An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 59

Clinton Howell Antiques - October 21, 2019 - Issue 59
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
I am in the midst of trying to help save the trade in antique ivory in both the United States and Europe. This is an effort that appears to be quixotic given the overwhelming odds against those of us who realistically see no correlation between the extinction of elephants and the trade in antique ivory. I say this because dying elephants are an emotional bridge too far for most people. In other words, who cares about anything else when the end result is saving the elephant from extinction? It is a powerful argument except that it is a false equivalency. Elephants will not be saved by banning the trade in antique ivory. Indeed, the extinction of elephants and, for that matter, every other species on earth, is tied to man's inability to conserve the habitats of the species under threat. It is that simple, but that argument holds no water for the crusaders who exercise pathos and don't employ either logos or ethos.

The world of art, all arts from performing to decorative, from written or painted to culinary, are considered great for more than one reason. Anyone can write a sentence, but can anyone write a novel that the public will consider to be great? What exactly makes something great--why is one performance of Swan Lake greater than another, even with the same components? Some might reference the distinction as magic, a word that is hard to deny, but which is quite unclear. In the furniture world, a great piece almost always combines form, execution, choice of material and..., what I might refer to as nuance. It is an understanding that the maker has which transcends straightforward choices. For example, how did the Greeks come to understand the widening of columns in their middles, known as entasis, in order to give the illusion that the columns were standing straight? The truly great craftsman understands that there is a hidden element that, when tapped, provides a dimension to their work that goes beyond straightforward execution. Why do I reference this in regards to my first paragraph? The answer lies in how we look for answers to difficult questions. I referenced Aristotle's mode for persuasion because it is more than applicable to how we lead our search for answers. Emotional response is important, but so is logic and an ethical assessment. Maybe this is what magic is composed of--an exquisite balance that is rarer than we might wish it to be.