Saturday, October 19, 2013

Entry #22: A Philosophical Lexicon for Perfumistas

non sequitur

The Latin expression non sequitur gets thrown about a bit by me, and it might not be known to everyone. It simply means: does not follow. The expression refers to a conclusion or inference or implication which is somehow unconnected or independent from an assumption or premise mistakenly believed to be logically related to it.

A great example of a non sequitur running rampant in the perfume world is the notion that if perfume is not art, then this implies that it is somehow inferior, less valuable, less worthwhile, less noble, etc., than the products of the beaux arts (fine arts). This is a big, fat NON SEQUITUR!!!!!! 

There are many ways in which perfume is a lot more valuable than fine art, as Bryan Ross has persuasively argued over at From Pyrgos in a provocative piece, Perfume is Higher than Art. Perfume connects with each of us on a daily basis in intimate ways, in which most of modern art (often conceptual) does not.

Unfortunately, the confusion about this matter is constantly being fueled by the pseudo-righteous indignation which continues to be spewed out by some who have attempted to tether their future and fortune to the indefensible thesis that perfume is art, not design. I don't really expect to see this confusion cleared up during my lifetime, and the low calibre of what is being fobbed off as intelligent thought about perfume does not bode well for increasing interest in the topic among serious students of art and design theory. From a distance, the fervor with which the thesis is propounded without argument, in loud proclamations--as though the volume of a voice might obviate the need for reason--leads many to think that perfumistas are no better than drug addicts. And perhaps that is not untrue...  


  1. Hi Sherapop,
    This idea of perfume as art (or otherwise) always amuses and confuses me. Who cares? Why do the two invite comparison? As you noted, there is something slightly desperate about the proclamation of fragrances as "masterpieces", perhaps it's a way to rationalise our worship of privileged consumerism by justifying our purchases as investments in high art? I'm not being judgemental - as a collector of things other than perfume, I'm as guilty as the next person of indulgent, discretionary purchases (although some of the things I collect are, in fact, art or artisan jewellery). The difference is that these items are solid and lasting. Perfume, like wine, has a use-by date and the more you indulge, the less you have! I would be more inclined to compare a good perfume to a gourmet meal, or perhaps a theatre performance: a pleasurable, ephemeral experience that is the result of a skilled hand combining many components.
    Clare (Triffid - Parfumo)

  2. Dear Clare,

    Thanks so much for your comment, and welcome to the salon de parfum!

    Yes, it's all a bit mysterious why people get so exercised over the perfume-art question. I agree with you that since we consume perfume, the meal analogy is quite apt. In fact, it applies in lots of other ways as well. For one thing, lots of food is gross, and people vary widely in their willingness to eat certain foodstuffs. Same goes for perfume. Probably most of the perfume in existence is, at best, mediocre. Yet there are those who bellow out from a mountaintop that Perfume is Art! Well, I have news for them: vat-produced chemical soup does not even aspire to the heights of design, and Spam is not art, either. Is perfume supposed to be art because it is "artificial"? Okay, then dryer sheets, too. These reductio ad absurdum examples can be multiplied ad infinitum, yet some people never seem to get the memo.

    Many skills are poured into the perfumes which we come to appreciate. Even the business aspects of the business (which is, in the end, what it is) may contribute to our experience. I love beautiful bottles, for example. In fact, I have some favorite empty bottles sitting on the windowsill next to my bed just so that I can gaze at them. If the truth be known, I was motivated in part to drain a couple of them so that I could place them directly in the sunlight without risking harm to the liquid inside!

    Is the bottle the most important part of the production? Perhaps not. But it all depends on the consumer. Some people collect bottles and do not even wear perfume! Others wear Chanel No 5 because of its associations with famous people such as Marilyn Monroe.

    To each his or her own!


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