Joyful violence?

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

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Can violence ever be joyful?

I tried to address this question in a piece I wrote for an online MoMA exhibit called Design and Violence. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the axes produced by Best Made Co. (see here and here), but it is the deepest I’ve gone on the subject. The axes fascinate me because of the tension they embody: they are real tools capable of violence, yet with a playful, toylike aesthetic. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The two ends of the Best Made axe embody an unlikely tension, playing on our most primal instincts: approach and avoidance. The handle’s lollipop colors have an appetitive quality that sparks our desire; the blade’s sharp contours speak a warning to our unconscious brain. Pleasure and pain: the potential for both arises simultaneously. The Best Made axe dwells in two worlds, one joyful, one violent. Yet in each, it is a misfit.

But is possible that these two worlds can overlap? Can we imagine a space of “joyful violence” where the Best Made axe is truly at home?

You can read the full piece on the Design and Violence site, here.

The very best part of writing this piece was seeing a response from Peter Buchanan-Smith, founder of Best Made, who shared the story behind the axe’s colors:

When I first started Best Made and selling these axes no one would give me liability insurance. So I decided to attach a few of cherished virtues to the axes (courage, compassion, grace, fortitude) as a non-legal, but more emotionally binding measure of built-in liability insurance. When someone raised their Best Made axe, they had to have happy thoughts.

Aesthetics of Joy as insurance? It’s a neat thought, to use color and pattern as a way to shift mindset, to distinguish the tool for certain purposes but not for others. It’s as if to say: there are some approved uses of this tool, like chopping wood for your log cabin, that feel consistent with its design, and there are other uses, like felling a protected species of tree (or worse), that are unapproved — all through aesthetics. The colors are like an instruction manual or a warning label, but that speaks directly to our unconscious mind.

Designed to prevent violence? What a clever idea.


Hey, what’s up with Aesthetics of Joy?

This is the first post here in quite some time. If you’re a regular reader, you might be wondering where I’ve gone these last few months. Have I given up on Aesthetics of Joy? 

I hope you’ll be happy to hear that I’ve just been taking a little bit of a break from the blog to focus on the book proposal for Aesthetics of Joy. Because the blog is such a love of mine, it can be hard to focus on the slow, deep work of the book when there are so many things I want to share with you here. So, I’ve taken a little bit of a vacation from blogging while I finish up the proposal. Hopefully you’l see me back here in the fall, with a slight redesign and a *lot* of new ideas to share. In the meantime, have a beautiful summer, filled with sunshine, simple pleasures, and lots of joy. 

Till soon,

June 16th, 2014


Lost your spark?

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    Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Mary Lou Landry on June 18, 2014

    It fills me with Joy to read that your blogging break is not permanent. I had wondered where you had gone. Best of luck with the book.

  2. Ingrid on June 19, 2014

    Thank you, Mary Lou! I’m sorry to leave you hanging. Excited to be back at it in the fall 🙂

  3. Paolo del Toro on November 13, 2014

    I just discovered your blog. It’s great!

    1. Ingrid on November 13, 2014

      Thank you, Paolo! Appreciate you stopping by.


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