Whodunit? Sweden and Philadelphia

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The latest sally in the design-as-an-artform war arrived with my Sunday newspaper.

There in the Ikea catalog were photos of the designers alongside some Ikea products and a brief selling pitch almost masquerading as a statement of purpose.

I’m still deconstructing the craft vs. fine art war, but clearly the design vs. fine art war has eclipsed it or at least become the newest incarnation of the same thing.

But back in the old craft war days, the issues were usefulness vs. pure aesthetics, female vs. male provinces, the subtext being that crafts didn’t require a stroke of genius and god-given inspiration whereas art did.

In the new design war, the usefulness vs. pure aesthetics issue has fallen by the wayside, as well it should have. Why diss something for being useful?

Because design comes out of the architecture side of the aesthetic world rather than the art side of the world, Bauhaus form-follows-function is a natural, historical part of its theory (left, view of Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe’s Illinois Institute of Technology). But as art museums show more and more design (even the Philadelphia Museum of Art has its design section, small though it is), the categories become weaker and begin to merge, and voila, we’ve got artist genius designers, too.

I would have thought the better plan was to eliminate, not broaden, the artist-genius category, since it’s the source of so much posturing and embarrassing nonsense, not all that different from crystals and pyramids. But to fit the artist-genius paradigm, the design team has given way to the individual, and I feel that claptrap about genius and stroke of inspiration, i.e. art world mumbo jumbo, is about to overtake what has always been a discipline mercifully tempered by practicality.

The portrait photos are just the next step, pushing the designers toward full Hollywood treatment.

I’m not saying that designers should not get recognized. I’m just saying that we’re watching another celebrity cult form being born.

I suppose it was already in the air. Even my new mattress has a designer signature attached to it. Somehow, I don’t think mattresses require genius or inspiration, just engineering, hard work, good materials and some thoughtfulness. And that’s not that different from what art requires. Hard work, good materials, some thoughtfulness (well lots of thoughtfulness). (right, detail from Picasso’s “Guernica,” which reflected a lifetime of hard work, good materials, lots of thoughtfulness)

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