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Modernism in Art + True Cost Button Pushing Reading Report

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Design is extremely crucial in human civilisation, it is an establishment of a plan or convention when constructing an object, system or measurable human interaction. Diverse kinds of objects may be designed, from a thing as small as a nail to an enormous, stunning architecture, even methods or processes of designing. Rand (1947) once mentioned that “Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated” (p.23). Meanwhile, design history is the essence behind every design, it is a way that impacts one’s understanding of design in a positive way, it teaches every designer the fundamental principles of design. This essay will compare and contrast a book, Modernism in Art, Design and Architecture, written by Christopher Crouch and an article, True Cost Button-Pushing: Re-writing Industrial Design in America, by Peter A. Hall by demonstrating the key arguments, critical perspectives on both authors’ intentions and how they approach the same point and how their perspectives are relevant to the course.

Modernism in Art, Design and Architecture was written in 1999 by Christopher Crouch, an Australian writer and artist. The author’s literal intention is to demonstrate the hidden ideas behind the twentieth century images and objects, more than their visual details. Crouch basically demonstrated the ideas of modernism and their postmodern modernism evolution that links the development of visual culture to the social and political conditions. The book shows the evolution of visual culture in the twentieth century, it examines the way which visual culture reflects its conceptual and physical origins in elite, mass and cultural practices. Furthermore, Crouch also explains how writers and practitioners of the visual arts have evolved ideas in the twentieth century because historical views and interpretations are determined by them, these views can determine the importance of cultural artefacts in a culture. On the other hand, the article True Cost Button-Pushing: Re-Writing Industrial Design in America written by Peter A. Hall, a British design educator, was published in 2009. Hall basically unravels the dominant narrative of American industrial design history by exposing its presumptions and entanglement in other disciplinary narratives. Moreover, he intends to rewrite by examining the hidden details in predominant histories, which undertakes on a model of a “naturally” covetous American character-type and a design profession invented to initiate and sustain a consumer culture of instant satisfaction through outdated strategies (Hall, 2009).

By comparing and contrasting both book and article, from the book, Crouch basically split modern art, design and architecture into two parts, the economic base and the cultural superstructure. The economic base is the foundation upon which society is based, the cultural superstructure is a set of ideas that define society and its objects (Crouch 1999, p.4). Also, Crouch (1999) indicated that there is no longer a definite extraction between the economic base and the cultural superstructure. However, Crouch (1999, p.1) cited that “History undergoes constant and continual revision by all cultures, things that were once considered beautiful change their value and are deemed ugly, and vice versa”, and this is because a single individual has determined the larger sections of audiences’ understanding of their culture. Together with the article, Hall indicates that industrial design has reached its peak from two historical reasons, the economic narrative and the aesthetic narrative. The economic narrative lifted the economy out of the Depression into a level of immoderate utilization and the aesthetic narrative elevates mass-production and indirectly affects the value of discussion of art objects (Hall 2009). Additionally, Hall (2009, p.60) singled out that design in the US is different from European design, it concentrates on products of great metaphorical strength and great narrations instead of structural research and critique. Having known each author’s intention, Crouch and Hall actually have similar approach and pointed out that design nowadays focus on economic value rather than the value of original art itself. Hence, it is heavily linked with design history. Contrasting then and now, art objects have been massively commercialized, the society values have changed throughout the years as Karl Marx (Crouch, 1999) stated that “the production of paintings is reflective of the economic exploitation of art”.

Many philosophers, artist and design historians agreed that Crystal Palace is a starting point and a symbol for a history of Modernism, including Crouch and Hall. Campbell-Johnston, Falconer and Dyckoff (2006) stated that architecture was the glue that hold Modernism together. Hall indicated that its architecture and its displays of unique, idealistic and mechanically-ornamented goods were the reasons that symbolised Crystal Palace. Furthermore, Crouch (1999, p.13) mentioned that Crystal Palace is an important symbol of early Modernism because of its scientific and technological utilization. However, Crouch also pointed out that “the Renaissance is the starting point for the ideas about rationality that Modernism was purported to hold”, that means the Renaissance was the foundation and the initial step into Modernism. By concluding Modernism in a nutshell from both author’s intentions, in the new economic, social and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world, people who deliberately rejected the traditional forms and chose to ditch these to pursue a new generation. Campbell-Johnston, Falconer and Dyckoff (2006) have also cited that “Modernism was a moral revolution in the quality of human life, brought about by changing the shape of human life”. Moreover, along with the development of Modernism, human civilisation has started to focus on integration of mechanisms with nature. Crouch (1999) mentioned that the Arts and Crafts movement has found a place in formal art education. The Arts and Crafts movements established  methodology and semiotics for Art Noveau, hence, Art Noveau was inspired by organic and geometric forms, especially the curved lines of plants and flowers. In addition, the Arts and Crafts ran parallel with the mechanical world instead of being an organic alternative to the industrialized (Crouch, 1999). From the article, Hall (2009, p.67) indicated that the artificial integration of feedback mechanisms is everywhere else. An example that Hall mentioned in the article, players who play videogames were rewarded with vibrations on their console controllers for some virtual effects and actions. Also, Hall (2009, p.67) stated that “Interface designs are emerging that make the costs of our actions tangible again, through indirect means”. Comparing Crouch’s standing on the Arts and Crafts movements and Hall’s adamant standpoint about artificial integration, both authors have approached another similar point that design has been transformed into a creation that uses Modernism as a fundamental with the combination of nature, more of a fantasy and revolutionary rather than the practicableness of the idea, and also prioritizes a feedback mechanism. From the stage of Modernism to the integration of mechanisms, design has come a long way to serve the human civilisation, its association with design history cannot be neglected. This two standings are strongly relevant to the core of the course as they were and are the initial steps to build a highly technology-centred world, design history helps designers framing the field and propelling it forward (Lictman 2009).



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