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I liked this show for all the wrong reasons.

Forum > Reviews

Usual Procedure

Graphic design students from the school of fine ar at Ash Street Warehouse
20 Aug 2005 - 27 Aug 2005

Lee-looking-profound-1 by Artbasher
18 Comments
Article of the Month August 2005
UsualProcedure01 I liked the mistakes - the white paper hiding the data-projector, the badly painted graffiti, the Fuck Stains with no microphones on their drums, the dust in the air because the space had only just been swept, the work still being hung as visitors arrived, that the projection screen fell down half-way through the evening and was crooked anyway. I liked how the old warehouse setting was totally loaded and begging for site specific work, but mostly the work had nothing to do with the site. I liked that the designers were casual and open in talking about their work and didn't seem too attached to their ideas.

Perhaps I liked it because it made me feel better about my own work. I could see problems they had not fixed, so that makes me smarter than them, right? But I think beyond the problems, what I liked was a strong creative energy and fresh vision of these designers making art.

It was not the usual procedure. There was no dealer or curator to fix these errors. For most it's their first exhibition and they haven't learned to self-"correct."

The catalogue explains that the students have been researching through design, on a personally chosen topic, "practicioner-centered, and speculative or poetic in nature." This sounds remarkably like they have been told, "go and make art." Artists these days inevitably talk about "research" and "practice." There is crossover between design and contemporary art. Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and , or closer to home, Stelarc, Aaron and Hannah Beehre, Neil Dawson, Phil Price and Simon Morris (the list goes on), all work in the manner of designers. The works are conceived, planned into products and finally made by assistants or sub-contractors. Even artists who work in a material and process driven rather than conceptually driven way, self-curate conceptual positions and then design work to those ideas.

What separates art and design, is that generally the designer's idea is not his own. When these students leave art school, they will not be able to continue their personal research. They will have to work with different ideas for each client. Maxence Lozach will not be able to perform pranks for his clients, Katherine Shearer may have to design jewellery advertisements and Jared Davidson may have to make TV graphics. Designers have to be flexible and this was evident in Usual Procedure. The ideas they are pursuing are openly discussed and clear in the work. Artists prefer to a mysterious demeanour, holding their ideas closer to themselves. I am not advocating literalism; I respect subtle artists and designers. However with artists I often find subtlety to be a poor cover for conceptual vacancy and vagueness – which is not an option for a designer, who has to be able to explain himself to his client. I like this hesitancy and wariness of the designer to commit to his ideas. – He recognises the transitory and fickle nature of conceptual fashion. The ideas he works with are not his and over time many ideas will come and go. It gives him a freshness that the artist who has been thrashing out the same idea for half a life-time lacks.

Usual Procedure lays bare the fallacy of an art-world obsessed with ideas vis-à-vis ideas. With design, it makes little sense to concentrate on the ideas themselves. One rather examines how extensively, productively, creatively and thoroughly the designer has researched the idea. Immediately one sees which works stand or fall.

The contemporary art-world would do well to learn from this and instead of purely looking at the idea itself and how trendy it is, looking at the research and activity the artist has actually produced.

And now, to talk about the actual work. With only a small sample from each student, it is difficult to gauge the thoroughness of their research, although unmistakably some have come to more finalised products

If one's project is pranking, then I expect a prank at the opening – I'm sure it would have been well received. Nevertheless, the photographs were excellent. The designer at his desk, the epitome of seriousness, but also a jester with pointing device in hand. The tiger light-box and stress-diary by Anita Liu were beautiful, perfectly constructed and clearly the products of lengthy introspection – however, I totally missed the supposed investigation of the eastern-garden. She and one other had out-sourced the manufacture of their work, something those who did not could have learned from and avoided poor construction and presentation. However, I am not sure of the correct approach to deal with this issue. Conceivably, some students had excellent plans, but could not afford to pay experts to make their work. Perhaps guidelines need to be drawn. Is the course teaching professional practice, where designers can call on the skills of others, or rather the process of design and creation, where the students learn the limitations of their own productive skills?

Aimee Aiken's work deserves description. Aiken sent out a bulk email to a few hundred design bosses worldwide, asking them about design and their role in the design process. She received around thirty replies and had them bound into a book, in order of return, formatted exactly as they arrived in her in-box. This illustrated the default templates these designers use on their computers, and emphasised the variety that designers can give to text – from the banal hotmail default to something that looks seriously cool. She further assembled these responses into a screen-saver animation where they were automatically typed and erased from the screen, a fitting recycled product from the background of a designer's electronic and media saturated existence. Of course, Aiken strays from the brief in that this work is most certainly about design. Paper hiding the projector and memories of seventh form statistics aside, it was a well contained and developed project.

The catalogue states a hope that this show sets a precedent for years to come. Will it happen again? Or will future students take themselves too seriously? I can see the design department easily slipping into a conceptual art department and becoming overly concerned with ideas themselves. The change to design through research rather than design about design has only been recent. The students in this exhibition have been exposed to both schools and I'm sure this is the cause of their openness and energetic approach to their ideas. Hopefully a balance in future education will maintain the freshness and vigour I enjoyed in this show.

A final note - fantastic catalogue and flyers. Brown rough card with bright orange-pink ink, not much explanation and each page as a rip out postcard - design as product through and through.

I know the design students check this site, so hopefully we'll see some comments . . .


usual_procedure02 usual_procedure03 usual_procedure04


Comments:
1 to 18 of 18
Guest
40 comments since 22 Aug 2005
Design about design

Artbasher, thanks for reviewing this show. The whole process has been an odd and frustrating one for me. I'm dissapointed, but not suprised, that none of the students have responded here yet. I wanted to respond in regard to a couple of things . . .

I would like to state that the students have not been told to “go and make art", actually the opposite — we talked about being wary of attempting to make art simply because you're being required to exhibit work. I think it's important to note that the design department at Canterbury is 'within' an art school, and this inevitably makes a difference to the way students in design see not only their own practices, but the tradition of the discpline as well. But, having said all that, I can obviously see how the show would be (and has been) read as designer's making (bad) art.

It's interesting that you engaged with its shonkiness, because of course this aspect of it really bugged me! Arriving at the opening to find the band still soundchecking, not lights set up, and a major sponsor standing in the corner not knowing who to talk to or what he was supposed to be doing, really pissed me off. This was all closely related to the fact that nothing really worked with the site . . . there had been no overall curation, each just dealt with their own work in their own 'bit'. Maybe I should have jumped in in that respect, but I think it's important that it all remained in their hands. Hopefully, if this does indeed set a precedent, future shows will become increasingly more resolved.

When you say "these students leave art school, they will not be able to continue their personal research" you're making a sweeping generalisation. Designers, for hundreds of years, have always undertaken 'personal research' . . . the good ones anyway. The one thing Aaron and I are really pushing at school is that the students develop a practice that 'exists' whether they are being briefed/paid or not. In my experience, and with all the other designers I admire, it is this work outside of the commercial environment that actually feeds back into jobs for clients, and makes that work not only better, but more engaging, enjoyable and sustaining for the designer/client/audience.

The last thing I wanted to clear up was that we advocate 'research through design' and not 'design through research'. By research through design, we mean that the 'research'—the generation of knowing/knowledge—comes from within the process of designing. This is different to the way the course was run in the respect that we don't require the students to have it all-figured-out before they indulge the desiging part of the research. So the desiging IS the research. In this respect I'd argue that the course is, now more than ever, design about design (but in a different way if you know what I mean?).

Luke Wood
Head of Design
University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
I still say it's art . . .

Because the students have developed and chosen the concept and set the limits of their work themselves. To allow the students so much freedom is to give them what an artist has - total creative licence. I see the fundamental difference between art and design is the position, role and requirements of the client, or lack thereof.

What keeps this show "design" rather than "art" is that the work looks like design - the students are clearly aware of (commercial) design in the world and it's history, and working under it's influences. Contemporary artists, on the other hand, are informed, influenced by and responding to art and art history.

I'm sure you're right that the best designers carry out their own personal research; I’d just rephrase that to say, "The best designers also make art." I also think the converse of that is true - the best artists also are designers.

Thanks to you too for contributing Luke.
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
Wrong about art and design, Artbasher

Artbasher's final comments to Luke Wood are astonishingly oblivious of some of the key contributors to the history of twentieth century art - ignoring [for example] Dada,Duchamp,Fluxus,Conceptual Art and Neo-conceptualism.

Design and art are independent entities that have a contingent, not necessary, relationship. Some of the best designers don't make art. Some of the best artists never design. I'm astounded that any informed person would think otherwise.

Maybe nobody studies art history in Christchurch?
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Beg your pardon?

If Duchamp wasn't a designer, I don't know who is. The more conceptual the artist, the more they work as a designer (if they are any good that is) - they hone in on their idea, in a very methodical way. The works are a means to their conceptual ends. Allow me to modify my statement. Rather than, "The best artists are also designers," Shall I say, "Some of the best artists know how to think like designers."
PickmansModel
1 articles & 35 comments since 15 Nov 2005
one two think blue

One might argue that in some historical cases Artbasher is right. Shame on you John for not recalling the example of the Renaissance - Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Celini. But today, no. Designers must be practical and unambiguous - artists suffer no such constraints. Both deal with content in quite different ways - and when art does deal with content in the same way as design, it is usually weaker for it.
One would hardly say Barbara Kruger thinks like a designer, except in as far as she parodies it as a feminist commenting on the commodification of women.
Duchamp wasn't a designer precisely because he had no direct, unambiguous message to transmit.
Would you say Ann Geddis is exactly the same as Man Ray?
John Hurrell
122 articles & 1507 comments since 2 Dec 2005
bye bye design appeal

PickmansModel and Artbasher are both quite wrong with their opposing examples;for Barbara Kruger used to be employed as a designer for Vogue, and Duchamp with his 'standard stoppages' etc - dropping pieces of string or firing of paintloaded matchsticks from cannons - shows the opposite of a design mindset.
We all know surely that a lot of art now is calculatedly nonvisual, being focused on sonics, social interaction or philosophical argument and having nothing to do with the considered placement of visual elements on a page or canvas. More than this, much art is in fact anti-visual in emphasis - ie.hostile to retinal appeal. [Read Martin Jay, Rosalind Kraus and Jonathan Cary for the theory]. Some even spurns documentation [visual or otherwise] so it won't be contaminated by any visual presentation whatsoever: good examples being Ian Wilson and Tino Sehgal.
Art doesn't have to be linked with visuality. Design is just one set of conventions out of many used by artists.
PickmansModel
1 articles & 35 comments since 15 Nov 2005
Che sara sara

Yes John, Kruger was a designer for Vogue, but it's presumptuous to suggest that it is the hat she wears to make her art. Or, at least, I am not convinced that is her intent. You could probably say that of all pop and post-pop art. Warhol started as a graphic designer, but in his art that relates more to technique than content - same with Kruger, and by your own argument, art is more than purely retinal.
Chimp
39 comments since 27 Oct 2005
The horror, the horror

"The dadaist is a man of reality who loves wine, women, and advertising."
- Huelsenbeck 1920

And thus Dada's goal to dissolve the boundaries between art and life was achieved in the 20th century. Art was, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant. It was through advertising that the people now engaged with images and ideas. But it was ok, artists did really well in that industry... many head honchos at big glitzy ad agencies came from art backgrounds, not design schools.
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Mini-essay

There are several different ideas being discussed here.

To clear up my original position:

My original point was that art differs from design in that the designer, but not the artist, has a brief and is constrained in their creative work.

However, if as Luke Wood contests, designers can undertake research “through design” with no brief or end in mind, it’s a bit trickier to differentiate them from artists.

When a designer undertakes personal research, I think they probably do have occasional briefs in mind. For example, as part of his MFA, Luke Wood designed posters to advertise his band. These posters were also part of Luke’s investigation of a concept: “Monstrosity,” or some such thing. This is presumably the personal research Luke is referring to. Because he is investigating this idea, it makes his designed products a lot cooler - even if he was working for some big corporation rather than his band.

But wait a moment. Doesn't that sound similar to the artist who has concepts that he is continuously engaged with, and regularly makes specific works for different exhibitions and environments? Why yes.

At that point, it seems the only way remaining to differentiate is which historical tradition and social group the practitioner is engaging with. And I think that sort of a social / historical definition is rather meaningless. I say the difference still lies in that in his individual finished works, the artist has a freer (or even non-existent) brief compared to the designer.

But the best artists also have an audience and know it – and make work for that audience. And to the extent that they do so, they become designers. That can go too far and become interior decoration, or it can go the opposite way, and be obnoxious. The best artists find a medium between the freedom of art and the focus of design.

In addition:

John, I feel like you’re trying to pin design down as, “Considered placement of visual elements on a page,” And argue that art is more than this.

Of course art is more than this, but so is design. Every sound you hear on TV or your computer or in a Movie has been designed. Then think of game designers who design the concept of the game, levels and game-play. Copy-writing too is a kind of design.

It’s not just art that can be “retina-hostile.” Look no further:





I could get paid for putting things like that on this website if I wanted.

Now I want to make a very conservative argument. I say that a lot of the art movements you mention, that are retina-hostile and calculatedly non-visual, trade on the implicit expectation of audiences that art is retina-friendly and visual. That’s why this work creates a fuss with the uneducated, and it’s why it’s interesting for the rest of us. But it actually requires and depends on certain expectations about art, and thus also re-enforces those expectations. That’s why people haven’t gotten “used” to skill-less, ugly, non-visual art. These artworks are not bringing in any new rules, but pushing the same ones further and further – however, for the most part, art remains within them: visual and nice.

And so :

Maybe now you can understand why I call Duchamp a designer. It’s because he often desired to produce a very specific reaction in his audience: to shock and disturb, and poke holes at definitions of art and the art-world. And to do that he designed some very specific art-works.

Another artist who started as designer:
Francis Bacon, who originally designed furniture.

Such debates about precise meanings of words and definitions are ludicrous anyway. Funny Fact: when you google “Richard Prince” his website is described as “Providing artwork clips and projects designed by the artist Richard Prince.” (Italics mine)
don quixote
12 comments since 25 Nov 2005
Duchamp a designer? (no)

it is an utter misreading of his work to call Duchamp a designer. it is missing the point of his artistic genius, a failure to see the whole forest for the individual trees. nothing he did can justifiably be reduced to mere design, as the central raison d'etre of his oeuvre was on the higher level of philosophy of art. the word 'design' is implicitly limited and constricted in relation to the open-ended and transcendent notion of art as Duchamp revolutionized it. to label Duchamp's work 'design' is to completely misrepresent and trivialize it, and foolish beyond measure.
Populuxe
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
Was R. Mutt taking the piss?

Indeed. Duchamp was the opposite of the designer because he deigned to interfere as little as possible.
don quixote
12 comments since 25 Nov 2005
was he or wasn't he?

there are two schools of thought on Duchamp (if not more): those who believe he was indeed taking the piss, and those who have staked their considerable academic reputations on believing that he wasn't. in fact just about the whole of 20th century art history and the notion of contemporary art itself falls into the latter category.
Populuxe
19 articles & 495 comments since 9 Aug 2005
Sorry

That was supposed to be a rhetorical question in allusion to 'Fountain'.
But for the record, I think he was taking the piss. He said so himself. His, I believe, was a rather complex reaction to Cubism as an anti-art form (he apparently didn't really understand it - his cubist dabblings look like pastiches) and the readymades were an attempt to draw attention to what he saw as the death of art.
Even when he retired from art to play chess, it was still in pursuit of that elusive finality of the Endgame
Lee-looking-profound-1
Artbasher
137 articles & 705 comments since 12 Feb 2005
Clear and precise.

Don Q: I fall into the first category of sceptics and am pushing at the windmill.

If only 20th Century art theory and history had an occasional clear and precise thought, i might have a bit more time for it.

Allow me:

Designers desire to produce a very specific reaction in their audience.

Duchamp desires to produce a very specific reaction in his audience.

Therefore Duchamp is a designer.

The fallacy is obvious: Not everyone who desires to produce specific reaction in their audience is a designer. But you have to forgive me for thinking I could slip such a thing past a crowd of artists/theorists/fanatics, for whom logic has never been a necessary condition of existence...

Duchamp is incredibly over rated, and this discussion does nothing except increase his mystique.

BTW. populuxe, I like his cubist work.
R-2005_12_18_137871
don quixote
12 comments since 25 Nov 2005
who knows what Duchamp desired?

good try Artbasher, but the major fallacy of your syllogism, it seems to me, is that Duchamp's artistic intentions remain as enigmatic as the man himself. what basis do you have for claiming that "Duchamp desired to produce a very specific reaction in his audience"? whether Duchamp is over-rated or not depends on the aesthetic criteria you're using to make that assessment. judging by your apparent disdain for the whole of "20th century art theory and history", i'm highly sceptical of your sincerity here (i mean that in the nicest possible way, as a fellow sceptic).
allblackwinz
Flake
46 articles & 641 comments since 26 Jan 2006
I you weren't trying to be so quick to the clever

we'd be able to sharein the joy that art and design converge on simultaeous points, that are ableto be articulated through significant engaggement but other wise are left at an intuitive level to annoy and stimulate with reverence to the magic of it all. Teh question more interesting is why ask this question over and over, someone said it was Clever to ask this but I don't think so , again the intuition knows something is going on but rarely does any real work to pick under the obvious scab picked and picked by every wave of 'here we areists" , I would suggest taht the ral question that luke i think hinted at was teh uncomfortable feellings around art schools and commerce, where the line of ethics is drawn, who is maing it and how is it not. the area of resoposibility, owership, and leadership are all intiamtely realated to money and it's communication, design and art fall in love in this way..
allblackwinz
Flake
46 articles & 641 comments since 26 Jan 2006
fall in love

right now
HALcorp
1 comment since 15 Nov 2005
blaa

i think this topic could well and truly be dead by now, but it particularly interests me, as im an nz artist whos just moved to the uk, and what appears to constitute being a designer over here is merely being a friggin 'mac operator'... apparently if you dont use a mac, you're not a designer and if you use a mac you automatically are one...! anyway sorry, nuff ranting...

to the point, artbasher you said it right on 9/12/05, the debate over the precise meaning of these words is ludicrious... 'art' and 'design' are one in the same, an artist designs his work to communicate their idea to the viewer/listner/whatever - whether they are trying to put across an idea about contempory conceptual art, the interweb, or how paint behaves on canvas - its all about communication of a something... design is exactly the same, they are trying to communicate an idea... sometimes do it for someone else, and sometimes they do it for money... but artists do this too - sell their work, or make work given a certain breif eg. a themed art gallery birthday show, etc....

we could spend a lifetime debating the exact meaning of the term designer but really its just an easy way to slightly distingish(broadly)a certain subsect of the whole 'art' arena...

art is design is art


rant over...


'i dont know much about art but i know what i like'
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