The aesthetic dimension of the toy
Production of a toy can in many ways be compared to the artist’s creative activity and the artistic product (Steenhold, 1994:32-39). However, as with all forms of creative activity, it is difficult to differentiate between art and craft. Both the artist, the craftsman, the toy maker and the child make demands on the thing - finely, soundly and thoroughly manufactured - which is meant to be played with.
As with so many other symbols and useful utensils in everyday life, the toy gains aesthetic dimensions. Aesthetic theory is a reasoned notion of what beauty is. The notion of what is beautiful is a definition of beauty and it is no secret that toys are often defined relative to beauty by both children and adults. For an object to be defined as beautiful, it is decisive that aesthetically relevant aspects can be identified. Beauty as a concept is generally tacit whilst aesthetically relevant aspects are concrete and sensuous.
Many readers will be acquainted with Platon’s three basic values: beauty, truth and goodness - also called the Platonic triad.
The historical understanding of the realisation of this triad is that:
- beauty (which is created beautiful by the Creator!) must be confirmed by imitation (firstness)
- truth (which must confront untruth!) must be confirmed through testing, confrontation and struggle (secondness) and
- goodness (exemplary examples of tolerance, compassion and mercy) must be confirmed by demonstration as harmonious action and mastery (thirdness).
The elements of the triad suggest a trinity which can, however, be challenged. The problem is that life and existence do not confirm that beauty is always true and good or that truth and goodness are always noticeably beautiful.
This problem has given space for giving creative persons valuable freedom without having moral responsibility for what they have created. As Goethe (1739-1832) expresses it:
“A good work of Art can and certainly will have moral consequences but demanding of the artist that he make allowance for morality is to destroy his craft.”
Moral and religious demands have however always been made on both artists and craftsmen - and, as often heard coming from parents, these demands are still formulated today and now also include political, economic and ecological sanctions. The sanctions concern both content and formal character and are formulated both overtly and covertly. A toy maker however rarely thinks of these demands during the creative process itself.
The toy maker progresses though a creative process:
- he carries out specific actions
- he prepares or reshapes a specific material
The process has a specific duration. But this description is not complete because there is a third step which is equally important:
- Intention or objective of the exercise: a clear idea of what is wanted and display of the willto realise it.
For the person-at-play, the toy is always one specific object in a world full of objects. It does not have to be differentiated from the rest by any special capacity but is differentiated by time and space. It will be attributed originality and special capacities, awakens interest and curiosity (usually through its being something new) in its own way. It will later be familiar, promote a feeling of security and will be a significant part of the whole. There is sufficient grounds here for stating that the object gives new cognition on the strength of its own elementary beauty, its truth via its existence and its goodness, i.e. having good qualities.
An aesthetic definition which can apply to toys in relation to beauty, truth and goodness must - as a minimum - include the following five conditions:
- The definition must be universal and formulated as such.
- The definition must be empirically relevant through its referring to practical examples.
- It must be possible to use the definition deductively in order to support the intentional aspects behind the processes of detection, assimilation and creation.
- It must be possible to use the definition inductively on the strength of the truthof the object’s (for Man, universal) existence.
- It must be possible to use the definition abductively with reference to the object’s general utility and serviceability.