As I sat through a lively group of architects, artists, industrial designers, and craftsman argue the virtues and vices of the furniture design industry the other night as part of SHOWPDX, I was struck by the fact that we are witnessing within product design, and perhaps other disciplines in general, a discord – perhaps discords of sorts – the discord between those that create as an expression (and call themselves artists), and those that create for someone else and someone else’s purpose (we’ll call this person a designer as a defacto term). Add into the mix the notion of mass production and industrial manufacturing and it all goes to hell in a handbasket very quickly. But why is that?
Perhaps the discord has always existed, perhaps it is exacerbated more now, than ever in our DYI/penny-
Meyer May House Dining Room
pinching economy. As an architect of training myself, I have felt the discord ever since architecture school when we were told that architects were ‘master craftsmen’. We were taught to create according to the principles of design – balance, unity, rhythm, emphasis, proportion. Frank Lloyd Wright was the epitome of total craftsman – even dictating what his clients should wear and eat on in their own dining rooms. He was accused at times of sneaking back into his clients’ homes and (re) arranging the furniture.
But what happened to the person that has to occupy that beauty? At what level does personal expression dictate how someone else has to live, feel, or think? What do you think the Meyer May family felt when they woke up to find their furniture re-arranged? (Hopefully they know what they signed up with Wright – his reputation as a control freak often proceeded him).
I think there’s a choice that is made when you set out to make something – be it a chair, a space, a painting, a whatever. It is either for yourself with your needs/agenda in mind, or it’s on the behalf of someone else’s
needs and agenda. Neither is ‘selling out’. In fact, I would like to do away with that term all together. But the choice should be a conscious one. And knowing when either is appropriate, is all the more important. When rallying against the market for not accepting your ‘art,’ I think we need to remember again its purpose. Neither are bad. But there is something to be said for working with the tide, rather than against it. In fact, I think Karim Rashid has a poetic way of talking about this. Someone who, at first glance, can easily be perceived as a blobitecture artist. But back to the hot button issue of manufacturing – he has chosen to understand its constraints (or freedoms), and work with them rather than against them:
Today poetic design is based on a plethora of complex criteria: human experience, social behaviors, global, economic and political issues, physical and mental interaction, form, vision, and a rigorous understanding and desire for contemporary culture. Manufacturing is based on another collective group of criteria: capital investment, market share, production ease, dissemination, growth, distribution, maintenance, service, performance, quality, ecological issues and sustainability. The combination of these factors shape our objects, inform our forms, our physical space, visual culture and our contemporary human experience. These quantitative constructs shape business, identity, brand and value. This is the business of beauty. (Karim Rashid)
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