Week 2 Readings

A Critique of Social Practice Art By Ben Davis 

Reading the article, I was introduced to the term Social Practice Art and what it meant. Yet, the article never truly gave a clear definition for it. An example given was Houston’s Project Row Houses, where art is a way of life.

It is truly thought provoking when you think upon the role of an artist in social practice art. In the article, artist Rick Lowe was asked a question “ 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.” This was interesting to me because honestly I would have thought that raising awareness to a certain social cause is good enough. But knowing that as an artist you have the ability to even go a step beyond and to make the difference you want to see is humbling.

An article from the New York Times was mentioned, which explained “social practice”.

[I]ts practitioners freely blur the lines among object making, performance, political activism, community organising, environmentalism and investigative journalism, creating a deeply participatory art that often flourishes outside the gallery and museum system. And in so doing, they push an old question—“Why is it art?”—as close to the breaking point as contemporary art ever has.

Yet this question is something that I have to ask too. Is it art or social activism? Or is it both? The main article even mentions “the very fact that “social practice” focuses on tangible issues means that, quite often, its aesthetic aspect is downplayed” which leads me to wonder even more — with the aesthetics downplayed, and the lines so blurred, how could social practice be considered art? What differentiates social practice art with say activism?

Later on in the article it even goes to mention “sometimes, “social practice” can seem like little more than aestheticised spin on typical non-profit work.” In a way, I guess that is the differentiation, just an “aestheticised spin”.

I then went to search for other articles to help me try to understand social practice art.

“The participatory element of socially engaged practice, is key, with the artworks created often holding equal or less importance to the collaborative act of creating them. As Tom Finkelpearl outlines in his book What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, social practice is ‘art that’s socially engaged, where the social interaction is at some level the art.’”


After reading this, I understand a bit more — it is art in a much broader sense! The social interaction is the are the art itself.

Another article I read about the Project Row Houses also talks about how a mother was initially confused about the houses’ relation to art, but she said “I get it, my life is a work of art too.”

In essence, I think that social practice art is very hard to label and define, but this also means that it is interesting and has so much potential to be explored. I believe that as we head into an era where social activism is given so much more voice than before, social practice art can be taken to higher levels, and perhaps can be revisited again in the future and redefined.

Designing for the Digital Age, Chapter 1 by Kim Goodwin

Goal-Directed Product and Service Design

The book starts off with defining design. It first mentions that design is the “intentional shaping of the world for mass consumption”. And goes on to explain in detail what that means — “design is the craft of visualising concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints”. The emphasis of designers is placed on imagining the desired end result and being able to express it tangibly.

The difference between design and art is that “design must serve human needs and goals — all designed artefacts have a purpose.”

To me, this is thought provoking. There is a clear distinction and a fine line between what the author deems to be design, and what he deems to be art. Reading this book realigns my perspective of what it means to design — and how purposeful and necessary it is to us. Sometimes as an artist, I am guilty of choosing “form over function”, where I neglect certain functionalities in favour of aesthetics. Whereas art is subjective, the book clearly states what a good design is and isn’t.

Goal Directed Design, developed at Cooper, is the approach to product and service design. This method incorporates the goals of the customer, The method comprises of four components: principles, patterns, process and practices.

Principles: guidelines for creating good solutions under specific circumstances.

Patterns: types of solutions that tend to be useful for certain classes of problems.

Process: a general overview I made to summarise Process given in the book.

Practices: the effectiveness of a design process depends on the project management practices that support it.

I love that in design, there are concrete steps you can follow! These are tangible steps you can take, and not just theoretical ideologies to adhere to. In a way this could seem limiting, yet at the same time this method ensures efficiency, without sacrificing effectiveness. 

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