As The Useful Becomes Useless, It Becomes Art

Kate Spade Paper.

The story here isn’t about why I’m on the Kate Spade mailing list. The story is about their new line of “paper.” It’s stationary, of course. The kind of formal paper people use to send out wedding invites and thank yous and whatever other little missives that email or AIM seem too uncouth for.

I made this point before, in a discussion of how painting evolved from trade-craft to art after the development of the camera, but I love seeing a new example.

Even as paper documents become decreasingly valuable to us — how many of us cringe when offered a printout of a web page? — formal, artistic uses of paper seem to hold on. Does this Kate Spade release affirm the overall usefulness of paper, or its boutique value as an icon of class and privilege?

My argument here isn’t against paper, and certainly not against art. My argument is that technological development changes the value and use of everyday objects. In this case, Crane, the manufacturer of the Kate Spade paper collection, used to sell through stationers in small shops throughout the country, but technology has changed that market. The bread and butter of those shops — printing letterhead stock for local businesses — has largely disappeared as those businesses shift more communications online, use on-demand printing, or go elsewhere for more complex work like full-color brochures. Crane has already missed it’s opportunity to lead the technology that’s changing it’s market, so now they’re forced to try selling their old products in lower volumes to niche markets where the Kate Spade is use to show the privilege and class of the consumer.

The internet changes everything, where will you be when you realize it?