “objective” truth in both the pure and the applied arts. See “New Objectivity” or “Neue Sachlichkeit” for example.

      I don’t know where to dig them up right now, but I’ve seen design drawings for The Artichoke Lamp and the reflectors on that and similar lamps are arranged to act both as diffusers and parabolic reflectors with the bulb at the focus of the parabolas. The form is expressive of the mathematic basis of its design and its rationally defined purpose which is to direct light in a particular way. To contrast, Tiffany for example, was not concerned with that in his lamps and certainly didn’t express it in any way if he was.

      The plant reference “artichoke” may well have been inspired by Karl Blossfeld.

      The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with it primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form. ~Karl Blossfeld

  4. For anyone who puts no faith in Henningsen, I believe “The Bourgeois Woodworker” is still available…

  5. I am going to contemplate this quote as I ride my old Gary Fisher bike down to the 7-Eleven.

  6. avhb says:

    Chris, have you read any E. F. Schumacher? He’s worth a look, if not. Maybe only tangentially related to Henningsen/F.O.N./things like the Nakashima quotation from a month or so ago, but he casts an interesting light on some of these questions.

  7. Seems to me just about every Yale lock I ever saw had its new boldly spelled out on it somewhere.

  8. Typos abound today. Should read: name, not new.

  9. turdfighter says:

    I like that desk

  10. tpier says:

    The iconic shovel in the USA was the Ames #2, the maker’s name was stamped right on it.

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