Ephemeral, Timeless, Eternal

Three types of creative work: ephemeral, timeless, eternal.

Ephemeral work is all around us: it’s the stuff that doesn’t last, breaking or going out of fashion within years, months, or even less—the product of the consumption age.

Timeless work is a reaction to the former, an attempt to strip away any elements of transient style in order to make the work impervious to changes in fashion—minimalist, modern design.

Eternal work is an embodiment of an immortal form, or an attempt to immortalize that form—all monuments are eternal; so are cathedrals, so are traditional crafts, classical art, myths, and everything else that immortalizes traditions, peoples, histories, and ideas.

Where a modern designer tries to achieve timelessness through an illusion of objectivity—using systems, patterns, and tests in place of fancy and whim, often producing work composed of bare, minimalist, abstract geometric forms, whose mathematical purity the designer believes will make the work invulnerable to changing trends—an eternal designer simply creates something for posterity, creates something to outlast him, and he does it not by means of systematic reduction, but by making the work durable (if it is a physical good), and by imbuing it with an immortal idea (myths, religion, history, beauty—something to remember)—the end goal of which is cultural memory, our memory.

Consumerism makes eternal work impossible because it shifts the goal from memory to money. That’s not to say that the creator of the former cannot be rewarded for it, just that money cannot be the objective because the work is created for posterity, for a time when financial gains become irrelevant. This shift is the cause of the death of traditional crafts, and in general the death of beauty in art. A writer becomes a journalist, focusing on the ephemeral events of the present, condemning their work to the dustbin by day’s end. A craftsman becomes a graphical designer, chaining their work to the merciless cycle of obsolescence—whatever they create is trashed every time a product is updated. An artist becomes an activist, their work an ugly, screeching reaction to the world, not an embodiment of eternal truth. There is even a shift now from “products” to “experiences,” which is not only a recognition of ephemerality of modern work, but an embracement of it. The most talented creators try to distance themselves from the cycle by creating systems and processes (coders, for example, transition to creating open-source libraries instead of commercial apps) in an attempt to create something more durable, which prolongs the death of their work. But this is a reaction to consumerism, not a separate path, and while it will dull the pain it will not cure the disease—and it is a disease, for what we lose is not merely quality, but memory, for it is not an arbitrary style that is embedded in the physical artifacts around us, but our civilization, which day by day grows colder to us, becoming stranger and less known, until a time may come when it fades away completely, and with its passing, like the flame of a pitiful little candle, the last light of our ancestors’ souls is extinguished.

September 2017