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four-dimensional design

Post #12 • May 13, 2003, 6:06 PM

You read it here first: one day, not soon but within the span of my teaching career, foundation programs at art schools are going to teach not only two- and three-dimensional design, but four-dimensional design. Many of the new media have a time element: performance, video, motion of one kind or another. Even installation, which can’t be taken in all at once, unfolds for the viewer over time.

The trick will be to maintain the Bauhaus genius of 2DD and 3DD. They require simple, non-proprietary materials – gouache and illustration board for the former, cardboard and glue for the latter – and are taught in an abstract, open way that makes the information usable across all creative disciplines. Four-dimensional design should embrace the same principles. Teaching it in Flash would be an abomination.

I got to thinking about this in preparation for a panel discussion about art and academe put together by Alfredo Triff and moderated by Gene Moreno, which took place April 23. I lamented the fact that the only figurative sculptor capable of working in marble left town a couple of years ago and it is no longer possible to learn his skills without leaving Miami. This led to Moreno referring to marble as a fetish material, and suggested at different times that sneakers could be used just as well to teach sculpture or that Google searching might be a more current way of teaching design skills. I went around those points, saying that anything, including marble sculpture and sneaker assemblages and Google searches ought to be possible in an ideal art school – who are we to dictate what the future will be? Along the way I hinted that sneakers could be just as much of a fetish material as marble. This point is usually lost on anti-traditionalists – the non-art look is as big of a stale construct as the art look. Bigger, even.

But instead of going around, I should have smashed into it head-on. Marble is superior to sneakers and Google as an art material because it is simple and non-proprietary. Walter Darby Bannard has already pointed out that there are more sculptural possibilities using clay than motorcycles because motorcycles are a more complex unit to work with. Sneakers would be an intermediate example of the same deficiency.

The non-proprietary nature of the material is crucial. Who makes sneakers? Nike, Puma, Adidas, et al. Who makes marble? That is a question for theologians. Who makes Google? That’s easy enough to answer. Who makes chisels? Anybody with bronze-age technology and a forge; there’s no patent on them. Proprietary media shackle you to the imagination of technicians, which is always more limited than that of the artists. (This is one reason why our school goes through such pains to teach computer animation majors to draw. With a pencil. On paper.) Working with the open source, as it were, is the most powerful metaphor we have for the good news about being a creator: with will and skill, anything can be accomplished. You find that glad fact by searching within, not by searching on Google.

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