The only thing I dislike more than artificial flowers is when I am fooled by artificial flowers. Sometimes you just can't tell until they don't die. (The only thing worse than a brown-orange Christmas wreath hanging on a door in March is a bright green one.) An artificial flower will never enter this house if, er... I can help it. But my resolve is weakening. At church, if a bride asks if it's OK to have artificial flowers at a wedding, my current answer is, "No -- unless you can fool me real good."
Twenty years ago I had a classic wooden picket fence built around our back yard. It was functional, and I liked the way it would weather into that old gray look as the years passed. The years have passed. It has weathered. It is rotting. I'm thinking of replacing it with a fence made of artificial (or "composite") materials, and I just ordered composite planks for a deck to replace our crumbling back steps, and I'm thinking of replacing our cedar shake siding with fiber cement shingles ("Hardie Plank") instead of painting it for the third time in twenty years. I should say here that I haven't run any of these ideas past my bookkeeper yet, but long-term economy is certainly part of the equation. And calculating the environmental effect of building a fence out of cut-down trees vs. recycled garbage bags is another (related) subject for another time.
However -- economy and ecology aside -- the reason I'm thinking about any of these options that I wouldn't have considered twenty years ago is, as it turns out, tied to the ancient artist's technique of trompe l'oeil -- to "trick the eye." While on the one hand it may seem phony to say that as long as I can't tell the difference, then go ahead, on the other hand, this is part of a grand old tradition practiced even by the old masters. But it's not limited to high art; there is precedent in the builder's craft as well. Grand Victorian homes often feature a paneling effect that achieves the desired wood grain by clever painting. Is it OK to say that as long as my eye is tricked, I'll buy it?
I'm still persuaded that genuine flowers on the church altar (and similar expressions) are representative of the organic realities of the faith: God's creative will for a good earth and a good life, the reality of death, and the promise of new life. But we now allow those flickering little electric candles (verrry hard to discern at only a few feet away) to decorate the pews at a wedding so that the church won't burn down.
This proclivity for all things natural has been an important part of my generation's ethos. We think of our parents' generation as inventing artificial stuff, and we've reacted against it: Back to the land, and back to wooden picket fences. But I'm wondering what's at stake here (no pun intended). I don't have an answer to that. It's a real question. I'm wondering.
Images: Top - Fence made of recycled plastic and wood fibers. Bottom - A trompe l'oeil "dome" at Jesuit Church, Vienna, painted by Andrea Pozzo. The eye is fooled, indeed.