Saturday, 15 April 2017

I don't get it

If you've ever been to a gallery, you've turned to the person next to you, or they turned to you and exclaimed the ever prevalent words "I don't get it" your figures over-shadowing a large red, mounted square.

The phrase itself is synonymous within any form of exhibition, design to performance; but it more often raises it's head when prompted by a lobster based telephone or a shark hovering in a solid embalmment. I've said it myself, and I've heard it many times also—the problem is that it's almost completely redundant. It's not wrong to be confused, but often we're looking for something that needn't be looked for, expecting something that doesn't exist.

We should be attending galleries not looking to understand everything, not looking to please just our eyes but instead something to please our soul, put fire in our bellies and sour our tongue. Often the fact an artwork isn't simply understood is part of it's existance, we shouldn't scan modern art the same way we have learned to deconstruct European Oil Paintings—with a term as broad as art we should understand that each piece is individual and can be understood in a totally different way.

We may often say that we don't understand as we aren't really trying to, we're looking at a crude constructed sculpture and trying to read it everything we currently know, looking for emotion in the finesse rather than just absorbing it's aesthetic wonder. Often we've been instructed to not understand the piece before us, in the case of minimalism or Dadaism, it doesn't need to be understood–l'art pour l'art.

To not understand is a human condition, and where art stands high and mighty in the spotless prestige of the gallery we exclaim our confusion in which to rebel against the pieces before us. "I don't get it" is a rebellion against the higher society we find ourselves standing against, to almost dismiss that it shouldn't be given such prestige if it cannot be understood by ourselves. Often it needs to be fought against but just accepted for what it stands to be—but as I also said, we're often looking to sour our tongue with pieces we search for disgust in, like a jewel encrusted skull or 120 bricks upon the floor.

I don't get it is a prominent and poignant term when assessing art but when applied to design, it's no longer a fair term of the common man (or woman) but instead terribly problematic. To not understand art can be part of it's aura but to not understand design is to heat up the branding iron and sizzle it into the upper thigh of it's creator, owner and distributor.

Like art, design is created in an aesthetic space but unlike anything hung on a gallery wall, it needs to be understood to be effective—it needs to be clear for it purpose; as without said purpose, it stops being design, or at least not design in it's purest sense. I believe it should be a strong and divisive metering of your work to see whether what has been designed can be understood by the people who would consume it's imagery, it's message and it's existance.

For an example, the most publically obvious aspect of design is a logo. Good or bad, every company has one and should you poll every citizen of Milton Keynes I'm sure you'll find that the average human would relate design to exactly that. The Nike logo is the most recognisable logo I can think of, so we'll work with that one.

It's origin isn't directly obvious but the radical nature of it's 'swoosh' suggests something exciting; though you may have never seen it before, it's very clearly it's not the logo for your local washing machine repair shop is it? 

Now the logo may feel sporty to us because it's so ingrained into our lives as the ultimate symbol for sport, health and fashion but a hard as you try, it's hard not to understand that it's a shape driving a fast, slick motion from one point to another. Ask yourself, have you ever picked up a Nike product, looked at the embezzled Swoosh and turned to the shop attendant to say "I don't get it".

The difference here is that design cannot carry the ambiguity that art does, it has to be read for the message it's owners need rather than the message to viewer of any given artwork could attach to a Rothko. Though clearly, design can be made to be misunderstood or enigmatic and this works well for the radical brands that adopt them, but even now these confusing logos still reflect the message they are selling—Supreme, Palace, Soylent etc.

Next time you want to explain that you don't understand Tracey Emin, or Damien Hirst give it a second and try to not understand and just take it for what it is—eventually you'll realise what stands before is likely shite, but it's art so there isn't much more to understand about it other than that.
But if you want to say the same about design, speak with it's curator and if it still doesn't make sense, buy some beers, a pack of tissues and let them know; they may cry, they may get angry but if they are clever, they'll listen and eventually you'll create better design for the masses. You bloody champ.


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