The Intersection of Art and Autos

One of the many people our Economics of the Auto Industry class met with was J Mays, Ford’s Chief Creative Officer. Part of the conversation we had with Mr. Mays, along with our trip to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, had me thinking about the intersection of the art and automotive industries.

MG MGB

Design sells cars. A car can be a complete disaster in many ways, but if it is designed well, it might still sell. Take the MG MGB, which was unbelievably unreliable, but gorgeous: the design was a large part of why the car sold so well. Put simply, the design of the car is very important and creating that design is creating an artwork. Car designers are artists and can be successful, as with almost every Aston Martin ever produced, or unsuccessful, as with the Pontiac Aztek.

As with art generally, the artwork of car design doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful to be “good.” It can be interesting, eccentric or surprising. The Ford Mustang, for example, isn’t really a beautiful car, but it is a successful piece of art, because it conveys well the notions of aggression and free spirit which Ford was trying to convey.

Life Line, by Winslow Homer

Finally, Mr. Mays told us that houses portray what people are, but cars portray what they want to be. I have a few problems with this idea (if I lived somewhere with bad winters, I would drive an SUV, even though I love BMW coupes), but even so, using his idea, it is the design of the car which portrays what people want to be. Imagine if we walked around with a painting around our necks. Wouldn’t it be important to choose the correct one – to portray ourselves as we want to be? Maybe Mr. Mays was on to something.

8 comments to The Intersection of Art and Autos

  • oliver

    That comment that Mr. Mays made stuck with me as well. Cars are often considered status symbols. A car is just one visible purchase, but a house is filled with a life’s purchases and tells a greater story about a person than a car alone.

  • Cars are our face in public; co-workers may not see the inside of our house, and even if we have them over for dinner, we may not show them our bedroom or study, where we spend much of our time. But they likely see what we drive.

  • clara

    “Cars portray what people want to be” – I think this is Mays’ individual vision that motivates him to design cars. My impression with Mays was that he’s more of an artist than an engineer. This vision works but not all the time. For people who have enough money to afford an image or a lifestyle, Mays’ spirit applies. For the rest, I don’t think so.

  • gjeong

    I want to ask everyone, “What does a car mean to you?” Is it just transportation that you drive or does it portray who you are and what you want to be? I think the answer differs by person. I agree with the idea that cars are the status symbols that represent our face in public. To some people, cars can be a way of showing their wealth and power. However, as Clara said, people who cannot afford their dream cars would not agree with the idea.

  • gradyb13

    I think G is spot on with his comment. I intentionally skipped discussing this argument in my post, but I would agree with G’s response, namely that Mays’ argument works, but only for some people. The extent to which the argument works, even if it isn’t entirely correct, makes me think that Mays made an interesting point.

  • tommd13

    Like Oliver I agree that cars are considered status symbols, in some places more than others. Take China for example, they love the imports of German engineering even if import taxes cause them to pay double what we in the U.S. pay. They do this because they believe cars symbolize wealth and they want what Americans have, Audi even makes a specific car the A8 if I am not mistaken with an extended body because the Chinese love big sedans.

  • tommd13

    Also my answer to G’s question is I believe cars are a mode of transportation but much more at the same time. It is on a smaller scale, but similar to designing a house. If you are designing your dream home you want it to be perfect similar to that of your car because besides your office and maybe your home your car is going to be something you spend the most time in. I like borrowing friends cars because I love the sound of different engines, I think that is one of the most adrenaline pumping activities one can do is open up the throttle even if it is for just a short time. So for me a car is more than just a mode of transportation. I guess, my idea is more similar to Mr. Mays’ idea that it says something about the person, which could be interpreted by others in ways the owner did not see at the time.

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