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October 13, 2010 / Kuan

Designers as the artist of today

Probably one of the most engaging design books I’ve ever read, Design as Art is simply engaging, truthful and thought-provoking.

In my last post, I mentioned that what at first struck me to grab this book from the shelf was its title. Is design a piece of art? To a certain degree, I will no doubt say yes. Some posters, chairs, lamps, books are just as beautiful as classical drawings, paintings and sculptures. On the other hand, design seems to go beyond what art can do; designs function. That is not to say that art doesn’t; everything functions in a way, whether it pleases you or evokes emotions. Yet, we live with design, the light switch, the pen, the planner we use. Everything, good or bad, is born in the hands of a designer. If we say art is for our psychological pleasure, then design is for the physical functionality and if the pieces are truly beautiful, design as well lifts us to a bliss.

So designers can be called artists. But vice versa?

Bruno Munari says yes. There is an anxiety that drives artists to mass produce and sell their artwork in stores other than art galleries — “the desire to get back into society, to re-establish contact with their neighbors, to create an art for everyone and not just for the chosen few with bags of money” (12). He wrote this preface at 1970, the situation maybe a little different now, but if it is still true, then artists are transforming to designers, as art has to be understood by the public, assuming the public are rational beings.

The book consists of many two-or-three page short reflections on topics of graphic, industrial and research design as well as toys. Munari looks deeply into the role of designer in the society now, and how various aspects of design has potentials to generate much more powerful and interesting connection between art and the public.

“The designer is therefore the artist of today, not because he is a genius but because he works in such a way as to re-establish contact between art and the public, because he has the humility and ability to respond to whatever demand is made of him by the society in which he lives, because he knows his job, and the ways and means of solving each problem of design. And finally because he responds to the human needs to his time, and helps people to solve certain problems without stylistic preconceptions or false notions of artistic diginity derived from the schism of the arts” (32).

During his entire career, Munari had been undertaking the transformation from an artist to designer. The book therefore is like a diary of that look-back-and-forth process. When is it boring to read a designer’s diary?

I love this book also because of these:

“The edge of a poster are therefore worthy of special consideration. They may serve as neutral areas to isolate one poster from the others around it, or as calculated links in a series. In any case one can never ignore them when one designs a poster, and certainly not if one wants to avoid the unpleasant surprise of seeing one’s work come to nothing the moment it goes up on a wall” (89).

“Whether or not Calder started from the same idea, the fact is that we were together in affirming that figurative art had passed from two or at the most three dimensions to acquire a fourth: that of time” (19). –Munari talking about the useless machine. Shift comments the useless machine as a series of “three-dimensional structures made of simple geometrical figures hung together with thin ropes. These machines didn’t have any internal power and their only possible ‘work’ was undulating in the wind while the user was left contemplating their uselessness.”


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