Design for Life

bruno-munari

My book (not yet published) is very much along the lines of Alain de Botton’s and John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. In their book they unashamedly posit the idea that art should be didactic. What they mean is that contemplating visual art can help us to live more meaningful lives. They believe art appreciation should not just be an aesthetic experience but an existential one where questions such as, who am I? or, what really matters in this life? can be asked.

The two authors itemise some psychological frailties they think art can help ameliorate. Among these frailties are

  1. We forget what really matters

  2. We tend to lose hope and all too easily get mired in the negative

  3. We feel isolated. (“Living lives of quiet desparation”?)

  4. We lose sight of the fact that we are each a community of selves and respond by default to situations as if our likes and dislikes were fixed

  5. We are hard to get to know and are mysterious to ourselves

  6. We reject many experiences because they don’t fit into our self-images

  7. We are taken in by the glamour of the contemporary scene.

They offer the counterparts for these frailties and educate us in how to look at art with new eyes and minds.

I deliberately left off reading their book until I’d finished writing mine; I didn’t want to plagiarise their ideas! Now that I’ve finished my book I can see how mine overlaps with theirs but has a completely different orientation. Mine is a more in-depth meditation on self-inquiry and the other big difference is mine is in the context of Renaissance art.

Reading Art as Therapy reminded me of another wonderful book by Bruno Munari, Design as Art.

It is a modest paperback of some 200pages. Like de Botton and Armstrong he delights in the well-made functional object of everyday life. Like all artists Munari has an original take on things. Here he talks about an orange as if it were a man-made object:

Each section or container consists of a plastic-like material large enough to contain the juice but easy to handle during the dismemberment of the global form. The sections are attached to one another by a very weak, though adequate, adhesive. The outer or packing container, following the growing tendency of today, is not returnable and may be thrown away.

His point is that designers can learn from the natural world, which is not an original thought but he champions the simple and the functional as opposed to the over-elaborate and expensive status symbol in so many examples. This Penguin Classic is full of his own quirky and amusing drawings; for example he has 7 pages taken up with drawings on ‘Variations on the Theme of the Human Face’! (See image at the head of this post)

What these books have in common is a belief that we can live in an environment where we don’t waste resources or exploit others, and where we can enjoy the appearance of things. Both books insist that we are not educated enough in how to distinguish the ugly from the beautiful; that even architects, for example, too often go along with fashion and expediency.

Next time you see a new housing development see if the materials and design are harmonious or is it a matter of cheap, mass produced ‘little boxes’ for our little consumer lives? Why aren’t all new domestic and public buildings fitted with solar panels? Expense? Use some of the money from cancelling Trident!

Millennium Bridge, Newcastle-Gateshead

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The unique tilting Millennium Bridge was lowered into place in 2001 using a giant floating crane. When tilting it is a bit like an eyelid blinking. Two concrete piers – not visible on my photo – hide massive hydralic rams, pivots and motors. Each opening takes four minutes. 8 electric motors of 440kw drive the tilting – more power than the fastest sports car. It’s 413 feet wide built to an accuracy of a few millimetres!

It was designed by Wilkingson Eyre Architects/Gifford & Partners and built by Gateshead company, Harbour & General. It is for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge is lit up with changing colours during darkness. The quayside now is a very popular cultural/leisure magnet with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art on the right of the photo. The Sage concert hall/music centre is behind me as I took the photo. There are bars and restaurants on the Newcastle side (far side in the pic). There are often open air events here too, including athletic events.

I often do a short circular walk starting at the Sage, walk over the Millennium Bridge, turn towards the Tyne Bridge and walk along the Newcastle quayside (market day on Sunday!) over the Swing Bridge and back to the centre of Gateshead. There are many alternative routes and you can walk towards the coast on the north side. There is also the C2C cycle route.

 

 

Mallorcan Day Trip

This is an extract from my diary.

Mallorca: 27/04/13 – Pollenca, Rain, 14 centigrade.
Heavy constant rain; think of the Lake District on a rainy day! I got the coach to Pollenca and visited the municipal museum where there was an interesting collection of paintings, pottery and sculptures. The highlight however was a Tibetan mandala sand painting. In this traditional Tibetan/Asian art, coloured sand is channelled down tapering hollow pipes to draw incredibly detailed shapes. Usually the images are destroyed after completion, presumably to emphasise the impermanence of life. This relatively permanent example was displayed under gIass horizontally. I spent about half an hour absorbing the ‘presence’ and Buddhist symbolism. Most of the few visitors gave a cursory glance at this supreme work of art and walked out of the small room. Everyone to their own taste; I’ve done the same when looking at some paintings! This work of religious art was donated to the museum by the Dalai Lama.
Of the paintings an Antilio Boveri (early 1900s) had a room to himself. Some were pale Van Gogh-influenced landscapes but others captured the Mallorcan seascape/landscape vividly. According to the notes he also wrote short stories and was Argentinian.
After seeing round the museum and photographing the building which was a former monastery I walked to the main square and went inside the Lady of the Angel’s Parish Church. A visitor from another planet would no doubt get the impression that humans gain some sort of pleasure from gory crucifixtions and gloomy alcoves. The main altar was very ornate with predominantly dark gold colours. The much vaunted rose window looked poor in comparison with Durham Cathedral’s
It however, was the only bright, uplifting, redeeming feature in an otherwise dismal display of baroque over statement. The English version of the tourists’ leaflet provided some unintentional amusement, for example: “There are two graceful piles of holy water and some objects. . . remembering different events.”
From the church I headed to the 365 Calveri steps which I climbed in the steady rain. From the top the panoramic views were swathed in low cloud and drizzle. As the small chapel was closed I retraced my steps and stopped for a latte coffee in the Café del Calvari which provided welcome shelter. In the guide books a popular walk along the Ternelles is recommended; this was not much of a temptation for me considering the weather! Re-reading the guidebook on my return I realised I could have visited another museum/art gallery; the Marti Vicenc.
The coach back was punctual, as was the outgoing one and cost 3 euros return. A worthwhile trip for a rainy day!

Calvari Steps Municipal MuseumOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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