1949 Ferrari Barchetta, 2003
Lines tell stories.
I've never taken a studio art class in my life. But I'd be willing to bet that right after they take the roll and pass out the easels one of the first things they tell you is that lines are important and that the least wrinkle in a line can change the whole meaning and lead to all kinds of artistic mayhem. And who doesn't like kicking up a little dust like an artist? Or at least that's what I gather from my reading of books about the lives of artists; that the ones that weren't syphilitics or drunks or hopelessly depressed or bipolar were just trying to kick up a little artistic mayhem.
I was reminded of the importance of lines the other day when I happened to see one of the new Honda Odyssey minivans. Mind you, I don't usually pay much attention to Hondas or minivans. Both tend to be bought by people who value practicality, simplicity and dependability much more than design, those three first characteristics being things that Honda does exceptionally well and the latter one not. I mean, really, when was the last time anyone got really excited about the design of a Honda?
Nearly all car designs involve using lines to achieve one effect or another, whether it is to convey a sense of speed, class, comfort or durability. The problem with this new Honda van is that the side profile—what auto designers call the "beltline"—makes the Odyssey look like a hearse, which makes me think that this vehicle wasn't designed in the United States or by an American. Or an Englishman, for that matter.
2012 Honda Odyssey (Honda promotional photo)
Making products for world markets has always been a lot harder in practice than it is in theory. Who, for example, was manning the marketing department at Chevrolet when they introduced one of their most popular models to the world without realizing that "Nova," which I'm sure they selected for it's breezy space age connotations, translated as "No go" in Spanish, Portuguese and who knows how many other related languages.
And how about the Japanese electronics giant that didn't care to hire a good translator and consequently thought nothing of proudly proclaiming in every headline promoting its new line of vacuum cleaners that they "Really Suck!"
I dare you to look at one of the new Honda Odysseys and not be reminded of a hearse, especially if the van is black or in another dark color. The first couple of times I saw these new Odyssey vans I really did think they were hearses.
Lines tell us so much. In every visual art, lines lead us. They give us clues to the intent of the artist. They tell stories.
If you want to talk about some good lines, how about the lines of the red Ferrari shown above. It’s a 1949 Ferrari 16mm (for “Mille Miglia”) Barchetta. Its designer, the late Carlo Felice Bianchi Anderloni; now there’s a man who knew something about lines!