What Is Art?

The Fen chandelier in the new Currey and Company product introductions.
The Fen chandelier in the new Currey & Company product introductions is a definition of what is art.

“It is assumed that everyone knows and understands what is meant by the word beauty,” Leo Tolstoy wrote. “And yet not only is this not known, but now, after mountains of books have been written…the question of what beauty is remains completely open.” This statement, along with others just as weighty, is included in the novelist’s book What Is Art? The exploration of the philosophies underpinning art is a small but powerful exploration of aesthetics completed by the Russian author in 1897.

The Scarlett Chandelier by Currey and Company in a barnyard setting
Given his philosophical leanings, I believe Tolstoy would have applauded the Scarlett chandelier in the barnyard setting.

Leo Tolstoy Asks What Is Art?

Threads of provocation are woven through the 167 pages, loosely at first—“what is beautiful is harmonious and proportionate” and “beauty is known only by the spirit”—and more tightly by the time Tolstoy nears his conclusion—“Art is not pleasure, consolation, or amusement; art is a great thing. Art is an organ of mankind’s life, which transmutes people’s reasonable consciousness into feeling.”

Leo Tolstoy the year he completed the book "What is Art?"
An image of Leo Tolstoy from 1897, the year “What is Art?” was completed in Russian. Image courtesy WikiMedia and the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division.

I first read this book when I studied aesthetics at New York University under William Packard, and I have never forgotten how Tolstoy presented his ideas. Though not all of them resonate with me philosophically, his take on beauty made an impact on my thinking. The ideas by the other writers he references enlightened me as much as his beliefs—his choice of the philosophies to include (many of them he disagreed with) illustrating the brilliance for which he is remembered.

Leo Tolstoy at the age of 20, photographed by Pavel Biryukov in 1848.
Leo Tolstoy at 20, photographed by Pavel Biryukov in 1848.

Humanity’s push to understand what constitutes beauty has not abated in the least during the 119 years since he published his opinions, and few take the subject more seriously in a product-driven sense than creative directors in the home furnishing industry. Cecil Adams and his design team at Currey & Company are among these, and their explorations consistently result in some of the most aesthetically pleasing products being introduced in modern times.

The Jade Bench in Jolly Green from Currey and Company
Currey & Company’s Jade Bench in Jolly Green, a Pantone-inspired hue.

Celebrating the Art of Design in Atlanta and Dallas

Two events this month will showcase many of these introductions and one will celebrate the company’s commitment to beauty in several connotations of the word. (Details on both events end this post.) During the Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, Currey & Company is celebrating design in their showroom, and participating in the Pantone Vignette Gallery, which highlights the 2016 Colors of the Year and the PantoneView® Home + Interiors color forecast.

Currey and Company's Zhin II Sideboard
Currey & Company’s Zhin II sideboard in a Caviar finish, a Pantone-inspired color.

The hues are being displayed in a signature exhibition curated by Robert Leleux, Shaun Smith, Jamie Durie, Heather Hogan Roberts, Janie Hirsch, Michael Habachy, Kristin Alber, Michel Boyd, and Tami Ramsay and Krista Nye Schwartz of Cloth & Kind. The exhibition stays open the entire time the Market activities are underway. If you make it by and take snapshots, call me out on social media. I’d really like to see the backdrops these brilliant design minds have created.

Robert and Suzy Currey with their Standard Poodle Rives.
Robert and Suzy Currey with their Standard Poodle Rives.

During the Dallas Total Home & Gift Market, which begins on January 20th and runs through the 26th, Currey & Company will introduce more than 225 new products and celebrate two nominations for ARTS Awards—one for product and a second for Andrea Combet, the company’s West Coast Regional Representative. The ARTS Awards Academy of Achievement Honor will go to the company’s founder, Robert Currey, who—along with his sidekick Suzy—created a company with a serious sense of legacy.

Andrea Combet, Currey and Company’s West Coast Regional Representative.
Andrea Combet, Currey & Company’s West Coast Regional Representative.

The manufacturer’s product nomination celebrates Currey & Company’s talent for producing stunning chandeliers, though the quality and loveliness of the lighting is only a percentage of the consideration. Other attributes that qualified them for this award are advocating for their workforce, a commitment to philanthropy and an awareness of sustainability.

The Currey and Company Havana Grande chandelier
Currey & Company’s Havana Grande chandelier, one of the company’s most statuesque fixtures.

A Corporate Social Vision

When reading over the narrative as to how the company maintains a culture geared toward supporting its participants, I was pleased to learn how Currey & Company pays for tuition and books for four-year college degrees for workers who want to educate themselves. The manufacturer also reimburses employees for expenses for English as a Second Language classes. Hands-on computer-skills training and Economic Wisdom seminars are also offered.

Trapezoid chandelier by Currey and Company
The Trapezoid chandelier from Currey & Company, introduced at HP Market in October, is new to Atlanta and Dallas.

It is this depth of the company’s commitment to the human component of its brand, combined with the refined aesthetics its designers and artisans consistently produce, that brought Tolstoy to mind when I was thinking about this piece. I believe you’ll see why when reading these caveats the Russian author put forth: “Art should make it so that the feelings of brotherhood and love of one’s neighbor, now accessible only to the best people of society, become habitual feelings, an instinct for everyone,” he wrote near the end of his treatise. “The purpose of art in our time consists in transferring from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that people’s well-being lies in being united among themselves.”

The Odeon bar cart, a new introduction by Currey and Company
This kicky Odeon bar cart from Currey & Company, introduced at the fall 2015 HP Market and new to Atlanta and Dallas, is a future icon of midcentury-modern chic!

Beyond a commitment to beautiful products, Currey & Company practices art in every definition of the word according to Tolstoy’s philosophical viewpoint. It’s a considerate story that I am thrilled to be able to tell, and I celebrate that a company with this level of corporate social responsibility and social vision is putting its heart where its manufacturing is while also maintaining such visual beauty with its product development.

Bob Ulrich of Currey and Company
Bob Ulrich, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing of Currey & Company.

About the ARTS Award nomination in the product category, Bob Ulrich, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says, “To be recognized and celebrated for excellence in a highly competitive and entrepreneurial environment like the home furnishings industry is very rewarding. Oftentimes we are so caught up with the daily struggle to manage and move forward that we fail to take the time to reflect, and the ARTS Award offers that moment to consider one’s achievements.”

Robert Currey in his Sparta, Georgia, garden
Robert knows his way around the garden—he’s made a veritable third-phase career of growing and trimming and producing edibles and flowers.

He adds these thoughts, so eloquently expressed, about Robert’s commendation: “Our industry is filled with passionate entrepreneurs. Some are like shooting stars that shine bright for a moment and disappear, while others work quietly and make significant contributions without ever being noticed. In the case of Robert, he has been a shooting star that has burned brightly for many years. His passion and commitment has been an inspiration to so many he has come into contact with over the years.”

War & Peace Returns to Prime Time

I would like to congratulate Robert and Currey & Company for the award and nominations, all so well deserved. As I close this exploration of visual sumptuousness, I also celebrate a bit of serendipity with next week’s premier of Tolstoy’s War and Peace that will be simulcast on the Lifetime channel, the A&E Network and the HISTORY channel on January 18th at 9 pm EST. The set design and costumes at first glance look to be things of great beauty aesthetically, and I look forward to seeing Lily James (Rose on Downton Abbey), Gillian Anderson and Jim Broadbent in the series. This official trailer will likely whet your appetite if you enjoy period drama:

The Modern Salonnière and this entry, What Is Art?, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist whose books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.

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4 Replies to “What Is Art?”

  1. Hey Lady, That is a pretty nice write up! Thank you so much. But sometimes I wonder if all you good people dont have me mixed up with someone else! Robert

  2. Your modesty is only a small piece of what makes you so great, Robert! I loved writing this piece and illuminating in my small way all of the wonderful things you all do there at Currey & Company, which sprang from the vision you and Suzy put forth as you created the brand. A heartfelt congratulations to you as you win this award! And thanks for stopping by my little literary/design spot on the web.

  3. Such a wonderful write up on Currey & Company. My husband and Suzy are first cousins, so we have been familiar with the company since the first store in Buckhead many years ago. We have watched it grow and I marvel at the pieces of art produced. I hope to be able to make it to the NC market one year. Robert and Suzy are two of the most talented people I know and so deserving of the award he is to receive! Not bad as organic gardeners as we have seen first hand in Sparta 🙂

  4. You’d love seeing them all in action in High Point, Carol: I’ve never attended better parties than the ones I’ve been to in their showroom there, which is filled to the brim with those pieces of art you speak of. Thanks for taking the time to read and to comment on the piece. It’s an honor being able to write about people who believe in legacy as strongly as I do.

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