But Is It Design?


There are interesting articles in today’s New York Times – and two in particular that caught my attention. The first is an article by Alice Rawsthorn titled “But Is It Art?” (Link) which I think makes some worthwhile observations. In particular, these two comments registered with me:

The conception and process of producing art became as important as the work itself, which was increasingly made by someone else, not the artist.

Technology has also enabled designers to exercise greater control over the production of their work by using their computers to execute tasks once delegated to engineers or typesetters.

But then she gets into the kinds of distinctions that get me in trouble with fellow designers:

Personally I still find that art is more adept than design at confronting the messy, troubling and sinister things I don’t understand, and that’s why I love it. Though design can do that, too.

Ironically, the examples of design that are least likely to address such issues are branded “design art.” It’s not that the flamboyantly sculptural chairs auctioned at Sotheby’s and Phillips de Pury & Company are pointless. At their best, they’re intriguing exercises in form and materials, just as haute couture is to fashion. (Newson’s forthcoming show at the Gagosian Gallery will feature pieces in Carrara marble. It is too expensive to use in industrial production, but he will apply the experience to projects like Qantas Airways cabins and Nike sneakers.) But at its worst, design art is flamboyant, sculptural and not much else — design without discipline, art without the bite.

“[D]esign without discipline”. Heaven forbid someone should tell designers that something like Marc Newson’s Lockheed Lounge is little more than pretty.

The NYT is also carrying Ms. Rawthorn’s “Utility Man” (Link) article, which offers a brief introduction to the functional – what I suspect she’d say “disciplined” – design world of Konstantin Grcic. I’ve been aware of Grcic’s work for some time; it has the low-polygon aesthetic that I’ve been following for about ten years – from the time after blobjects morphed into new edge and started moving toward “chiselled”.

Unfortunately, even though I’m a fan of this polygonal aesthetic, I just can’t get into his work. I’m wanting Newson’s aero-influenced forms combined with Grcic’s emphasis on functionality; I want to see designs that start to approach the beauty of nature… like those bird bones I’ve mentioned previously (reLink). Rapid manufacturing processes will allow designers to get to that level in the same way that computer software has given us more control over the final product’s manufactured form.

However, that technology – as empowering as it is – still won’t turn a product into “art” because it’s not the tools, it’s the message. And when you think about it, some products already out there might warrant a second look and serious consideration as being artistic creations. For example, there are some mine-clearing metal boots that are both functional and say more about our world then most so-called art pieces hanging in galleries. I say someone slip a pair into the Gagosian during Newson’s opening. Given the state of the world, it’s either that or another urinal.

{Update: …and five minutes after posting this, North Korea reportedly detonated their first nuclear weapon. I wonder to what aesthetic trend the bomb casing belonged.}

{Image Copyright © GadShaananDESIGN}