Reading Analysis 1

A Critique of Social Practice Art

By: Ben Davis

In this article, the author discusses about social practice art and criticizes it’s effectiveness and its classification as art, using the Project Row Houses as a case study.


“I was doing big, billboard-size paintings and cutout sculptures dealing with social issues…If I was an artist, he said, why didn’t I come up with some kind of creative solution to issues instead of just telling people like him what they already knew.”


I agree that it would be good if artist can come up with solutions to different world problems. I also agree that artist should be incorporated in the global problem solving process as we might be able to provide a fresh empathetic perspective on these issues. However, I believe that it need not be compulsory. Honestly I think it is sufficient if an artist simply directs attention towards a certain issue. Raising awareness might just be a drop in this cruel and uncaring world but it as a drop that will become the start of a ripple a change. Personally I think if we as artist strive to solve all the problem that we want to talk about, it will lead us down either a path of self destruction or self grandiose messiah complexes.

“Another obvious peril of such well-intentioned artist-led projects is that they might serve as the beachhead for gentrification, driving out the very community they claim to serve. “


I think one of the dangerous things about well meaning social practice art, or social community projects in general is that it might do more harm than good if proper research and careful planning is not done.


“But logically, if the concept is so broad that celebrations of Obama’s election can be treated as art, then so too could the jingoistic celebrations that greeted Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden, with people chanting “USA! USA!” in front of the White House, or the militant Americana of Tea Party gatherings, or the theatrical passion of evangelical rallies, or any of hundreds of other more troubling social phenomena.

It kinda makes me confused. The line that makes these social projects art is very blurry at best. I guess here context is what is most important isn’t it. A line drawn in any normal context, but when drawn in a museum and by an artist it becomes art. And context is very important. The fact that the solution to an important problem has to be done by an artist, instead of somebody that should be handling the situation, for example a governing body, is in itself already a statement.



“In the new millennium, “relational aesthetics” became one of the single most hotly debated terms in art criticism. Its foundational theorist, curator Nicolas Bourriaud, explicitly pitched the idea as a form of constructive opposition to an over-commodified world, a way of recovering moments of communal experience. However, “relational” art also came under sustained attack for being essentially mystifying, staging pretend moments of togetherness and obscuring the very real divisions that split the world with happy rhetoric of “participation.”


“Sometimes, “social practice” can seem like little more than aestheticized spin on typical non-profit work.”


Perosnally I think at its core, relational aesthetics is decent. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have more community and connection between the artist and the participant or having more audience participating in your artwork. Or showing the beauty of human social relations in your work. However, a line should be drawn. I don’t think any social gathering done by an artist should be considered art. Currently from the examples I have seen, more creative input should be given from the artist for it to be considered art.


Further reference:


I think it is good if our art can solve issues and problems in this world. I personally love it when my work can do that. However, once again, we cannot solve everything in this world and neither should we have to. It is okay for art to simply just be art, or for art to simply shed a light on a problem. However, when we as artist try to actively solve a problem, I think we should do it carefully and with thorough research, involving many different people from many different fields. The worst thing that can happen would be fore our “solution” to cause more trouble to our intended target audience or even worse, cost them their lives.


For example recently I read an article about how relief efforts done for homeless people usually aren’t well designed for homeless people. For example giving food tot he homeless isn’t helping them much. Feeding them a bowl of food once, although they are grateful for that, only provide momentary salvation. Give them a lot of food is even more worthless as they don’t have a good way of storing that food. Instead what they appreciate more is food stamps that would allow them to get free food when it is needed.








Designing for the Digital Age

by Kim Goodwin


In Designing for the Digital Age (at least in the short intro we read) Kim Goodwin tries to define what exactly is design and what elements help us make good design.


“To a greater extent than any other creature, we humans shape the world around us to suit ourselves.”

This line makes me wonder why do we do this? Why do we seek comfort in our lives. And do we do this at the determent of others. For example in the pursuit of land and resources we damage nature and even destroy the lives of others. Or even with something like automatic sinks. Which are created for greater comfort, to feed our laziness. But even something as easy as automatic sinks can become an annoyance for people of different skin colours(usually black and brown people) as they don’t recognize them.

“This intentional shaping of the world for mass consumption is often referred to as design”

“design is the craft of visualizing concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints.”

“Visualizing concrete solutions is the essence of design”

“Design is a craft because it is neither a science nor an art, but somewhere in between… Art is about creating an end product that, above all, expresses the inner vision of the artist. Design is not about expressing the designer’s point of view, but about creation.”

“In order for design to be deign and not art, it must serve human needs and goals”

Although I agree to about 75% of the definitions of design, i think it is a little different to the kind of design that we do. The design here speaks about design for a more practical purpose. One to solve a problem, for example a product to be used, or a service for people. However,  for the kind of design we do the lines are a bit more blurred. In Interactive Media, we mainly create art. Yes sometimes the art we create is meant to tackle a certain issue. But i still wouldn’t call the end product a solution and thus it doesn’t meet “human needs and goals”. Rather, the art we create mainly raises awareness on a certain issue. However, we still use interactive design to refine the artwork. Thus I would still consider the kind of work we do design, as but we use design to come up with a solution to convey our artists message better. Therefore the constraints are those defined by the artwork and the problem is to convey our ideas better.

“Interaction design is often confused with related disciplines known as HCI, human factors or informally, usability.”

Although not in a technical sense, I do agree with this. I think to be good interactive media artist, we need to understand how the human mind works. We need to understand human psychology and the quirks of human interaction, especially with how humans interact with technology and media. Just like how a product designer have their toolbox with essential tools. Things like being able to control how a participant would move or how to control their gaze or attention should be the bread and butter of an interactive media artist.


Goal Directed design.

Created by Cooper.

“It’s fundamental premise is that the best way to design a successful product is to focus on achieving goals”

Yes I would agree that the way we design in Interactive media is usually focused on the end product. However, that is pretty much a given because in the real world, not many people would care much about the process. However, the process of how we reacha dn work towards these goals is what needs to be discussed.

The frame work of Goal Directed Design

I feel like most of the things said in these segment are things that we already sort of implicitly understand. Especially for us who have been doing design art for about three years now. But it is always good to have these laid in front of us once in a wile so that we are more aware of them.


Also for this part of the reading there was a segment about how the people at Cooper would develop different persona’s of their target audience and design with them in mind. I feel that this might help a little however, it is still better to go to the target audience and learn from them directly, because creating personas means that the needs of your target audience are still subjected to your biases.



“Principles are guidelines for creating good solutions under specific circumstances”

“not all principles apply in all context and not all principles are created equal”

I agree that with principles there are general ones and there are ones that are specific to the context of the artwork. But most of all the principles you stick with in your art is usually dictated by who you are as a person and the kind of values that you hold dear. Some for example would ensure that their artwork is environmentally friendly while others ensure that their artworks are inclusive. And you would rank some principles more important than others. For me my number one principle is that it has to make people think.



For patterns I read it as familiarizing yourself with what has already been done. What has worked and what has not work and using that knowledge(recognizing these patterns) to your advantage. Even if something hasn’t been done before, there is always knowldge that can be tapped on from associated and similar fields. Proper research does not only mean looking and understanding the target audience, but also what has been done.


What is said in this segment i feel is pretty much common sense. But one thing to note is that most of the time, if time and resources permits, we should be practicing iterative design. And in iterative design, the design process isn’t a straight line. Nor is it a cycle to be honest. But a design process where every step of the design process is linked to every other step . Because in iterative design, when something doesn’t work, you go back to improve it. Though sadly usually for our school context, we can only do a prototype for iterative design once or twice due to time constraints.


I think overall this was a pretty decent read, although most of what is talked about here refers to practical design, we can easily do a paradigm shift and think about it in terms of designing for art. Thank you for reading this analysis!



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