Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Art That Makes You Think

I ran across this quote on John Massengale's blog (New Urbanist architect). He's commenting on the waterfall art installation in NYC.

He says, "Art like this is supposed to make you 'think.' I don't think it makes you think anything worth thinking. I wish art schools would go back to teaching the transcendent power of beauty."

Heads up: teaching the transcendent power of beauty, in fact, has migrated to industrial design. It did this midway through the twentieth century. Case in point: Eva Zeisel.

Eva was the first to teach an industrial design approach (design for mass production) for tableware at Pratt in the late 30s. Here she is, above left, with some of her students' work. She arranged for them to design products for the Bay Ridge pottery in New Jersey. The dish on the right is from her "Classic Century" pattern—a combination of two of her most popular designs, "Tomorrow's Classic" and "Century"—now sold by Crate and Barrel.

When she visited Art Center in the 90s, Eva took a tour of our gallery. On the wall in the fine art side was, if I remember, a large crucifix made of what looked like scrap wood. There was also a structure the size of a small hut, built of the same sort of wood. Zeisel is an opinionated woman. She stopped dead in her tracks and demanded an explanation. I told her that I didn't think I had one. I could only observe that it seemed to me that creating something that was accessible, something that an average viewer would find beautiful, was now forbidden in fine art.

Zeisel stood near a display of orange juice squeezers. They were designed by early-term industrial design students in beautiful, curvilinear shapes and vibrant colors. She wondered why it was that here [with a wave of her hand taking in the ID side of the gallery] where there are so many limitations—constraints of technology, function, user need and business realities—was where the beauty lay, and not there [in the fine art gallery] where there were no constraints.

As she has said to me more than once, "That's a very good question!"

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