Monday, March 16, 2009

Business versus Art

"A man is never wrong doing what he thinks is right." (Ben Cartwright, Bonanza, Season 4, Episode 13).

This is not a statement of subjectivism. It is not meant to say that whatever you happen to do is right just because you chose to do it. Rather, it is a statement of individualism. It expresses the fact that the only way to have any chance at doing what is right is to follow the independent judgment of your own reasoning mind. It is only through independent understanding and evaluation that each person can hope to stay on a path toward truth, and the only real way to deviate from this path is to subordinate your judgment to that of others - be it your teacher, your employer, your client, your friends, your family, or your peers.

According to Mr. Cartwright, nobody should ever substitute his understanding of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, important and irrelevant - for that of another person. To relinquish the responsibility of judgment is to become vulnerable to all the wrongs, falsehoods and distractions that can thwart life, which one could no longer reliably discern.

If this is true, isn't there a contradiction between Mr. Cartwright's dictum and the one put forth in my reply to Manto's comment under "Life at the BreakWater": "The customer is always right"? How can architects be good businessmen, placing the needs of their clients first, and also be good artists - true to their convictions? The service-provider-architect would say, "Ah, yes - this is precisely why it is foolish to hold convictions. Being idealistic will cause you to fail in business. It is the arrogance of architects who believe they know what is right that is the downfall of architecture. It leads to buildings driven by the egos of architects, rather than the needs of inhabitants."

Do we have to choose between business and art? If not, how do we resolve this apparent conflict?

3 comments:

  1. “Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance, 1841
    US essayist & poet (1803 - 1882)

    I see the key to this quote and the statements from Kyle to be the element of reflection and evaluation. A man is never wrong doing what he thinks is right unless he doesn't think about it afterward. Doing the right thing, just like staying on the leading edge, is a moving target. Only through reflection and then revision can one stay on the right path.

    If someone takes the stance "the customer is always right" they are ceasing all reflection and lose the ability to evaluate their own product.

    If a building project is a collaboration between designer and client then asking if the client comes first or the designer comes first is a false choice. It can be a synthesis which provides more than expected to both parties.

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  2. Another philosophical rambling, most likely full of non-sequitors, by PM (Paul Mattek, not po-mo):

    Reflection is definitely a key, and hard words from a strong will are a very necessary part of the reflective process. A reflective life without conflict or change is a life without true evaluation and without progress. Often only by saying our hard words do we understand the implications of our thoughts and the extent to which we are right or (more often) wrong. Putting this "benchmark" out there to which others, and ourselves, can respond, is what informs personal reflection. Without saying hard words people can live their whole lives thinking they are right when they are wrong, or thinking they are wrong when they are in fact holding onto a great unrealized truth. The problem post modernism has given us is thinking there should be an end to conflict at the end of the reflective process. We are told to discuss in order to come to some great consensus thinking - aka, submit our will to the will of the greater good. It is through this kind of thinking that we supposedly achieve peace and harmony, but really this kind of thinking achieves a bunch of people neutering their wills so they no longer have to really think or take a stance on anything.

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