Reading 1: A Critique of Social Practice Art
My Initial Thoughts
From the moment I read the subheading, my mind was quick to jump to familiar points of reference at the first thought political artists – the daring likes of Banksy (USA), The Black Hand (Iran), P183 (Russia), Mobstr (London), and many more.
As I read on, it seems the featured artist, Rick Lowe, had unwittingly stemmed from such genres but developed his work and thinking into something more tangible, worthwhile, and socially beneficial – but only after getting criticised by a school child. To which I agree with the point raised – “why (he) didn’t come up with some kind of creative solution to issues instead of telling people what they already knew”.
This predicament is what I have been struggling with as a designer, as I pride myself as a creative that prioritises practicality over aesthetic, or function over form. When I look at other design work, particularly Visual Communication work, either from individuals or even renowned agencies, most to all subscribe to simply applying thoughtless aesthetic trends and patterns and slapping on buzz ‘woke’ words of mental health, friendship, positivity, inclusivity but not doing anything much except provide visuals for a nice portfolio and Instagram post to garner likes and superfluous comments, I cannot help but debate with myself if design can really, ever, solve any real-world problems, or be perpetually stuck at the receiving end of the ‘design-has-no-value’ layman’s mentality, a hole which most of the industry dug itself into.
My Thoughts on Lowe’s Project Row Housing
Delving into Project Row Housing (PRH), the described response to PRH housing applications and circumstances resonated with me on a sarcastic level, as it almost mirrors the frenzy of Singapore’s fear-of-missing-out kiasu phenomena – the BTO crisis – people with families struggling with low income fighting for a decent place to live amid skyrocketing costs of living. But that’s a discussion for another day before I head off into a tangent.
My Thoughts on Article’s Cited Works
Besides the featured PRH piece, one other initiative truly stood out to me. Rebecca Gomperts’ Women on Waves project is truly something that is inspiring and amazing to me. It’s an intelligent, well-informed shot at the very authorities and restrictions placed on human decency, and Gomperts’ civilised solution and gutsy thinking left me in awe. After reading the article, I went on to research and find out more about that initiative.
Article’s Thought-Provoking Key Ideas
1. What Is Art?
The article pushes the notion that if something is created outside the purpose of a museum or gallery showpiece, is it art and if so, what qualifies it to be? I recognise that this has been a debate amongst myself and peers, artists, designers, and the layman for aeons, and we come no closer to drawing a clear conclusion to blurred lines.
2. Is ‘Relational Art’ Even Relational?
There was a point that the article mentions how Relational Art came under fire for staging pretend moments of togetherness while obscuring deep-seated divisions in the real world with happy rhetoric of “participation”. While I agree that it is essentially play-pretend, but it’s the takeaway from that experience that is the main intention – how many times have you participated in a similar piece and thought “aww that’s nice” or walked away with a positive feeling? I feel Relational Art is not meant to be revolutionary or life-changing, but a moment in time where you put yourself in a position of being and not passively witnessing. Experiencing how good or much better circumstances could be, even momentarily, could possible push someone to take a step toward making that happen for all permanently.
With that being said, there has to be a line drawn. I agree that the commercialisation and romanticisation of Relational Art for Instagram clout bastardises the very experience, diluting the well-intentioned from the narcissistic, virtue signaling, clout chasers.
3. The Fight Between Art and Commercialisation
I found it interesting that the article analyses that although social practice art fights to stay away from commercialisation by asserting its advocation for political solidarity to discourage the temptation of raw profit, corporations are instead using the very same values of such projects to “put on a good face” for themselves, once again ruthlessly finding means and ways to leverage and exploit the best of humanity’s intentions.
This cat-and-mouse game feeds into the saying of humans cannot have nice things. Once we do, such as non-profits, community aid, and other well-intentioned initiatives, we tend to take advantage of them for our own gains – corporations take it one step too far, but we as individuals are not saints, either. If it is really in our human nature to be selfish to ensure self-preservation, then even on down to a personal level, where do we draw the line between doing something for love and doing something for gain?
‘Social Practice’ art to some may seem like the next in a line-up of radical vogue art genres, to be nothing more than aesthetic virtue-signaling pieces that are temporary or quickly abandoned after initial conception and feature in the local newspaper. Admittedly, that is how I too, hopefully naively, perceive it to be.
Can ‘art’ really be useful in providing solutions to real-world problems and not just theoretical interpretations to create utopic ideals that exist only in the artists’ minds? What deems PRH to be featured in this article, and for it to be more ‘art’ than other housing projects and community programmes out there? Is it simply classified as such just because someone who’s an artist by occupation started it, if so, what happens if a doctor or shopkeeper initiated this movement instead, would it be categorised as art, then?
Reading 2: Designing for the Digital Age
My Initial Thoughts
In its introduction, I agree with the author, Kim Goodwin, that even as designers ourselves, there already is trouble coming to consensus on where to draw the line of what defines or qualifies as design.
She describes design to be a craft that is neither science nor art but somwhere in between. I couldn’t agree more or jam the ‘yes yes yes’ button any harder with that statement. I absolutely abhor it when people interchange art and design (ahem, ADM) as if they are one and the same. To me, Art in its traditional definition is not design, but design is an artform – a marriage of understanding how to collaborate messaging, visuals, movement, meaning, into comprehensible output. Art is interpretative and expressive, design is intended and purposeful.
My Critical Thoughts on Article’s Discussion of Webpage Loading Time
I humbly disagree with Perfetti and Landesman that there is “no rule as to how long it should take for a web page to load” and that it has “little to do with objective reality versus what one can accomplish on the page”.
I feel it is a vital consideration for a brand, product, or service to consider the optimisation of content on their site – it is afterall a digital touchpoint, more so a priority in today’s landscape, where users’ expectations are instantaenous and anything otherwise is slow, outdated, repulsive. Slow load or even failure to load of a webpage affects consumers’ psyche. Perhaps they will still stay on the site for the sake of getting the task done because there is no other alternative way to do so, but there is no escape from thoughts bearing negative connotations forming in the minds of consumers against the said brand/product/service in the long run. Think of how you perceieve the NTULearn page, or would you order McDonalds or Domino’s pizza if you had to do it through website?
My Critical Thoughts on Article’s Discussion of Implementation Support
The article discusses Implemetation Support as a vital factor in Goal-Oriented Design. Personally, it looks to be the most difficult aspect to practice. Working in companies in Singapore, they tend to jump at the chance to push away all responsibility for production and manufacturing. To make matters worse, the production team is 95% of the time outsourced from China or India. There is a best-practice mentality of “Client signed off so its not my company’s responsibility if something goes wrong” instead of training and exposing creatives to take responsibility to see their creation through from start to end.
In schools, hardly any effort or curriculum is designed to train students to handle this. Students dream up of big, ambitious projects that cannot work in real life, and even if they could, students have zero knowledge on how to relay their intentions and build rapport with manufacturers and engineers as all they did before was conceptualise theory and make scaled down proof of concept prototypes.
Article’s Thought-Provoking Ideas
1. Definition of Design
Kim Goodwin’s definition of design best encapsulates how I feel about the industry. “Design is the craft of visualising concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints”
“Designers should look at a blank surface and be able to fill it with believeable, tangible, end products so that other people can see, understand, and eventually build it” – this puts design in the important and weighted role of an instigator, communicator; design is not the final end goal, it is the spark, the instruction manual, the push to get things going.
2. Human-Centered and Service Design ≠ Experience Design
Kim identifies that although we can control and design every element and aspect to have the optimal experience in our works, as each viewer brings with him his own set of attitudes, behaviours, perceptions, no designer can determine exactly what kind of experience someone has. I felt that this was a hard-hitting, interesting analysis, as such a predicament is presented plain as day all the time but I never really stopped to consider it as a factor, but only try to idiot-proof concepts. As designers, it is important that we realise people have nuanced, idiosyncratic dispositions and behaviors that may navigate them to work another way than all the possible outcomes we attempt to predict, and that is not a failure of our design, but an opportunity to learn and improve it before the next learning point comes along.
End of Assignment