Aaron Betsky: "Indulging in Luxury"
published on 12/9/2017
This column was made for Rethink Luxury, the 2nd edition of the Spotted public events series in Hôtel Droog
Luxury is reality.
It is a great precious privilege to be able to feel a material that is real, a sensuous surface or substantial form, one whose reality lets you understand where it has comes from –leather from a cow, wood from a tree—and then, what is an even greater joy, makes it so you are able to see and understand how a craftsperson made the object, how different materials fit together, how the stitching on the shoe or bag connects the pieces, or how the metal has been shaped.
This is the conventional way we understand luxury: as the application of a great deal of skill and knowledge to materials that are rare, have an innate sensuality, or both. In this sense luxury can be everywhere and at every scale, whether as marble slabs in a building, exotic metals and a heavy thunk of the door on a car, or in the intricate stitching and folding of a dress.
Luxury is nothingness
Paradoxically, however, the even great luxury and privilege is for things to be invisible –to not be there.
In the most expensive homes, all the details that make the structure fit together hide behind the walls, which themselves float above the floor, levitated with great effort so that they appear weightless. As we look out of our houses, we want to see nothing, so the windows are as large and invisible as the designers can make them. Our phones are dissolving into screens that curve at their edges so that you cannot tell where their surface ends, and the more money we spend on them, the more they disappear as objects, so that its information content appears as if by magic, delighting us with images, words, and sounds.
Luxury is space
The greatest luxury of all is space –open, empty, invisible nothingness.
Whether it is the square meters in our homes or offices, the hectares around those structures, or the precious few centimeters for which we pay on our airplanes to be able to stretch our legs, space is the most expensive commodity of all. That space, of course, is actually space/time, as its other invisible aspect is the time to experience the freedom, the emptiness, the nothingness we acquire at such expense.
Luxury is knowledge
What binds these aspects of luxury together is the knowledge that goes into them. It is the knowledge of the craftsperson who makes something beautiful, of the of the designers who can make everything go away, and of ourselves, which allows us to both own and appreciate those achievements. To achieve that knowledge takes an investment in time, knowledge, places, and spaces that educate and inform a few of us, enlighten the chosen ones, and make us powerful through that information and insight. As a result of having the luxury of education and training, we are able to command the luxuries of life.
Ultimately, it is a luxury to know, even if what we know is the importance of nothing.
There is another and more troubling cost to such luxury. It is the lives of cows, the devastation of biospheres, the labor of craftspeople, and the lack of space, time, and opportunity enjoyed by others that gives us the ability to enjoy our luxuries. We alienate objects and the voids in time and space we so much enjoy from the world and the other beings all around us.
So, perhaps it is neither craft nor space, neither nothingness nor knowledge, that is true luxury. It is the absence of guilt about luxury, our ability to revel in it in the here and now without caring about its costs in this world or the next that is the most precious of all.
Luxury is our indulgence.