“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ART… THERE ARE ONLY ARTISTS WHO ARE FAVOURED WITH A GIFT OF BALANCING SHAPES AND COLOURS UNTIL THEY GET IT RIGHT. AND, RARER STILL, WHO POSSESS THE INTEGRITY OF CHARACTER WHICH NEVER RESTS CONTENT WITH HALF SOLUTIONS, BUT IS READY TO FORGO ALL EASY EFFECTS, ALL SUPERFICIAL SUCCESS FOR THE TOIL AND AGONY OF SINCERE WORK.”
ERNST H .GOMBRICH. 1950 THE STORY OF ART.
For years I have thought, read and argued about the subject of Art. For my sins, I attended art college in the late 1960s as art education was then being destroyed by a kind of cultural imperialism. I didn’t realise at the time, but I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend two of the oldest and probably two of the best art colleges in Europe The Ruskin School at Oxford University and later The Royal Academy Schools in London. Sadly, being a callow youth left them after six years of study with no real idea what Art was. I felt that although I had a pretty keen sense about what good art or good design was not, I had very little sense at that time, about what exactly good art or good design was. There was no clear definition. How reassuring to find twenty years later the Gombrich quote above that for me makes so much sense, and is so true to my own experience. There is no such thing as Art !! What a dangerous statement, especially coming as it does from one of our generations greatest art historians.
There is no such thing as Art !! What a dangerous statement, especially coming as it does from one of our generations greatest art historians.
What would the Luvvies at the Crafts Council make of that ..no such thing as Art. How many reputations, more to the point how many fortunes have been made divining the True Art Object and then marketing it. What about all those pieces of tut that have, in our constantly changing cultural climate increased their perceived market value by acquiring an “Art Value.” For example in our business all those second no, third rate sculptors that came to make furniture thinking that it would be easy to be a bigger fish in so small a pond, The Art Furniture Pond. No, they would never agree with dear old Gombrich. That endless and puerile debate about what was Art and what was Design all so much tosh. So what brings all this vitriol to the surface just now? It is not my habit to come up spitting feathers in this way, but I suppose it is because I suddenly find myself in the middle of a series about Design. Which is really almost the same thing as a series about Art but with a bit of function tacked on. I have never written before on this enormous subject feeling that although one way or another I have made my living as an artist and designer since 1974 I still shared the confusion of a cultural age that really did not know which end was up.
After all its not so very long ago that Marcel Duchamp exhibited a lavatory seat in a Paris gallery. It is now over eighty years since Mayakofsky painted a series of flat white paintings entitled “White on White” ironically to be copied much more famously by Robert Rauchenberg over thirty years later in New York. All three expositions have met with critical acclaim as important milestones in twentieth-century culture. And they think they know which end is up! I don’t think so.
I hope that in the coming months I will be able to share with you some of the things that I have discovered during the past 30 years of playing around and practising. I hope that my account will not be just subjective, but also to be useful. It’s terribly easy when talking about design too, as your Editor says, “disappear to the planet Zog”. And I hope to be able to give you ways of using these underlying principles and ideas in daily practice. I shall be expressing the viewpoint of a practising designer and craftsman rather than that of an academic or critic. I make no apologies for this. Too often professional insecurities are masked in impenetrable language, and professional reputations are buttressed with unnecessary complication, and confusion. Sure it’s not a simple subject. I have hesitated through 30 years before suddenly finding myself writing about it. But it shouldn’t be necessary to talk about it in anything other than accessible, straightforward and uncomplicated language. And so we begin and what better place to begin than the middle.