In this post I respond to the two readings.
On “A Critique of Social Practice Art”
“Social practice art” seems like a tone-deaf term to me. Davis’s critique doesn’t go far enough: how is the notion of “social practice art” conceptually sound at all? If art is defined by the pursuit of aesthetics at the expense of material value, and social practice is defined by its material impact on a community, how can these two concepts be anything but opposed to one another?
Art is fundamentally a cry for attention: it’s about communicating perspectives through a medium, whether that medium is painting, sculpture, interpretative dance, or something else. Furthermore, art is inherently useless. A piece of artwork is called art because there’s nothing else we can call it: it’s only useful for viewing.
Social work, on the other hand, is work. It’s the unglamorous logistics of supplying communities with the things they lack. Social work is better the more useful it is: the less waste you produce, the more efficiently you act, and the less extraneous bullshit you attach to your social work. Social work can be publicized, but the fact that it’s useful means that it has very little to do with art.
My impression of this trend: “social practice art” is something performed by artists who want to dabble in social work, but feel the need to attach the word “art” to their work to make it look more legitimate in the eyes of the fine art world. After all, no full-time social worker would call what they do “social practice art.” The term reeks of being out of touch with the real world.
If there’s any consolation, the existence of “social practice art” means that people who ordinarily would have little to no impact on the world — fine artists — stand a chance of reaching out to the community and doing something meaningful with their time.
On “Goal-Directed Product and Service Design”
I enjoyed this reading much more because it’s clear and focused. The writer has a consistent goal in mind and writes toward that goal with simple and precise language. It’s almost as if once you stop using the word “art” to qualify your work with some sort of pretentious inherent meaning, you have to focus on a goal that matters and the quality of your work jumps up.
I agree largely with the reading. This is because it’s repeating an essential adage of other disciplines, such as mathematics and engineering — everything is designed to accomplish a task, and the better it accomplishes that task, the better it is. For some reason, this isn’t obvious to some people in the more artistically inclined disciplines, which is why I assume this article has been assigned as a reading.
Yes, your work should be simple to understand and use. Yes, your work should be designed with a clear goal in mind. Yes, you should plan and research your project, and know who your end users/viewers are and how they will be using or experiencing your project. The alternative is firing blind into a dark room and hoping that this will somehow result in a beautiful mural on the wall when you turn the light on.
I do take issue with the way the author presents goal-oriented design as if it’s some groundbreaking proprietary tool of their company. It’s a very corporate reading with a very corporate mindset, and some of that bleeds into the terminology in the latter part of the reading.