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Form Over Function - Should a gun be beautiful or functional?

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

Beauty is vastly considered in the art world as being the combination of colour, shape and proportion in a way that brings the human mind pleasure or invokes a feeling.

Beauty is nothing tangible, it only exists in our heads as a pleasant feeling - Kurzgesagt 2018

So perhaps the form of a weapon is purely designed to invoke a feeling, for war, perhaps the feeling of fear in your enemies? However, through history, this is not all as it appears.

History of firearms as art

Since its conception in 9th century China, the gun has always had a slightly odd social opinion around it. Speaking logically its original design as a gunpowder-operated canon had no other use except to display military might and function as a tool for defending one's home. However, from historical artefacts, we have seen that this simply was not the case; the firearm has always been seen as an item of beauty.

Ming Dynasty Bronze Hand Canon - Gary Todd 2008
Ming Dynasty Bronze Hand Canon

So why make a tool beautiful, so much so that it can become art? Well, perhaps like many in the animal kingdom, by showing a visual example, you can avoid a fight. Therefore it is thought that this "peacocking" was a sign of military power. If a civilisation could afford to show that they could waste time making their weapons look good would show to their enemies that they were superior, and thus a fight could be avoided. However, this does not explain the use of weapons AS art.

Sakyamuni's temptation - the first known illustration of a firearm in art shown in the top right

The Dynastic Chinese manufactured their weapons in styles that resembled their works of art, and some were even made into art with elaborate depictions of firearms put into ancient illustrations. Ok, the illustration of Sakamuni's temptation (950 AD) was showing that firearms were part of the evil temptation of an otherwise spiritual being, but that still shows that although they were seen as bad, they were still desirable for some reason.

The phycological attraction to guns

Now try to might to see yourself as an individual in control of your own thought, however, there is one thing we know to be true. You are at the utter whim of your physiological makeup. If your evolutionary biology and environmentally influenced behaviour agree on something, you are going to do it as it releases reward-based chemicals into your brain that make you feel good. So what are you going to do? You are going to do it again! This is the basis of addiction, and therefore easy for most to see how gun collections begin.

But why do guns give us this sort of biological high? Well, many have eluded to this in the past, guns are seen as powerful symbols shaped by history, politics, geography, economy, media, and culture. As we discussed earlier, this is all part of that animalistic urge for power, that pure encapsulation of power easily could be said is the firearm.

This weaving of guns through social keys such as history and art has ingrained in us the need for power in the form of guns. The act of making them beautiful by artistic standards has only reinforced this desire.

Should a gun be beautiful?

Well, this is the crux of the situation. Guns as a logical thought are simply tools, but now in modern society when we use money and influence to stop fights, guns are not necessary as peacocking tools to show your military might. They are now used as tools of the trade or in hobbies such as target shooting. So where there is no need for it to be purely functional why not waste time and resources to make your tool beautiful. After all, early humans made their tools symmetrical because they liked them that way.

So should a gun be beautiful... No, but why not if you can.

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