When I finished the Introduction for this blog, I was unsure of a couple of things. The first thing I was unsure of was whether or not anyone would read it. The second thing I wondered about was whether or not anyone would get what I was trying to do as far as laying some groundwork for the exploration that this blog is intended to do.
The good news was at least 2 people read the first post (thanks to Jeff and Scott!) The other good news? Well, let’s just say that is part of today’s post.
One of the questions that was posed to me was, “Why are you so against style?” My response, which made perfect sense to me and might seem a little off topic, was also a question: “Have you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?” Because it is valuable in the context of this post, let me summarize one of the key ideas of the book.
The author explored the idea of form and function, and the split that is so often imposed on the two concepts. In one of the most wonderful questions of the 20th century, the author asks, “What if they don’t have to be separated?” For the rest of that story, I encourage you to read the book. But for the person who asked me the question, we explored the idea that style and substance don’t have to be separate.
In fact, on many levels, they are inextricably linked.
Consider the gentleman who buys a barn coat. Made of sturdy denim or canvas, the jacket is a workhorse of the wardrobe, able to handle briars and branches, and still clean up well enough to cover a suit during the autumn or spring. The coat, worn often enough, becomes a hallmark of the style of the one wearing it, and with it go various conclusions about the things the man values.
But what if the coat is of poor quality, and begins to wear out after only a short time of wear? Doesn’t this also contribute to the perception of the values of the one wearing it?
That is the central question about the linking (and the separating) of style and substance.
Another arena in which to explore the concept is in buildings. For instance, when I was buying my first house, I took a tour with both the owner and with my father. The owner’s wife (and my wife) spent time talking about the carpet, the borders on the walls, the paper, and various other aspects of the home that, quite frankly, didn’t interest me at all. However, my father and I paid particular attention to the joists in the ceiling of the basement. They were thick, one piece joists, not made of particle board or thinner materials. They were strong and hardy. In this particular case, the style (appearance) and substance (infrastructure) were in harmony.
Simply said, and borrowing from “Zen,” referenced earlier, style and substance are not two extremes on a single continuum, but rather two continuums that intersect each other, yielding either balanced harmony or unbalanced dissonance.
Last time, I may have sounded too harsh and too critical of style.
The truth is, style is inescapable. It is part of the exterior we present to the world, formed often unconsciously by the choices we make.
What I hope to bring to light is that when one aspect of the discussion is always at the fore front, we neglect the other at our peril.
Just as it is dangerous in some circles to own a suit that falls apart too quickly (an indication of style over substance) it is equally dangerous in some circles to wear a suit that has held together too long (an indication of substance without regard to style). The gentleman of style and substance weighs both, and thoughtfully weaves both into a congruent message based on values and priorities.
Not everything I present in the following posts will be equally received. Some will think I harp too much on one or the other of the concepts. Some will want me to spend more time discussion a particular topic, feeling that the heart of style or substance is manifested in a particular set of accessories or activities or approaches.
That’s okay. I’m not writing this with the idea that everyone will agree with me. In fact, right now, I think only two people are reading this.
I’m just hoping to clarify my thinking, stimulate some questioning and discussions, and have fun along the way.