Art? Design? Aesthetics?

Catherine Dee

Thank you to all who responded to my BAD ART piece..

..I hope we can sustain a vigourous debate around the ‘what?’ and the ‘why?’ of art, design, and aesthetics of landscape in contemporary practice.

For me, the purpose of such debate is to clarify quality (of landscape architecture) and to ask the philosophical and practical question: “What are landscapes for”?

‘Bad Art …and how to avoid it’ was deliberately rhetorical. I’d like to follow with more measure –though still some rhetoric­–to examine the distinctions between Art, Design, and Aesthetics. The terms are used inter-changeably, perhaps too often. I do this a lot. But aggregating them can prop up assumptions and sustain confusion about art, design, aesthetic quality and function.

I think art and design are different things. But the practices and resulting works of art and of design overlap considerably in contemporary culture. This is not a problem. In fact it’s desirable and necessary to any thriving culture. Certainly this is the subject of my own teaching, study and practice and my work too thrives in this overlap. The problem is not that art, design and aesthetics are fluid categories: it is that the same criteria cannot always be employed to judge their respective quality and function in addressing the “what are landscapes for”? question.

People often assume that because I’m an artist: I think that ‘everything’ should be art. But actually I think there could be less art (in the world) and more good design.

Another common assumption is that: if you makes something as art it will somehow be good, better, and more ‘exciting’ than if you make the same thing as design. Also wrong in my view. There is a lot a mystique and at the same time a lot of kudos associated with art. Unexamined, bad art or design tends to result.

Another common assumption is that art is entirely subjective, so anything goes. Wrong again, I think on two counts: 1. art is inter-subjective and 2.( I’ll use Grayson Perry): “anything can be art but not everything is art” (see Grayson Perry ‘Playing to the Gallery’ 2014 Penguin. page 42) Un-examined subjectivity… well you know….bad art, bad design tendencies again..

So, you can have really good design, that’s not art, and bad design that’s good art. And of course there is bad design that’s also bad art, and good design that’s also good art. Here’s my selection of examples for each of these pairings:

Good design that’s not art: Kienast Vogt Partners’ Tate Modern landscape, Hargreaves Associates’ Crissy Field San Francisco, Gustav Lange’s Mauerpark Berlin, Zion and Breen’s Paley Park, NYC. Jac. P. Thijsse heemparks, Amstelveen.

Bad design that’s good art: Jeff Koons’ ‘Puppy’ Bilbao Guggenheim. Robert Irwin’s ‘Nine Spaces Nine Trees’ Seattle. Mike Nelson’s ‘The Coral Reef’ Tate Britain. Richard Serra’s ‘Tilted Arc’ NYC. Mary Miss’s ‘underground court’ in Perimeters/Pavilions/Decoys Nassau County Museum, Long Island.

Bad design that’s bad art: Charles Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation Portrack. London’s Garden Bridge project (unbuilt). Studio Dreiseitl’s Tanner Springs, Portland. CZWG’s Brindley Place Birmingham. Mary Miss’s South Cove Battery Park, NYC.

Good design that’s good art: Peter Latz & Partner’s Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord. Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz’s Stockholm Woodland Cemetery. Oko-con/Planland & Odious Artists’ Natur-Park Südgelände, Berlin. Michel Corajoud’s Miroir d’eau Bordeaux. G. N. Brandt’s Rose garden Hellerup, Denmark. Roberto Burle Marx’s Sitio, Rio de Janeiro.

How aesthetics function for art and for design in these particular cases will have to be the topic of another blog. Needless to say there is big divergence but also an instructive overlap between the aesthetic functioning of good and bad art and design. And of course there are challenges to be made to these categories of ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

Sorry no pics, next time for sure..


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