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Rick Poynor

Modernising MoMA: Design on Display


An article by Paola Antonelli, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, posted on the AIGA's Voice website, reveals that the museum is planning to broaden its architecture and design collection to include not just posters - its current area of emphasis when it comes to communication design - but graphic design in the fullest sense. One can only welcome this news and look forward to the first displays, but perhaps not without pausing for a moment to wonder why it has taken them so long. As Antonelli points out, while the museum's collection of around 5,000 posters is exceptional, "posters have lost their pre-eminence to other forms of communication". In Britain, that had arguably happened by the early 1960s. Television advertising was the principal reason for this fall from pre-eminence, so it's reasonable to surmise that the poster's decline in the US had probably happened even earlier. In which case, at a conservative estimate, it has taken MoMA 40 years to consider a change of direction.


(Of course, it depends on how you define "poster" and how you define "graphic design". The advertising billboard may not be pre-eminent, but it is still a ubiquitous and powerful graphic medium in a way that the more collectable and displayable small-scale poster is not.)

Antonelli probably gives a clue to at least one reason for MoMA's failure to keep pace with developments in graphic design culture, history and criticism since the 1980s, when she mentions that many design curators at the museum, like Antonelli herself, have been and are architects. Hardly surprising, then, if MoMA's department of architecture and design has had a tendency to concentrate on - or favour - architecture. Curators, historians and critics shaped by an architectural background usually also possess a taste for, and knowledge about, furniture and other three-dimensional forms of design. They tend to know much less about graphic communication, seeing it as minor by comparison, and when these blind-spots become institutionalised, they lead to the strange position in which graphic design found itself at the end of the 20th century: everywhere around us, yet strangely under-acknowledged.

Even the AIGA's awkward headline for the article - "Is Graphic Design, not Simply Posters, Museum Worthy?" - seems to suggest the distinct possibility that the answer, even among AIGA members, might turn out to be "no". In the article, though, this is not a question that Antonelli actually asks, since MoMA's answer is now affirmative. Antonelli says that the curators will be considering websites, interfaces, movie titles, typefaces, TV graphics, printed matter of all kinds, logos, packaging, and magazines. The aim, as with MoMA's other collections, will be to educate the public and stimulate progress.

The ability to see real pieces of design, especially historical pieces, in long-lasting museum displays, in the context of other parallel kinds of visual production, would be a huge step forward. A vast amount of significant visual communication, well known only to design historians and private collectors, has in material terms effectively disappeared. For instance, a reasonably well-educated design student might have seen illustrations in books of a few covers and spreads from mid-20th century issues of Fortune magazine, but without encountering the originals, it's impossible to grasp the prodigious scale of the publication's achievement as a synthesis of editorial and design. Is it really the case that Fortune is of a lesser cultural order and is less deserving to be known than the contemporaneous work of, say, a Surrealist or Abstract Expressionist painter? Again, I had no real sense of what an extraordinary feat of information design Herbert Bayer's 1953 World Geo-Graphic Atlas was until I saw it in the "Graphic Design in America" exhibition - a model of its kind - when it travelled in 1990 to the Design Museum, London. If it isn't already on display at MoMA, then it should be. The museum wants to find "beauty beyond all constraints", says Antonelli. Quite apart from anything else, these mid-century designs are beautiful.

It might be argued that this is yet another case where graphic design's virtue, a key part of its vigour and appeal, is that it operates "below the radar" of official attention. While this may be true of some contemporary work, it would be a mistake to apply this way of thinking to the past. Recovering graphic design's material history will help us to understand our broader cultural history and contribute towards the education of a more aware generation of visual communicators. This has always been an argument for studying design history, but books of miniature reproductions aren't enough. Art and architecture, areas where MoMA excels, have long been the beneficiaries of first-rate conservation, display and elucidation. Graphic design has woven the fabric of our social communication and it demands just as much curatorial care.


Posted in: Culture, Design History, Graphic Design, Museums

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Comments [50]
That MOMA should expand its interest in design at this moment is of course significant and exciting. These are, as Jessica Helfand suggested, exciting times for design.

And MOMA is not alone in its interest. The commercial necessity of exciting (which is not always to say good) design is increasingly obvious in any number of markets. Good - or spotlighted - design is, in short, good for business. And, as evidenced by MOMA, its good for culture. Markets also means cultural markets - fields for reflection on our humanity - a field previously associated with the Fine Art tradition.

The changes in the book business are only one example of this: shifting at once on the mass market, corporate end toward "designed" books, emphasizing covers over content, and, at another level, that of small presses toward personal attention to the details of high quality printing, the trace of the maker in the tactile feel of the book.

MOMA is interested in design and so, increasingly, are galleries and collectors, so too are historians and cultural critics.

Successful designers obviously know how to market themselves, but this new, "cultural" market is only just now beginning to emerge. Like photography in the 1970s, graphic culture is struggling to find a way to market itself - which is also to say to manage its market. (The numbered print solved this issue in the photography market: what will solve this problem in graphic design?)

Design critics will be participate in this process by developing terms useful within this expanding discussion. Designers need these terms to talk about their work in a way that can be understood by clients; collectors and curators need them as the market solidifies and expands.

The ambivalence of the AIGA on the cultural status of design is interesting and understandable but ultimately unimportant. Many of the major design publications (and journalists) evidence a similar ambivalence.

As commercial artists, American designers in particular fear association with the "exclusive" Fine Art market: as "trades people," designers eschew notions of their broader cultural place and impact. The Fine Art tradition, meanwhile, has by and large, collapsed into the narcissism of solipsistic autonomy: no longer required to communicate with others, the market no longer participates in cultural exchange.

Designers - graphic designers, architects, industrial and fashion designers -, however, still do participate in cultural exchange. Designers determine the entirety of our visual, spatial and tactile experience of the world. Positioned between the client and the community, and therefore restricted by the necessity of communication, designers create culture after Fine Art.

MOMA's interest in design evidences this same necessity. Museums that want to attract visitors need to cultivate collections that communicate with their communities.

Design has flown under the radar, yes, for cultural, institutional, and disciplinary reasons, as Rick suggests. Technological changes and the necessity of communication however have combined to tear down these walls. The historical hegemony of architecture among the arts and the long-standing distinction between arts and crafts traditions have begun to wane.

The Art is in the making, not in the marketing.

Disciplinary distinctions are being inverted and subverted by practitioners themselves: The novelist as designer, for example, or the architect who exploits the graphic (visual) components of architecture.

In an expanded field, the contemporary and crucial question remains : what is design? And what critical and cultural terms will help us talk about it?

While design journalists remain ambivalent to this point, in disciplinary allegiance and defense, cultural critics are increasingly interested: we're thinking of Hal Foster (who writes critically of design) and Peter Wollen (who writes as a partisan) to name only two.

Design, in short, already performs cultural and communal functions often erroneously associated, in the popular mind, with the Fine Art tradition.

The shift occurring at present is occurring less at the level of actual design practice than at the level of our perception of design and its function our lives.

Stuart Kendall and Vanessa Kanan Corrêa
06.06.04
01:41

Thanks to Rick for commenting on Ms Antonelli's first of two articles on MoMA's latest graphic design collection strategies in AIGA's VOICE.

Just a few notes about his commentary: The idea behind increasing the range of design collection is not new to MoMA. Alfred Barr's original plan when MoMA was founded as an alternative museum was to include a broad swath of fine and applied arts. One of his first exhibitions was of Bauhaus work, including type, book and periodical design, and later exhibits expanded to include documents of Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism. Jan Tschichold donated his collection of graphics (letterheads, logos, type specimens) to MoMA, and it remains an invaluable resource. During the Fifties and Sixties Mildred Constantine was responsible for many of MoMA's most significant design shows, including industrial, product, and graphic design. She has been an unsung hero when it came to collecting, preserving, and analyzing graphic design objects, and carrying on Barr's vision for an integrated museum. In the 70s Constantine and Alan Fern were responsible for reviving interest in Russian constructivism even before it made its retro splash in design circles.

Posters became the focal point, I presume, for various reasons. They are displayable (as in they have a monumental quality) and they are valuable (they are worth something because of their monumentality). And eventually, perhaps by virtue of inertia, posters became the be-all and end-all of design collecting rather than part of a larger whole.

All this by way of saying that this new direction at MoMA is an extension of the old, picking up more or less where it left off after Constantine retired. In other words, graphic design's importance in the museum's context was never totally foresaken, and is now being pursued with renewed vigor.

Rick wrote:
"Even the AIGA's awkward headline for the article - "Is Graphic Design, not Simply Posters, Museum Worthy?" - seems to suggest the distinct possibility that the answer, even among AIGA members, might turn out to be "no". "

Mea culpa for the headline, but the question is one that I've heard asked by curators. Frankly, I don't think the answer among AIGAers is "no." But I guess stating that it might be makes for a nice rhetorical device. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that posters are a small part of graphic design media, and should not be singled out for preferential curatorial interest.

Similarly, in the above comment to Rick's post:

"The ambivalence of the AIGA on the cultural status of design is interesting and understandable but ultimately unimportant. Many of the major design publications (and journalists) evidence a similar ambivalence. "

First the AIGA is not ambivalent about design's cultural status. One ironic headline does not a policy make. And frankly, most design publications and journalists would agree that MoMA's new direction is right on. Which is not to say, that not all design will bear cultural scrutiny. But that's why there are curators and advisory boards - to determine which out of the mass of materials produced annually deserve to be considered or reconsidered. As a member of a few of these boards, I find the discussions fascinating particularly because they are very subjective.

Finally, I find the following statement to be true but not totally accurate:

"Design has flown under the radar, yes, for cultural, institutional, and disciplinary reasons, as Rick suggests. Technological changes and the necessity of communication however have combined to tear down these walls. The historical hegemony of architecture among the arts and the long-standing distinction between arts and crafts traditions have begun to wane."

Agreed that the old radar screen has missed some vital objects, movements, schools, etc. But as stated above, let's give some credit where it is due. MoMA's Barr and Constantine were not the only advocates of applied art (or arts and crafts traditions). Remember the Cooper Hewitt and the Smithsonian in general, also don't forget the Library of Congress, the New York Historical Society, The Walker Art Center, and more recently the Wolfsonian in Miami. The Getty is also awash with arts and crafts in its collections.

MoMA's current focus will doubtless lead the way because of its status as a cultural institution, but it is not the only place to address historical and contemporary graphic design as culturally significant or worthy of continued investment. And in the next few months the AIGA's VOICE will provide a useful annotated list of those institutions that have been key among these repositories.



steve heller
06.06.04
05:15

I question the sincerity of Paola Antonelli's claim that being an architect caused her and her colleagues to place greater emphasis on architecture and 3D design. Aaron Betsky, who after working for a period as a designer for Frank Gehry and Hodgetts&Fung, initiated an enlightened graphic design acquistions program at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA). Betsky was Curator of Architecture, Design and Digital Projects at the SFMoMA before moving to The Netherlands in 2001 to assume the position of Director at the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi) in Rotterdam. The SFMoMA has had one-person graphic exhibits of Jennifer Sterling, Lorraine Wild, Rebecca Mendez, Martin Venezky, Tibor Kalman and Jennifer Morla. It has also put on graphic design exhibits for Emigre and the printed matter designed for SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), and all this is just a sample list up to their 2001 exhibitions!

I think it is simply a case of the MoMA discovering it had egg on its face.
David Cabianca
06.06.04
05:28

A most fascinating post.

Yes, the "new" initiative returns to an agenda originating in the High Modern moment in the Fine Art tradition. We nevertheless find this both surprising and exciting. The reinvigoration of a 75 year old cultural agenda signals, if we're not mistaken, a shift in culture. We are wondering what that might be.

Posters: Size doesn't matter in determining value (financially or artistically). Monumentality does not equal interest.

Culture doesn't happen on boards. While it is true that museums and galleries are some of the most visible avenues for curating a visual history, we think that most curators would agree that "museums exist to preserve selected objects that together ....support and communicate a strong idea" (per Paola Antonelli). Part of that mission, we believe, is a group of professionals who are making informed decisions about contemporary visual culture in order to educate a broad audience now and in the future -- it is disappointing to hear that such boards are merely some folks who know each other espousing subjective thoughts.

Paolo Antonelli claims that MOMA's mission is to "celebrate the art of our time". Our original comments endeavor to unpack this statement.

Our observation is not surprise that another museum is now collecting design materials. Rather, we are interested in the increasingly wide-spread cultural displacement of Fine Art by design. This is not a question of "arts and crafts" but of the cultural collapse of the distinction between Fine Art and crafts based traditions. With the Fine Art tradition in narcissistic autonomous retreat, the design arts actually communicate with (and move) clients and consumers, they create the language in which our community understands itself.

Stuart Kendall | Vanessa Kanan Corrêa
06.06.04
07:56

"Culture doesn't happen on boards. "

No but boards (and not all members are investors) do help determine what will be preserved.

"Part of that mission, we believe, is a group of professionals who are making informed decisions about contemporary visual culture in order to educate a broad audience now and in the future -- it is disappointing to hear that such boards are merely some folks who know each other espousing subjective thoughts. "

Subjectivity is part of any process. Should this be done by machines?

In any case, those who devote themselves to preserving cultural artifacts whether fine or applied, rarified or popular, must bring a critical eye formed by understanding.

But the point that many musuems are devoted to or supplementing their holdings with popular arts is exciting because it opens a window on unique ideas for audiences who might not have known them before.

I'm reminded of an exhibit at MoMA devoted to Art Spiegelman's Maus sketches. What a great show, and splendid surprise for many.







steve heller
06.06.04
09:00

While design journalists remain ambivalent
Who? Name names. Give examples. It's not that there's so many people writing that it's impossible to pick them out of the crowd.
Kenneth FitzGerald
06.06.04
11:11

Name names? Nasty tradition in American politics ... And this is not the forum to hand down indictments on ambivalence, which, it must be said, is hardly a harsh criticism. Steven Heller, too, does have a point in his latest Print column: Design blogs are no place for mud-slinging. Not that we're slinging any mud.

We, in fact, find ourselves in the awkward position of defending - to designers - what we perceive as the changing cultural value of design. How many times has the Art / Design question foundered on this blog alone? Design has become valuable in a new way within the past twenty years. We question the usefulness of the old popular arts / Fine Art distinction. Our posts sketch a few reasons why, etc. etc.

The June Dwell, by the way and among myriad other sources, carries an article to our point (cf. pg. 100).

Then again, as you say: "It's not that there's so many people writing that it's impossible to pick them out of the crowd."

On an unrelated matter: The opposite of subjectivity is not mechanization ...

Maybe we're wrong about the cultural shift we perceive, but what if we're not ?


Stuart Kendall | Vanessa Kanan Corrêa
06.07.04
09:50

Why is there any question of "Art" vs "Design"? Why is there not any questioning of the relevance of "Architecture" vs "Art," of "Photography" vs "Art"? I recall similar eyebrows were raised when the Met and the Guggenheim announced that they were going to begin collecting photography.

These dichotomies are specious. The fact is, museums are starting to realize that graphic design is a medium of cultural significance in its own right. There is no need to compare it to other forms of cultural expression or activity for relevence. Institutions are recognizing that graphic designers perceive the world in their own terms (or at least my generation acknowledges this potential of graphic design). As graphic design evolves into a discipline, it is a natural outcome.

Of course as Kenneth FitzGerald rightly points out in the latest Emigre, as this occurs, graphic design detatches itself from its public. It then becomes an act of criticism--modern architecture was never embraced by the public for this reason--and not merely an instrument of capital.
David Cabianca
06.07.04
10:49

Some interesting thoughts here. A quick response to the "naming names" point raised by Kenneth and rebuffed by Stuart/Vanessa. I have to agree that without substantiation, a point like this (some design journalists' supposed ambivalence) is too vague. If it's essential to the argument to note this ambivalence, then the point should be backed up with an instance or two. Same thing applies whatever the topic being discussed on DO. Evidence allows other people to weigh up the point's validity and join in with a view. This isn't a call for mud-slinging at all (though I thought Steve Heller was too squeamish in his Print column about blogs). It's a call for specificity and clarity - worthwhile aims in any kind of writing.
Rick Poynor
06.07.04
11:25

Name names? Nasty tradition
I don't see this as mud-slinging, merely being specific and allowing the reader to know what/who you're talking about. I can't evaluate the validity of a claim when it only gestures toward an undefined group of people. Anyone making any claim needs to be held accountable. That blogs are surfeited with people who traffic in personalities over rationalities increases the need to be succinct and unambiguous. Maybe I'm supposed to know from how a statement is framed who is being framed. Sorry, I don't.
Kenneth FitzGerald
06.07.04
11:39

Squeamish, eh? You dirty. . .

Sorry. But naming names is not the issue. Sources logically help the reader better understand a valid argument. Yet names mean nothing without context to substantiate the presumptions. Calling someone to task for ambivalence is not the worst crime. Nor is being called squeamish (you dirty. . . ). But stating the AIGA as a body or the sum of its parts is guilty of ambivalence is a charge that demands more than heresay, guesswork, or wishful thinking.

AIGA has long been in the design as culture forefront, creating venues for serious documentation and analysis. The Walker's Graphic Design in America began through the impetus and participation of the AIGA (btw, it is curious that the show did not hang in any major NYC museums - it found a home in the IBM center, a museum surrogate).

David Cabianca's comment, "These dichotomies are specious. The fact is, museums are starting to realize that graphic design is a medium of cultural significance in its own right" is true. Certain curators, like Betsky at SFMoMA, Ellen Lupton at Cooper Hewitt, and at the Denver Museum of Art, have opened the doors to graphic design and a more balanced view of culture is represented in their holdings. This is a good thing that will continue, I'm sure.
steve heller
06.07.04
12:06

Steve, you say "Sources logically help the reader better understand a valid argument. Yet names mean nothing without context to substantiate the presumptions." The second sentence, which appears to wish to qualify the first in some way that eludes me, is exactly the point that Kenneth and I were separately making. Without names (specifics) there can be no meaningful context.
Rick Poynor
06.07.04
12:33

We're a bit surprised by this turn. It's just not that important whether or not x, y, or z journalist or commentator may or may not have expressed an "ambivalent" attitude to the cultural significance of design over the past however many years.

By "ambivalent" in these postings, we understand a statement which equally states and weights both sides of a given position. (And frankly that's the function of journalism. Criticism on the other hand ... )

We could obviously blog till we're blue about who said what when. We might pick apart, to cite just one example, chosen solely for its proximity, the thread following Rick's "Two Cultures of Design" posting a few months ago. Who said design was art and why therein? Who said it wasn't?

But that won't get us anywhere. As Steven rightly pointed out (paraphrase) : one statement does not a institutional position make.

We're not trying to attack anybody here : We're trying to talk about the status and function of design in culture.

We have attempted to extract ideas about culture from particular instances of cultural production (including discussion). We began, with Rick, with the "ambivalence" of the headline questioned in his post. Reading it symptomatically, we recognize a broad trend in culture. etc. etc. (It's really not important here but, for a model and description of this type of exposition, cf. Adorno, "Cultural Criticism and Society" in his Prisms.)

Maybe we're wrong. Maybe design is less important than we think it is. Maybe it's not important for the reasons we've said it is. Maybe museums, galleries, collectors, publishers, and consumers have "always" expressed the "same" degree of interest in design and for the same reasons. Maybe culture is exactly the same today as it was in 1930. Maybe there's nothing to get all excited about. (For counterpoint, see Society of the Spectacle sec. 158, though also passim.)

This myopic naming names stuff is, in our opinion, a distraction from a serious discussion of the cultural shift signaled by Rick in his original post. If anyone really wants to continue it, we'd be happy to respond off-line as it were (via personal email, etc.).

Why not return to the real topic at hand?

Cabianca's point about the similarities between the solidification of the market for photography (in the 1970s) and design (now) for example and its relationship to the trajectory we've mapped out...
Stuart Kendall | Vanessa Kanan Corrêa
06.07.04
01:32

Stuart and Vanessa, I don't want to make heavy weather of this because the issues signalled in my original post are what interest me here and I, too, hope we can return to them. I must say, though, that there is nothing "myopic" about asking for evidence for assertions. What was significant here was not so much the specific point queried by Kenneth, but the principle. These details which you seem to deem unimportant and merely journalistic (so criticism doesn't require evidence?) are the hooks that allow people to understand the basis of your arguments and assess their validity. What's wrong with that?
Rick Poynor
06.07.04
02:42

I think we've established that cultural institutions the world over either have long or recently been aquiring graphic design. But how do all these diverse venues and collections serve all who study and research design history? While its great to have exhibitions that expose the "lay" public to significant design, what is the mechanism for introducing this material to students and others so that design studies are as common as painting or sculpture?

As a kid I spent many hours in the permanent collection galleries of MoMA fascinated by the Surrealists (and later Dadaists). These regular visits to the permanent rooms were a boon to my art education. Perhaps MoMA and other key institutions will open such permanent design collections to their audiences (with rotating mini-exhibits). Its one thing to collect and another to display. Of course space is premium and hotly contested, but there are many well-intentioned respositories (like the Archives of American Art) that are not easily accessible to the public.

steven heller
06.07.04
02:59

Rick,

Obviously both journalism and criticism require evidence for claims. This evidence can be provided, however, and can function in many distinct ways. We intend to suggest no generic hierarchy. Journalism is obviously wonderful and has its place; criticism likewise...

Our post attempted to avoid being bogged down in the enumeration of particular instances of this or that phenomena. We attempted to elaborate more general ideas about culture. The reticence of our style, chosen, we thought, as appropriate to the forum, requires each reader to substantiate our claims on their own. Each reader is thus asked to provide, through and within their own thought, evidence for or against the particular claim. Some readers, we expect, may temper or reject some claims. Hopefully, some will recognize some of the things we've said as accurate reflections of the case.

This however is not the place to discuss the mechanisms of dialectical thought or the usefulness of a recondite style of expression. Nor is it worth anyone's while to dredge up particular instances of Armin Vit saying this or that or Steven Heller saying this or that or what have you. "Ambivalence" is simply not worth fighting over nor is "many".

Rather than quibble of argumentative process, we'd rather talk about why museums are collecting design now. And we don't think it is because "popular art" and "Fine Art" are equally important in contemporary visual culture. Nor do we think it is particularly helpful to discuss design as if it were simply one among many forms of contemporary cultural production.

Hopes this helps elucidate what we've attempt to say.

Stuart Kendall | Vanessa Kanan Corrêa
06.07.04
03:42

Rather than quibble of argumentative process
Hopes this helps elucidate what we've attempt to say.
Sorry, the hole's getting deeper.

But at this point, I'll back off too and just fold my thoughts into my next Emigre article. My apologies if I name names.
Kenneth FitzGerald
06.07.04
04:49

Kenneth,

The hole is getting deeper? It would seem to me that we are clearly on the side of design as important and discussion, this discussion, as valuable.

Is our position too oblique? Is it simply to much to say that Fine Art has collapsed and design - in all its forms - has quietly assumed its mantle?

Your quote omits what we thought was the most pertinent and interesting part of our post. It's frustrating -nay, downright irritating - that it has been so difficult to talk about what is really at stake here for design and designers. If folks are more concerned with whether or not they might be considered by us as "ambivalent" (again - ambivalent merely as to whether or not design functions as art) then, well....


vanessa kanan corrêa
06.07.04
05:11

I am curious as to what the alternatives would be if graphic design is not considered just one form of cultural production among many? I am not trying to be facetious, but would alternatives be more productive? The word "simply" in the above statement glosses over the fact that this is a recent development, not one that is reductive or one which has "consumed its course."

If institutions now place graphic design on par with painting, sculpture, architecture and film, how is this a shutting down of discourse rather than the openning up of possibilities? I do not believe that fine art has been displaced, rather, graphic design has been welcomed into the fold. It is a productive question because rather than focussing on false oppositions, we now have new areas of investigation, and new questions.
David Cabianca
06.07.04
06:03

Yes, yes, it does seem like a world of possibilities is opening up.

As we've maintained in all of our previous posts, this moment is a new moment in our perception of, relationship to, and use of design in and as culture.

The opposition between design and the Fine Art tradition is not a false one. Each type of object is marketed (created, sold, understood) in a different way. Each form has developed along different, if occasionally related or parallel, trajectories.

Our appreciation of the matter is that the Fine Art tradition, as it currently exists, has retreated from the forefront of the visual ecology of contemporary life.

That museums, galleries, collectors, publishers, etc. should now be turning to design is among the indications that design has assumed a preeminent position in that visual ecology.

Design is being collected because design speaks to and moves people. The designer - client - consumer relationship requires communication. Designers lack the narcissistic luxury afforded makers of Fine Art since Warhol. (Our reading of this tradition owes a lot to that of Donald Kuspit.)

Design, in short, is the art of our time. The Fine Art tradition doesn't function in the same way it did in 1932 or even 1962. The communicative symbolic shorthand, the visual language of our time is dictated by people we're calling designers.

The Fine Art tradition today does not live symbiotically with design: it lives parasitically off of the communicative and vital language established by design.

We're interested in the shift toward the preeminence of design disciplines (architecture, industrial design, graphic design, fashion) and away from traditions devoted to the autonomous art object. So long as communication (discursive and emotive) remains a necessity in the creation of an object, that object participates in the necessities of design.

We're obviously saying all of this too quickly, too briefly. Thomas Struth offers but one of many models of how the Fine Art tradition can continue to be relevant, inspiring, thoughtful, meaningful, pertinent, etc.

stuart kendall | vanessa kanan corrêa
06.07.04
09:34

I think it is important to note that the renewed interest in graphic design as a dispayable item opens up the opportunity to educate young designers in a whole new way about the power and energy behind design, as well as its role a cultural voice of dissent, agreement and outright expresser of ideals.

As most great design/art has come out of times and circumstances of oppression, this is not only an opportunity to see great design but see a visual interpretation of the history that shaped the design and the messages and changes it was able to impart on the world around us.

I don't know that I would go so far as to credit design as being the art of our time. Certainly their are works of design that can be called art but the goal and creation of design is not the same as Fine Art. This may seem simplistic, but I don't know how you can say that a commercially focused communications medium is the replacement or a part of a cultural shift away from the importance of personal expression that is seen in Fine Art. Certainly there are times when the lines blur but I while I see certain cultural value in all forms of design, I don't really look at them on a competitive basis for that value with FIne Art.

That being said, and as an Executive Board member of AIGA in Baltimore, I certainly am not ambivalent about the need to better educate the public about the important role design, particularly graphic design, has played, and continues to play in our society. It is my hope that this renewed interest in graphic design by the MOMA will give other museums the impetus to do the same.
Rob
06.08.04
03:05

Great thread. As a student in my 30s returning to school for my MFA I'm surprised, in discussions, how many students start off by saying that all design starts with the client problem. Or that the difference in design - from art - is that it's done for a client.

No doubt the majority of my work may be 'corporate' in nature, but I wish more students realized that design - the ability to communicate visually - is an endeaver unto itself that need not be compared to art (as in design aspires to be art), nor does a designer need a 'client' to be a designer and 'design'.

I think as we see design respected by institutions more broadly - such as museums - not as design that has achieved art status, but design as a cultural force AS DESIGN, we will start to see perceptions shift further.
Christopher
06.08.04
03:13

"I don't know that I would go so far as to credit design as being the art of our time. "

This is one example (and from an executive board member of AIGA Baltimore) of the amivalence to which we refer in our posts. We clearly demarcate, in our commentary, the parameters of this ambivalence as whether or not the design community perceives design as the art of our time.

The AIGA often does a great job of promoting design as such - we support the AIGA as a professional organization. However, we are interested in the relationship between design and culture.

Unlike Rob or Christopher, we believe, unequivocally, design is the art of our time ( see above posts for more extended support) - and we observe that MoMA, true to its mission, believes it is too.
stuart kendall | vanessa kanan corrêa
06.08.04
08:17

If "design is the art of our time" where does that leave "art"? This is quite on par with saying that "orange is the new pink".

I am yet to subscribe to the "design is art" school of thought because design is, um, design. Design's merits should be recognized as "design" instead of trying to elevate it to the status of art, as if that label will make design more important. Or is it simply a semantical issue, with design being inside a museum and all?

And, completely off-topic, this "two-headed blogger" thing is very confusing. Who's actually writing? Who's thoughts are we reading? Not that it matters to the discussion, but it's kind of medium-disrupting. Talk about ambivalency.
Armin
06.08.04
09:10

wow. are you kidding? co-authorship is not that complicated.
sk | vkc
06.08.04
09:35

It's called sarcasm. It's not that complicated either.
Armin | Armin
06.08.04
10:51

First, thank you Armin.

Second, to the tag-team bloggers, while you may not agree with my position, do not confuse it as ambivalence. I have no ambivalence about the role of design in society, I simply disagree with your proposition that it is the 'art of our time.' To try and characterize my position as ambivalence is simply a mistake on your part.
rob
06.09.04
12:10

Well, as tempted as I am, I won't try to continue to defend the the notion that design should not try to aspire to be art, beyond saying that I agree with David Cabianca's statement, "graphic design is a medium of cultural significance in its own right."

I think the trend is that design is starting to hold increasing significance to the general (museum going?) public. Or maybe *cultural relevence* may be the better word. Therefore it makes sense that a museum - a cultural institution - should want to include this important dialog in their collections.
Christopher
06.09.04
10:19

Zines in vitrines can't be all good.

Clearly there is something grossly simplistic in the assertion that design is the art of our time. How can someone assert this without without gesturing to any one of many problematic presumpositions that attend this claim? Is this promotion or observation?

I would agree that Hal Foster does make provocative claims for design but not without suggesting some of the more horrific implications of its increased cultural status. I'm thinking of his Design and Crime essay. Certainly there is something new afoot in the art/design question that warrants positive recognition but not without considering the sacrifices, the hidden costs, the trade-offs that attend this cultural shift.

As for MoMA's choice to expand its accessioning priorities, I appreciated Rick Poynor's care in isolating the importance of this for the sake of conservation and design history. Certainly there are costs to graphic design when it is packaged and delivered via a museum. Antonelli's announcemnt is more symptomatic of the changing status of the museum than an increased recognition of my occupation from society as a whole. My question I guess is, will a museum visitor actually stop to critically engage a piece of "good" graphic ephemera because MOMA is its framing device? or are we just cross marketing the museum store, now with even less guilt, with the gallery across the street? What are graphic design's cultural gains and losses when added to MOMA's ever diversifying cultural portfolio?
Will Temple
06.09.04
08:26

The idea that art is somehow not valid anymore is just ridiculous. Art has changed considerably since the 30s, but isn't that a major part of the definition of art. Maybe we should go back to the pre-Ren era when the only things that could be created were for the church or the wealthy. The fact is that art changes and just because people don't understand everything that is going on in the art world, doesn't make it out-dated. It's influence may not be on billboards or in 30 second segments in prime-time, but it is still there. The impact of a sub-culture can sometimes be more effective than any mass media campaign. Malcolm Gladwell makes some very convincing arguments concerning this in The Tipping Point.

Second of all, if we don't like where art has gone in the last 50 years, why would we want to display our work in its grand temple, the MoMA. It seems hypocritical to criticize art and then want to be in the very institution that has helped put it where it is today.

Will this renewed vigor of the Art Museums to beef up their design collection result in yet another distraction for designers trying to advance there careers or make an impact on history? Design periodicals, which I must admit I drool over, are already a distraction for designers. Will this be yet another venue that designers put before their intended audience or client?

Art has its place and so does design. They both affect culture in different ways. Design feeds off the art world and vice versa. They have completely different goals and ideals and I think it can only be dangerous to keep comparing our separate worlds. I may be repeating what Armin wrote, but I'll say it anyway. Saying design is the new art is like saying carpentry is the new plumbing. They are different and will keep on growing and changing regardless of your predictions of the future. Lets focus on elevating design to a new level while supporting our visual cousin, the Artist.
Bennett Holzworth
06.11.04
11:18

"... the Fine Art tradition, as it currently exists, has retreated from the forefront of the visual ecology of everyday life."

"The idea that art is somehow not valid anymore is just ridiculous."

I have much less trouble than some contributors to this thread in considering the claim that design is the art of our time. Clearly, design is central to the workings and texture (the ecology) of everyday life in a way that art is not. This is not to say that art is invalid or that it doesn't offer significant experiences - just that it's irrelevant for most people. Nor is it to say that this diminution of art is a good thing. My own view is that it's quite the opposite.

This claim is not, in any case, new. In the 1980s, the British design critic Stephen Bayley (who has since become that rare thing among design pundits: a figure in public life) would often assert that design was the true art of our age. This was all the more striking because he was by education an art historian. Bayley showed every sign of believing this extravagant claim for design, but he was also clearly saying it as an act of provocation, a way of attracting attention to design and to himself, and to stir things up.

It worked. In the 1980s, as director of a design gallery called the Boilerhouse at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Bayley staged a series of influential design exhibitions about Coca-Cola, Sony, robots, advertising, and British youth culture. With design retailer Terence Conran as his patron, he succeeded in building and opening the Design Museum in London - no small achievement. Bayley's first exhibition, cutting right to the heart of the matter, was titled "Commerce and Culture". In the early 1980s, a lot of people were waking up to the cultural possibilities and, yes, the aesthetic excitements, of design. I had studied art history myself and I felt the same way. In Britain, many people entered design at this point out of an instinctive sense that this, rather than art, was where the significant cultural developments would occur.

So this reorientation of art/design has been under way for some time. Again, I'm talking from a British perspective, but it was common to speak of the 1980s, even while they were happening, as the "design decade" - a recognition of increasing levels of public awareness about all kinds of design. And so it has continued. The existence of a book such as The Substance of Style by economist Virginia Postrel lends further weight to the "art of our time" thesis. For psychology prof Steven Pinker, quoted on the dust jacket, the book apparently documents a "major new phenomenon". What's really new, though, is that everyone at all social levels, not just the visually educated, is starting to notice and enjoy the changes that design has worked.

Certainly, this raises profound questions for art. In this fusion of commerce and culture, in which art also colludes, what becomes of the critical function that art once undertook? If design is now the dominant means of visual expression in our time (and, in that sense, its art), then can this missing criticality come from within design in anything other than the most sporadic and ultimately ineffectual forms?
Rick Poynor
06.12.04
03:18

Aganst Museumspeak

What candy for the brain this is! Yes, to use Rick Poynor's phrasing, design is central to the workings and texture of everyday life but to claim that design is the art of our time is to suggest that art, at some point, was a central part of the ecology of everyday life. When was this the case? Who believes this? I can't think of a time in western art history when the impact of art was even remotely comparable in its own period to the magnitude of design's impact today. In general, I think this discussion hinges on object-oriented constructions of the past as they've been produced by museums and consumed by museum goers.

If we are operating on a rough definition of art as the "dominant means of visual expression of our time" then I would agree that design could be construed as the art of our time. But how is this conception of art not entirely a construct of modern art museum culture and art history? The word expression alone is so heavily laden with references to subjectivity and romanticism. Isn't the idea of dominant means of expression not a more fascinating and powerful artifact (or blunt instrument) of our period than any work in a design museum? Indeed, how can we construct a more substantive graphic design criticism if we reproduce such constructs in our definitions of design today? (sorry to latch on to one contributor's phase, it's a good one, but loaded).

In general I think the notion that design is the art of our time is more opportunistic than enlightening. It rides the coattails of an established discipline in order to promote a very different kind of cultural circumstance. Just because art is recognizable does mean not we can bank on that recognition in selling design to the general public (or not without some sacrifices). The Design Museum and SFMOMA among others have profited from the marriage of art's aura with the market's commodity fetishism to fantastic success. The work of Bayley and Betsky therefore deserves our praise but what is the downside of this marriage? As for the final questions of Mr. Poynor's last post, I'm unclear on them and don't want to assume.
Will Temple
06.15.04
04:47

"They have completely different goals and ideals and I think it can only be dangerous to keep comparing our separate worlds."

I think it is more dangerous to continually amalgamate the whole of art history - from greek sculpture to impressionist paintings to Matthew Barney - into a single thing called Art against which to pit this equally diverse thing called Design. How can we debate the one's relevence over the other when no one is really capable of defining either?

Not that a definition is necessary or even desired. Chris Ware is a comic book illustrator and a typographer and a designer and a writer, so what 'kind' of object does that make Jimmy Corrigan? Why is that a question worth considering? Is it contextually interesting? Effective in its intention? Beautiful and honest? Yes? Then, hurrah, it is worth looking at. Why is it so hard to accept the thing for the thing and judge its merits based on the thing alone?
Ahrum Hong
06.15.04
09:12

Ahrum,
I appreciate your comment but no thing, unfortunately, is just a thing, no matter how matter how beautiful and honest. I wouldn't underestimate the importance of categories, you just used four of them to define the work of Chris Ware. Establishing, subverting, and re-defining categories is important to any critical practice.

Rick,
Michael Bierut wrote on his recent "The Idealistic Corporation" thread that you advocate for ""independent" work: projects of a more personal nature that may never extend beyond a small, specialized audience of connoisseurs" Is this one example of the kind of strategy which leads to, as you say, "the most sporadic and ultimately ineffectual forms"?
Will Temple
06.17.04
04:07

'Establishing, subverting, and re-defining categories is important to any critical practice.'

And enormously important to any creative practice. But for me, 'subversion' and 're-definition' comes from the thing itself and the way it fits into the context of all the similar things produced before it. The "graphic novel" was not typically seen as a designed work, but Chris Ware came along and infused it with painstaking typography and 'dynamic' page compositions and a simplistic iconic drawing style, and suddenly Jimmy Corrigan is the greatest design achievement of the last five years. What if Jimmy Corrigan had been drawn in a more ragged style, the colors weren't so flat, and the typography had a greater evidence of the hand? Would it still be considered a designed work? Similarly, does Christopher Wool's use of typography make him a designer as well as a fine artist? These questions hold my interest longer than a general argument about whether 'design' is or is not 'art.' But I'm still not convinced that even these more specific inquiries are truly important to unravel; I am content with taking in what these creators have to offer the world in their respective mediums, in seeing how specific mediums are pushed and recombined with others, irrespective of whether the thing I am looking at is 'art' or 'design.'
Ahrum Hong
06.17.04
05:51

(Ahrum,) For my part in this discussion, unraveling the differences between art and design is irrelevant. This would be like trying to define what patriotism means to the Bush administration. I'm interested in how the terms are used and speculating about the motivations of that usage (versus others). I don't believe categories shift because the things themselves demand it. Objects don't make categories, people do. You make it seem like the cultural sensibilities and occupational agendas of people observing objects are less important than their descriptions of them. Objects rest in colorful but corrosive pools of discourse. Analyzing that discourse might be as important as insightful appellation. We are off topic.
Will Temple
06.19.04
04:30

Will - Michael's summary of what I said during our discussion about independent designers makes it sound rather bleak and I don't recall using the word "connoisseurs" either. In fact, I hoped I was being positive. I was making the point that there is nothing wrong with addressing and appealing to small audiences. If people gain something useful and inspiring from a particular communication, then that's culturally and socially a worthwhile thing. We need as much of this as possible - as opposed to the bland, idiotic and manipulative content offered by so much mass-market communication of all kinds.

Still, the question has to be asked about the extent to which design might embody some form of resistance to, or critique of, the society whose operations it exists to serve. Designers who choose to stay independent, to follow their own paths of inquiry, and not submit to corporate imperatives are certainly implying some form of critique. (Elsewhere on Design Observer, this has been discussed in terms or the "autonomous designer".)

Is this kind of resistance effective? It depends how you want to measure this. Will it lead to fundamental change in the body politic? That's unlikely. Might it contribute to a climate of alternatives in which other possibilities can be explored by those who find them meaningful? Yes, it might. Could this also be possible within the corporate sphere? Perhaps, if we treat that sphere as what Hakim Bey called a temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) and accept that any "undercover" strategic interventions attempted within this zone are likely to be shortlived - at which point you simply bow to the inevitable, move on and look for another TAZ.

We are beginning to connect up with Michael's "Idealistic Corporation" thread here.
Rick Poynor
06.21.04
12:55

This is to let you know The Estate of Abram Games has just launched
an Abram Games website. Please take a look when you can.

> http://www.abramgames.com


Many thanks
Best wishes
Naomi
Naomi Games
06.23.04
05:51

Thank you Rick for responding to my question. The issue of design's ability to critique culture remains an open question. I'm of the mind that any substantive criticality must be limited and necessarily of a sporadic nature. Which then puts into question the idea of ultimate ineffectuality. If successful, is this not ultimate enough?

Rick uses the verb "embody" in reference to design's potential for resistance to the society. The notion of embodiment is, in this profession of objects and object-makers, constructively ambiguous. How do designers embody? So often this question ends in the visual object, which of course is a debasement of the notion. The problem with the issue of criticality is that its import to a designer is often inversely proportional to its legibility in a designed object. The more one inhabits the position of the critical designer, the more one recognizes that this position has little visual outlet. This condition seems in fundamental conflict with the professional ethos of graphic design. Designers, in order to rise to their title, must necessarily position complexity as a problem to be solved visually rather than an entrenched condition to be understood on its own terms. Invariably designers must present to their clients visible solutions to complexity. One question I have, based on readings in design history, is whether or not these visual means, by which design is apprehended by a client and eventually by society, do in fact represent the work of the designer. No doubt design's mixed origins in art reinforce the notion that a designed object is authored like an art object. In addition, the profound status of art as an object is a seductive model to adopt by those who would wish to see a wider public engagement in design. This privileging of design as an object, via the art museum system however is constructive and destructive simultaneously. Art is an object, therefore design must be as well. By our (designers and critics) relentless occupational retreat back to the object we, rather uncritically, elide the complexity of difference between the work of the designer and a designed work. Needless to say the design curator's co-opting of the practices of visual merchandising as a form of cultural product placement, does little to shore up the damages of this elision. All of this seems germane for considering how, as Rick writes, "...design might embody some form of resistance to, or critique of, the society whose operations it exists to serve."

That said, stewing in the issue of embodiment seems practical now for considering the place of criticality in design. Sorry if I ran the wrong way with it. To return to the thread's subject, is the idea of a "design museum" not oxymoronic? Is it not in a way beneath design itself to share a space with "art" objects, which are so effective precisely because they were designed for the museum? How can we keep a straight face when viewing a reel of movie titles in a gallery when we know the Kiefer painting or Gober installation down the street were so clearly intended for such spaces? Is not a designer's intent a constitutive part of the object that is erased by this specimen making? This is an old saw but no less pertinent today.

Will Temple
06.23.04
03:17

design might not want to critique culture.

design might want to make culture.

the visual object is not a debasement of the notion of embodiment. it is one manifestation of it.

what's this about problems and solutions? who says? why? what books you reading? 'necessarily'? careful about grounding an argument in assumption or misinformation.

don't know any designers who might be doing any of the eliding you're on about: they're too busy doing the work. or watching the european cup.

mind is in and around the work. by talking to the people who are involved in the work you can find out about it. then you can have a think and make your own stories. it's easy.

yes-a design museum is an oxymoron. but there's also free drink at all the openings.

graham
06.23.04
05:11

Will, can you please clarify why, by your statements, it seems acceptable that industrial design and architecture have an acceptable place within the museum's walls while graphic design does not? Both architecture and industrial design rely on clients to produce work even moreso than graphic design. I am hard pressed to believe that [some] architecture doesn't offer a source of critical refuge from the debased condition of modernity (whether the client who funds the work is aware of it or not).

I just purchased a copy of Nederlandse Postzegels designed by Irma Boom in 1989 and in it, I recognize the same qualities of serenity, beauty and joy I found when visiting a number of buildings designed by Herzog+de Meuron in Basle a few years ago. Not every book displays "what could be" but then nor does every work of architecture.
David Cabianca
06.23.04
07:22

Graham, what do you get out of being glib? As for your "who says?" and use of the term "necessarily", I appreciate your criticism, I did make a sweeping generalization there. "Being to busy" to elide is nonsensical. The elision I speak of is rarely conscious. As for current readings, they include John Ruskin's, Stones of Venice, Charles Ashbee's Craftsmanship in Competitive Industry and T.J. Lears' No Place of Grace.

David, I didn't mean to suggest that its unacceptable that museums collect graphic design, I wanted to talk about the goofy quality these artifacts take when placed under glass and made to behave according to museum manners. It doesn't sit well and I think there is something revealing there, another smoking gun perhaps. You mention architecture, which I think is more convincing in a gallery because it isn't read as an object unto itself. Architecture curators obviously rely upon sketches, drawings and models. These objects work because their status as objects is ambiguous. Their "voice" is often authoritative and fantastical simultaneously but it speaks to a more popularized imagination of built space. In my opinion, these forms are quite effectively self referential and representational at the same time. In addition, drawings and models, quite literally and conveniently, represent the work of the designer. Industrial and Graphic design objects however, are not effective in the gallery because they are not adequately ambiguous. A movie title is a movie title. A snowshoe a snowshoe. The ability of a movie title to split itself into, as Ahrum termed, the "thing-itself" and the systems of thought and representation adjacent to and preceding the thing-itself is a near impossible task for a museum gallery to pull of, much as we would like it to. A museum goer is blinded by their own literacy and the object's legibility at the same time. Hence, the goofy. I'm sure the Boom piece is how you describe, but what would your grandmother get out of the experience?
Will Temple
06.25.04
01:53

My grandmother's tastes would level the same criticism at the Boom designed book as she would of Mies' Barcelona Pavilion, a Rothko painting, or a work by Serra. She would much rather prefer an inculabula, St Peter's Cathedral, a painting by Titian and a sculpture by Michaelangelo, and would never truely be able to articulate why. True, architects are the only artists who don't work in their own medium, they work in terms of representations of the final piece. But this neither adds nor detracts from the validity of their work.

Ironically, your point about the hand of the architect residing in the sketch or model is a rather romantic notion. I would counter that individuals like Andre, Judd and Serra have overcome the belief that authenticity is granted by the artist's hand.

I still believe that it is possible for graphic design to exceed the limits of the message contained by the object, that a designer can depict a vision of the world independent of the exegencies of the immediate "client message." We see that is the work of Andrew Blauvelt, Jennifer Sterling, Irma Boom and the German firm Cyan among others. I bring these individuals and firms up because their is a respectively consistent output there. And to me, that suggests a particular perspective independent from the object.

The possibility of being able to "pull off" external systems of representation is not excluded from graphic design--it is after all, a product of culture. I don't think that the vocabulary has been developed yet. When I wrote in the "Annals of Academia, Part II" that a course like "Theories of the Surface: William Morris to David Carson" should be offered in graphic design school, I intended that such a course would help lift off the veil of the "immediate message" of graphic design, to in effect "themeatize and theorize" it (please forgive the fact that I am making a noun into a verb). My intention is to point out that graphic design IS a lot more ambiguous than we give it credit. I think that the MoMA's decision to start collecting it is a similar moment of recognition.

[Full disclosure: Will and I were classmates at Cranbrook Academy.]
David Cabianca
06.25.04
06:00

architects are the only artists who don't work in their own medium, they work in terms of representations of the final piece.

Only? Unless they're handmaking their final works, this describes graphic designers, too. Hmm...
Kenneth FitzGerald
06.26.04
09:39

Nope. Architects work in representations of their final works. They can't build a full scale buiding, see if they like it, toss it aside and make another. They do have full scale mock-ups made (to see how a material might weather, etc.), but these are details that are taken to represent the whole and are very expensive. There is even a legality attached to this aspect of what architects do: unlike a contractor, an architect cannot put a lien against a building if a client does not pay. This is because the client is paying the architect for services rendered and not the actual matertials used.

Graphic designers do work in representations of their final work but basically, a laser print is a lot closer to the final output than an architect's blueprint, even if overprinting or sophisticated binding is involved.
David Cabianca
06.27.04
12:39

I stand corrected. After thinking about it, the degree of abstraction doesn't exclude graphic design from the distancing effect or representation.

Thank you Kenneth, new material to ponder...
David Cabianca
06.27.04
04:20

I think the architectural tradition presents, if only in subtle, indirect and obscure ways, a better model for the museumification of design objects. I think inherent ambiguity is a strength in such presentations. I agree there is MUCH more ambiguity in graphic design than we give it credit for. I suppose this is a task of future theorizing and historizing, to tease out the factors pushing g.d. out of radar range. Indeed, David rooted out the romantic in me. I've been known to well up at the sight of a sketch by Mies. I thought it was amusing to call Andre, Judd and Serra "individuals." Although these folks' work does question the notion of artist's authenticity, when I think of molten lead burned through a wood floor, the signified "Serra" comes soon after. The fact that some objects are inextricably linked with particular surnames (and the association of those names with subjectivity, inspiration, genius, etc) is another thing we should hold in check when theorizing about graphic design. That said, I would tend to agree with recognizing the consistency of work from Blauvelt and especially Cyan, but once again, we're pointing to very self-conscious designers to advance an idea.

I appreciated the idea that we have yet to develop a vocabulary. I think David is absolutely right. As another service provider for the promotion of objects and their makers, our critical languages remain impoverished. I really enjoyed imagining your classes being taught. I look forward to a day when g.d. programs are large enough to provide such special focused courses!

That said, I advocate for a show that is about more popularly recognized instances of graphic design. How about a show of junk-mail for example? Or one that exhibits the uses (from gene engineering to business cards) of the word "print."? Why must graphic design be the product of "designers"? How can we talk intelligently about what graphic design is without acknowledging that an important part of our practices is relegating a vast majority of the world's graphic output to the status of "bad design"? As the old saying goes—know your enemy. To qualify, is not the same thing as using "the vernacular" as design inspiration.
Will Temple
06.30.04
11:14

How can we talk intelligently about what graphic design is without acknowledging that an important part of our practices is relegating a vast majority of the world's graphic output to the status of "bad design"?

We can't. But I won't support the "enemy" categorization. This may be analogous to photography, where the vast majority of images are "snapshots," documents whose purpose is quite different from professional/art photography. Some people have written about this but I can't recall who. The work of people like Nan Goldin may exhibit how "art" photography has incorporated this concern. How does it relates to design? I don't know if it can but it's interesting to consider....
Kenneth FitzGerald
06.30.04
11:39

Hello Kenneth
Sorry for delay, road-trippin. All right, "enemy" is hyperbolic. How about "know your other"? (but then comes the question, what's an other?)

I agree, this is analogous to photography and I would add architecture. Yes, there is writing on photography in this vein. I'm thinking of Victor Burgin for one. Wouldn't you agree that there is a way of thinking about graphic design that is foreclosed when attentions continue to fall upon the author or agency of design production instead of design's place as, say, "a condition of culture" or "a condition of contemporary consciousness"? (this traditional attention to the subject seems represented by your citing of Nan Goldin as an example) I don't see this condition being articulated from within the profession so long as the design occupation remains dominated by the primacy of "purpose" or "function". I also don't see influential or convincing writing produced to articulate these conditions of design coming from outside the profession. If it was to come from the outside, I question how convincing it would be for graphic designers and therefore its influence long term. The populist, ahistorical and critically challenged analysis of Virginia Poestrel's The Substance of Style is a current example. Rather than a professional vs. lay issue, I see this problem foundering mostly at the entry levels of the field and its attendant stigma (among those more intellectually inclined) as a lesser form of personal expression. Any thoughts ?
Will Temple
07.06.04
12:23

Understanding just why is there a debate between computer art and fine art is what I am trying to do. I think anyone wants his or her work to be respected as valuable. What does the process of making the artwork do for the artisan? Where is the place in society for that artwork to be valued? Whether by computer or by traditional hand skills, just what is so special about grapic design generated by computers? Why is it that computer generated art is so much more highly prized than any other form of art? Or on the other hand, why is work traditionally labeled art supposed to be so much better than graphic design? What is the importance to humanity? Are the skills of a studio artist any greater or lesser than the skills of a graphic designer? A graphic designer may have built up hand skills in the studio, or maybe not. Why is one so much better than the other?
Brandye Lynn Snead
10.05.04
10:54



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