LAMP: Literature, Art, Music, Philosophy: Where Does Design Fit?

When studying Design what can art, literature, philosophy, and even music tell us? What metaphors are inherent in LAMP and contrastively what can it not say about Design? My group- Jacquie, Sarah, and I sought to pull our expertise together to arrive at a few core questions that could get at design’s place within these disciplines. Jacquie having a philosophy background assigned the class The Origin of the Work of Art by Heidegger, but realizing its depth opted for the translation and summary by David Bret. Sarah assigned a reading from Alfred North Whitehead a mathematician turned philosopher. And I, with my art historical background assigned the class Rosalind Krauss’ essay “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”. Seemingly disparate pieces of writing incidentally connected us to a key theme: Categories. For what all of these readings when read together taught us, was how great the malleability, influence, and affinity for Categories (as a subject) are and has been . The way in which history has defined art, literature, music, and philosophy has much to do with how the fields themselves are viewed, as well as the problematization of them.

Rosalind Krauss, writing in 1978, at the height of post-modernism delivers extremely logical and insightful criticism on the state of Sculpture at the time. The main question concerning her criticism is that art history essentially did not know how to define or discuss sculpture as it rapidly changed, breaking the boundaries of context that critics had placed it in. In our inclination to historicize, because we believe history mitigates difference, the term ‘sculpture’ became obscured to the extreme. She writes, “…but the category itself has been forced to cover such a range of heterogeneity that it is, itself, in danger of collapsing. And so we stare at the pit in the earth and think we both do and don’t know what sculpture is.” The problem of what to do with an expanding field, is what Design is dealing with now, as instead of looking at the output of its work and deciding how to define it, it often looks to past models in moving forward. We are not sure what to call it if a designed object blurs into art (Boym’s pieces, Ai Wei Wei, Tobias Wong, etc) nor what to call it if Design is used to organize systems and create businesses (Design Thinking?), or even what Design for social innovation might mean for the term ‘Design’. In an attempt to more appropriately address the capabilities of an expanded field, Krauss constructs a Klein group starting with the neutered form of sculpture resting between the problematization of two opposites- “not-landscape” and “not-architecture”. By virtue of the fact that these things themselves had certain interests, as well as the expanding use of mediums in the 1960s, these terms then became expanded.

Because of ruptures in the field of sculpture caused by artists such as Robert Morris, Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, and Bruce Nauman, new ways of defining the work were needed. Design might benefit from an analysis such as Krauss’.

Alfred North Whitehead, writing much early in the 1920s also dealt with the lack of complexity in modern thought. In his “Lowell Lectures” he called for the inclusion of an aesthetic education into the modern curriculum. He believed aesthetic apprehension spoke to a metaphysical doctrine, which increased the depth of one’s individuality. Because of the increase importance in ‘specialization’ in modern society, Whitehead believed we as a culture got lost of our wisdom, believing our attachment to materiality over values had led society to disastrous oversights. He writes, “…Art concerns more than sunsets. A factory, with its machinery, its community of operatives, its social service to the general population, its dependence upon organising and designing genius, its potentialities as a source of wealth to the holders of its stock is an organism exhibiting a variety of vivid values. What we want to train is the habit of apprehending such an organism in its completeness. It is very arguable that the science of the political economy as studied in its first period after the death of Adam Smith, did more harm than good.” Whitehead is picking up on the limiting nature of ‘categories’ on modern mentalities and its consequent failures. A prescient thought as contemporary society seems also to be too caught in the specialization of a field rather than complex relationships of multi-disciplinary fields.

On a deeper level and aligned with Heidegger’s thinking, Whitehead believed art to be necessary for the “fertilisation of the soul” and this brings us to why reading The Origin of the Work of Art can be helpful in understanding design as well. Heidegger views the ‘work’ of the work of art as the mode in which the human can realize truth. It is the opening between ‘the world’ we inhabit and ‘the earth’ (or materiality) that the world rests upon. Within the work, there is a rift, an opening where one can know truth. Art is not simply an act taken up, but it is the knowing bringing forth of Being into unconcealment. Rather than reflecting on the mere materiality of art, a work actually only functions as a work when we remove ourselves from our commonplace routine and move into what is disclosed by the work. It is an opening up that should be valued in art more so than its other qualities. Van Gogh’s often cited work, A Pair of Shoes from 1886 was viewed by Heidegger in Amsterdam in 1930 and for him was the type of work that can reveal truth, the essence of “shoeness” seen in the painting of shoes.

“On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintery field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-within-itself.”

Of course much can be said about Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art. In comparison to the other writings by Krauss and Whitehead, it brings up the restrains of relying too heavily on ‘categories’ of what a thing should be (in terms of philosophy). Art is not just simply using tools to manipulate materials, but can be a way in which the human can know and represent the world as well as reflect on being in it. When reading all of these authors together we wondered about the category of Design and if it could in fact be an umbrella for LAMP. If Design becomes integrated into LAMP, we have to ask what is it that is lost by looking through this lens in addressing Design? Is there a uniqueness to Design that cannot be captured through these disciplines?

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Filed under Art History and Philosophy, Design Theory

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