“The designer […] is the artist of today […] because he works in a way to re-establish contact between art and the public…” — Bruno Munari
“Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I want to change things in design, or at least change the way it’s perceived.
If you have to reduce the definition of your entire discipline to primarily a business, you have both failed business and your discipline at the same time.
Designers have fallen in this trap frequently; while pressured by a market disregard for an ‘objective’ aesthetics, designers have tried to side with their opponent instead of trying to align their cooperator to the reality of what they’re doing when they work. They tacitly side with the business status quo mentality that art is “useless” and “mere embellishment,” and subsequently taking the side against being artists, as opposed to giving art a strong partner that upholds real substantive cultural and economic value. As such, designers throw around a mess of definitions, comparing themselves to other things like writing, calling into question basic terms for no reason, assuming the livelihood of design is siding with profits instead of understanding its communicative/social value, and contradictorily demanding to continue the public funding of art while at the same time trying to do business with the people who are against accepting the usefulness of artistry.
Designers as a result can be a lot like Judas, betraying the art history that ground artists from William Morris to contemporary designers such as Forefathers, while pretending we’re on the side of business partners whose jobs are fundamentally different. Multiple times, it’s brought to our attention that our role is not as essential in terms of business, from both economic and design perspectives, yet time and time again designers keep throwing themselves against the hard economic wall without care for how reality in specialization works.
One of the biggest challenges of the art world today, as Jeffrey Deitrich in ArtNews mentions, is “the conflict between the enormous new global audience of visually fluent people versus the traditional art-world elites”, further, Deitrich mentions also the “increasing tendency for art to focus on the art world itself, rather than the immense societal and environmental challenges that we face.” Art, at a cross-roads between communicating to the masses and building a stronger elite, can’t convince the people to discern between art and garbage, and when they get challenged by someone, they assume it is they who are the problem.
Designers, who could be that strong ally of broad communication using artistic principles that artists need to have a stronger public voice; rather, designers would define themselves as a business and not an art activity. Nobody can blame them, because the art world degraded commercial art for so long in the 20th century.
That same degraded commercial artist, however, helped to produce a world of visually fluent people under the noses of the art elite. The art elite of all kinds could never have foreseen a world of laymen visually adept and honest with how they perceive imagery; further, they used their economic status to belittle many of those average people. They crowd further in their museums and art spaces; meanwhile, visual imagery and artistic contribution play a massive role.
Any move a designer and artist makes to bridge their gaps, however big and small, to communicate fun, powerful, beautiful artistry with the enjoyment of a weekend night, is a challenge worth taking.
So it begins with an art show, with an affordable ticket, with affordable art, art that can be taken home by anybody, and top if off with memorable and fun music and vendors you can remember tomorrow when you go out. These interlaced parts bring together people through accessibility without stuffy obligations, and yet directs a donation and awareness for needful organizations in the local community where everyone is addressed eye-to-eye and none are spoken down to or inauthentic. I want to interweave everything with a project that locks and bleeds into other projects, so forms here adhere with other forms there. The art practice can become then a beautiful interplay conjoining messages both personal and communal.
Design is art: that is, a designer brings art as we know it back down to earth. We use imagery and art in the broadest sense, to communicate a powerful message and leave an even more powerful memory to users across all sorts of media. Images of being healthy, images of being a badass, of friendship, love, passion, and more. These images we weave by studying people, studying form, studying ourselves – good designs can’t be replicated like cogs in a machine. One can’t simply put a few designers next to each other and expect culturally changing results. Design is the lacing of meaning and people, an understanding of the art process, becoming an essential, stripped version of that process.
Hopefully as entertaining, memorable shows go one way, a more grounded philosophy of art reaches its own fruitful minds in another way. It takes time, and more than just myself and my friends – it takes no matter what a careful ethos and pathos to reach the masses for something transformative. Bridging the gaps between art and design – from mediums like screenprinting to vending local artists, should be part of the many new and evolving interests of the modern designer. Only through understanding how design and art connect fundamentally in their basic definitions can one find a better reason to value both art and design and protect it from institutional disregard.
In a world where we are ready to pull artists off institutional support, and designers are struggling to handle a new generation of capitalist interests in Silicon Valley, the need to define real, easy to understand, basic values of what is design, and what is art, has a completely new purpose in our modern culture. Like all carefully constructed ideas, it starts with a clear, beautiful history. In the next part, I hope to outline the art activity as it relates to the design activity throughout history. Some of it is obvious, but the obviousness should enlighten the reader.
If you want to see the value of design, you have to see where we were, where we are, and where we will be. If you want to do a real critique and change the world, it starts with a little bit of history. From Phidias to IDEO, it should become clearer that these disciplines are not just connected, they are dependent, and they don’t affect just bank accounts, but real cultural values. When they are seen in each other’s light, their normative value can shine in the face of their challenges, from defunding to crowd sourcing. We can stand up to giants when put together – or, it will fall apart separated.
Also published on Medium.