Post #1036 • August 20, 2007, 11:31 AM • 20 Comments
I will soon begin teaching design students again. I enjoy doing so; design students approach what they do with great eagerness and competitiveness, on the whole. Unlike as in the past, though, I'm doing so at a time when my primary creative project is The Moon Fell On Me and not painting. I haven't stopped painting, but I did have to make a choice between optimizing my studio for the webcomic or oil painting, and I chose the former. I try not to think about the trajectory of my work too much (I call it "being your own art historian," and I find it the opposite of inspirational), but instead try to identify the most vital and interesting (to me) thing going on in the studio and drive it forward. These days, the webcomic has the wind in its sails.
Design is therefore jumping out at me with particular vigor. Although I haven't written much here over the summer, I've been busy elsewhere. KH at The Next Few Hours made an interesting point not long ago, that "design is coming to trump everything."
I think that art was long ago occupied by design, and not just in an intellectual occupation (the high/low arguments). As art became more and more something to own individually rather than collectively (museums and other public venues), it came to be more similar to everything else which was designed to be owned individually.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to explore this. I challenged a feminist assertion in her post, at which point she disdained everything else I had to say and asked me not to comment again on her blog. (I think postmodernists call this "privileging a narrative.") I still think it's a good idea, though, partly for the reason she claims, and partly because a field, in order to progress, requires agreement on what makes it good. Design has that agreement to a greater degree than art right now.
I explored this elsewhere this summer as well, at Ed Winkleman's blog.
Without this agreement you can't assign value in a confident way, and without a mechanism to assign value you start looking for external markers like auction prices, whether the major collectors are interested, the artist's age, and so on. Again, the remedy will be balkanization - just let the groups divvy up according to common interest and narrow in on what they need to think about to advance.
Although some of EW's regulars did their best to misread it, I think styles form in exactly this manner - common interest and competition based on a agreed parameters. Note that the agreement must generate from inside the interested group. People have to win each other over as colleagues. Only one thing has changed for art in comparison to the past in this respect: these groups of colleagues are shrinking in size as they diversify in kind.
Design is doing the opposite. Once a procession of honored townspeople delivered a Raphael altarpiece to its niche. More recently, folks camped in lines for an iPhone. I don't mean to sound like a scold, nor do I mean to characterize the Raphael and the iPhone as equivalent. Rather, I'd like to assert that for all the thought given to the art world, we have not given enough to what constitutes that world, what it does, and what remains constant within it over time.