There is beauty in simplicity: an apple, a cool breeze, the sound of water, my S.A.T. scores. (Not to brag, but I think they were in the double digits, nice and simple.)
But there is also beauty in complexity: teenagers, the Argentine Tango, why you can’t sneeze with your eyes open.
Back in the early 1900s there was a man named Rube Goldberg who saw beauty in both the simple and the complex. A cartoonist, author, engineer and inventor, Rube found a way to take the simplest of tasks and design an indirect, convoluted and overcomplicated means of completing that task.
Fast forward to 2018 at a boutique (a complex way of saying store) in Colorado, the wife and I happened upon (a complex way of saying saw) an interesting piece of art.
It was small, about 6 inches by 7 inches, made of etched wood and covered with gears, levers, arrows and hinges.
“I totally don’t know what this is,” I said to the wife, “but I must have it. The juxtaposition of crude moving parts to the delicate etched scroll work is palpable, I tell you, palpable.” (A complicated way of saying it was super cool.)
“It is both primitive and sublime at the same time,” she responded. “I am in total agreement with your assessment of this industrial representation. (She liked it.) I too must have it. … Whatever it is.”
So we stood there staring at this fascinating thing wondering just what in the heck it was and what purpose it served.
“You know,” the wife surmised, “Sometime art is just art. It’s something to contemplate, to appreciate, and to…”
“Regurgitate?” I offered trying to find a word ending in “ate.”
“Not what I was trying to say.”
“But with all those gears and levers it must do something,” I said. “Maybe it’s a calculator that performs complicated equations with the flick of a lever.”
“Or maybe it’s an egg timer?” the wife conjectured.
Looking at her in total disbelief, “An egg timer? Seriously?”
“Well it sure as heck ain’t no calculator.”
About that time, a very amused sales clerk came by and said, “Isn’t that an amazing piece?”
Trying to be super artsy-fartsy the wife faked, “That’s exactly what I was saying to my husband, that it is an amazingly artistic piece.”
Both the wife and the clerked turned and looked at me for my astute observation: “A piece of what? What the h-e-double hockey sticks is that thing?”
Had the clerk been drinking coffee at the time, there would have been a spit-take of Biblical proportions.
“This beautifully engineered piece of art is a switch plate to turn on or off a light switch,” the clerk said, sweeping her hand under the switch plate in game-show hostess fashion.
Dropping my jaw I said, “Well I’ll be danged. A switch plate. Go figure.”
“It’s a Rube Goldberg inspired design,” the clerk informed.
“I was just going to say that,” I said to the clerk. “We’ll take it.”
Then I whispered to the wife, “Write down that name. We’ll look it up later.”
Simple made complicated … both beautiful and confusing.
Raul Ascunce is a freelance columnist for the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, a sister publication of The Lima News.