why we're better than you.

Designers often carry a reputation of snobbery around with them whether they like it or not. (And how unfortunate that some really do like it.) I'm happy to announce that I've figured it out and that it's certainly not unjustified. I've had to think about it a lot though. I don't like being labeled as a snob, but, admittedly, my perspectives on design and how it fits in with other visually-based disciplines has served as a source of conflict in the past; namely in romantic relationships. I've dated two painters and a photographer in the past couple of years and in each of these cases, aesthetic philosophies ran deep. It wasn't so much that we squabbled over theoretical specifics; it came down to a matter of respect.

For those of you completely unfamiliar with art culture, I'll spell out the basics:

First, some definitions as I'll be using them:

studio artists- People who typically sell work in galleries, or show it in museums; the traditional role that you think of when you hear the word "artist." Painters, sculptors, performance artists, etc.

designers- people who plan and produce everyday objects for specific clients: shopping bags, cereal boxes, water bottles, magazines, wedding invitations, books, web sites, movie credits, brochures, annual reports, etc.

So here's the rub:

Studio artists think designers are snobby (because they are; I'll explain) and think of themselves as artistically superior (in many cases) because they have the courage to actually make the stuff they want. They are free to pursue the personal, the unconventional, the idealistic, the academic. They often hope to establish a gallery clientele large enough to sustain them so they don't have to teach. (Of course some of them want to teach too.)

Designers think of themselves as superior to studio artists because often the artistic, political or social statements made by studio artists are seen only by a tiny crowd composed of peers, critics, or the extremely wealthy who may be in the market for a painting. Designers believe that because we have access to such a large audiences with budgets to back us up, we have the power to change the world.

The best example of this justification for design snobbery lives in the example of Alexandr Rodchenko, a Russian artist born in 1891. Rodchenko was making it on the Moscow art scene as a painter. He was palling around with Malevich and all of these famous artists who were producing some deeply philosophical and groundbreaking work. But when the October Revolution broke in 1917 with a peasant uprising and the Bolsheviks took power, Rodchenko vowed to harness his artwork to promote their cause. By 1921, he'd tossed away his brushes and palette altogether and created this manifesto:

“Construction is the demand of our age for organization and the utilitarian use of materials. Constructive life is the art of the future. Art that fails to become part of life will be catalogued in the museum of archeological antiquities. It is time for art to organize itself and become a part of life…Away with art that is a form of escape from a life that is not worth living. Contemporary art is a conscious and organized life that is able to see and build. Any person who has organized his life, his work, and himself is a genuine artist. Work for life, and not for palaces, churches, graveyards, and museums. Work amongst all, for all, and with all, away with monasteries, institutes, studios, studies, and islands. Awareness, experience, purpose, construction, technology, and mathematics-these are the brothers of contemporary art.”

I feel like a crazy Bolshevik saying this, but I find myself agreeing with him. I love that he touches on sustainability (a big topic for designers, as the bulk of our work meets its end in the trashcan.) To me, this concept expands the idea of art to something certainly more design-centric, but also toward a greater awareness of regular people living out their regular lives.

Viewing Rodchenko's work speaks even more loudly to this idea. The beautiful composition and typography of the poster at the top of this entry imbues a timeless quality to this simple piece. It has been reinvented to advertise for Franz Ferdinand and hand bags; there is even a cute rendition involving a cat. But this poster serves a functional purpose equally well as it's aesthetic one. It translates: "BOOKS: FOR ALL INDUSTRIES OF KNOWLEDGE." It advertises reading in a simple, exciting way for a largely illiterate audience comprised of Russian peasants.

What I love about design is that we share in a responsibility to make access to information easier, directions simpler, usability of regular objects more enjoyable, all the while (hopefully) making beauty more common for the everyday person.

Rodchenko spoke of commodities as comrades in building up their new nation: meaning that the intent and purpose of every object could be designed to lift society upward, hand-in hand with the efforts of the people.

Maybe I'm a snob; maybe I'm a crazy Bolshevik. Regardless of the labels that come attached, I am so happy to be a designer.


WhitneyJoy said...

Such a good post, thanks for sharing this with all of us.

You college genius you.

MiriamR said...

My Friend and I were just talking about this when we were visiting Santa Fe yesterday. My husband agrees completely, he only likes art if its functional in some way.

Hilary-Dilary-Dock said...

AWESOME!! I love to learn about art from your perspective. You put it in common terms for me, an art-illiterate girl. Just awesome, Laura, just awesome.

Pio said...

I'm going to let you know this is a first, I don't ever comment on blogs. I'm more of a passive internet user. However, when a friend passed this article along about why we're better than you something in my blood boiled. So here we are. My first comment.

You don't have to like this it's not meant to be liked and you can delete it as soon as you read it or post it again and tear it apart while feeling indignantly self-righteous and with maybe just a dash of self-absorbed sociopathic tendencies. Is that a common theme you feel for yourself? I would gather from the few posts I've read it really seems to be the case, although I'm sure as good friends go they will tell you different.

I have a few questions because your post wasn't very clear in my understanding of art, as an artist, designer, photographer, hooray Poland is free of Communist Russia lover or even as a "regular joe" who thinks that art is given an undeserved pretentious stigma.

I'd like to know how do designers make the stuff they want vs your definition of a "studio artist"? I am confused by this concept, are artist not making exactly what they want when they create their art? Is the pride they get to feel for being displayed in a museum, mansion or coffeeshop un-deserved or is it just that designers get to have extra pride because their livelihood con potentially be displayed on cereal boxes?

I know many artists who work with both "design" and "studio art" and shockingly are successful at both and maybe even more shockingly to you they embrace these different limbs of art and find inspiration from nature, other artists, architects, books, news or even music (oh wait isn't that a form of art too?). But maybe you've evolved beyond needing inspiration as an artist. Oh wait, I mean designer. That deserves a one handed clap at least. Really congratulations you're so special that you're normal; a bad marriage that ended in divorce, some dating, you like exercising till you hurt yourself and some schooling way to go you.

Meaning no offense I have to ask are you a communist? I'll admit that communism may not be bad in it's concept, but in execution of the Russian communist regime it seemed to get rather bleak. Yes, artists put down their brushes to make political propaganda posters. But, do you realize that collecting art and antiques was illegal in Communist Russia? Because art is elitist crap that keeps the regular guy down because only the wealthy elite can afford to appreciate it. Or do you not understand how elitists who use the concept of the regular guy while maintaining a lofty view from above actually works? Also you do realize that Rodenchenko eventually picked up his brushes again and began painting again?

Studio artist vs designers I know many designers who also produce what you deemed as "studio art" and I know many, many artists who's work is approachable and affordable by those that are not insanely rich and want to lock their precious artworks away in their mansions far from the regular folks dirty regular fingers. Regular folks who apparently in your opinion find art intellectually un-graspable. Those poor regular folks and their ignorance of beauty, it's tragic.

If you can't tell "the regular person" is a concept that I thoroughly find offensive. Who is the regular person? Why are they important? Are they less educated and need pity because they can't formulate an opinion of whether they like a piece of art or find it visually offensive, maybe they are just indecisive. If I am capable of appreciating art in all it's bizarre forms does that mean I'm not a regular guy? I feel pretty regular, I mean last time I checked I was normal. But, now I"m concerned maybe I'm an elitist snob too.

Pio said...

Perhaps I should just feel sad for you and how limited you are by allowing yourself to be labeled as a designer and how much that label affects you. Perhaps I shouldn't because you are just another average designer and a self-mutilating runner (bonus).

Someone who only gave an explicative that begin with an F ends with a K (and is only not typing it because of your delicate Mormon sensibilities that are probably not that delicate because I have met plenty of slutty Mormon girls that just don't quite go all the way. Yes, you can get STD's that way too. No, God probably doesn't approve.) enough to write this.

P.S. I found your Amy's Bunnies packaging re-design really boring and tiresome in a way that would not make it stand out in an aisle full of drab tan organic product packages trying to look eco friendly i.e. expensive hippie junk-food. FYI, in case your childless ass didn't realize the bunny crackers are equivalent to goldfish crackers, the bunny pastas are equivalent to dinosaur pasta they're aiming for a younger audience for the most part and I think they picked an albeit dated but audience appropriate design. Good luck to you design Commie. Also don't worry, I probably won't ever post on your blog again or truthfully even read it.

Carroll said...

Who is the Pio? Does this person know you? Obviously not! If so this individual would know that your brilliance is shown in many disciplines of art. You are truly versatile. It has been shown through sewing, fashion design, painting, Paper sculpting. You just won 1st place in a an elite art show at BYU. That was a studio piece.
Maybe you came on a little strong defending your current academic artistic discipline. Dad andI just read how you were moved by the Dorthea Lang photo exhibit. It was beautiful. Showing your ability in the art of writing.
I know you. You will not be boxed in by any discipline of art. You will continue to express yourself in many ways. I personally feel that is a blessing!
There is truly room enough for all disciplines of art. All can elevate the human mind and yes even serve the body! Art is a blessing and serves humanity and hopefully God's purposes.

Carroll said...

The validity of my previous comment will be questioned because they are from you mom. However they are true. I just felt they need to be stated!

laura said...

ha! thanks for your sweet comments mom. no worries. i think it's just matt lund/a friend of his.