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December 14, 2006


Lewis M

The sentiment is very reminiscent of art critic Arthur C. Danto's seminal 'After the End of Art'. I hope anyone familiar with this text will agree with the parallels. By 'the End of Art' Danto doesn’t mean the ‘death of art’ but at least the ‘end of modern art: no more narrative’ (as I would call it), as well as “after the ascent to philosophical self-reflection”. Essentially, the moment it was realised that artwork “could look like anything”, Modernism was over, as it did not seek out the implications of this. It is generally suggested that Warhol’s Brillo Box (1963) was the instigator. After Modernity, embracing progressive, self-centred, forward-driven cycles of triumph over the past, as embodied by the Enlightenment, Baudelaire, art stopped pressing the agenda of making new limits, new history. Design is almost entirely founded in Modernism, and within that a faith in a singular, universal answer to 'problems'. Jeffrey Keedy desrcibed the death of Modernism resulting in 'zombie Modernists' - arguing that Design as a whole is stuck in a static, homogenous and lifeless conclusion, suggesting that all its ideals are either ill-conceived or irrelevant.

However, back to point on Danto - he certainly celebrated the end of art, and design has something to lern from this. Danto wanted to call the period we find ourselves now as the Contemporary. Just as we had capital 'M' Modernism, we have not Post-Modernism but the Contemporary. Contemporary is quite the opposite in spirit from Modernisms in that it requires the artist to break free from the hostility towards the artistic forms of the past. This philosophy makes much sounder relativity to critical creativity and praxis, as the Modernist agenda that the past is always wrong is unjustly dogmatic. What this all ultimately means is that “It is part of what defines Contemporary art that the art of the past is available for such use as artists care to give it.” Put simply, Danto now thought that artists were free, “liberated from the burden of history.” Contemporary is Post-Historical and does not need to embody ‘the now’.

A lot has been written about these implications, however the practical consequences do seem understated in design. I guess one could called this 'pragmatic pluralism', but this talk isn't going to help the everyday design. Perhaps we can blame the commercial market, the pivotal lifeline of professional design and all its ideology, for constraining the ideals of "design as expression of ideas, and as language. It’s a way of experiencing the world". But I really like the concept of design as "sensation" rather than cause > and > effect. Is the question: where do these sentiments go from here?

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