The Author-Designer and the Reader-User

Umberto Eco:
“In a narrative text, the reader is forced to make choices all the time...the model reader of a story is not the empirical reader. The empirical reader is you, me, anyone when we read a text. Empirical readers can read in many ways, and there is no law that tells them how to read, because they often use the text as a container for their own passions, which may come from outside the text or which the text may arouse by chance...If you have ever happened to watch a comedy at a time of deep sadness, you will know that a funny movie is very difficult to enjoy at such a moment...if you happen to see the film again years later, you might not still be able to laugh.”

“Any narrative fiction is necessarily and fatally swift because, in building a world that comprises myriad events and characters, it cannot say everything about this world. It hints at and then asks the reader to fill in a whole series of gaps. Every text, after all, is a lazy machine asking the reader to do some of its work.”


More to come but this is a point I want to make about the Web and process.

"The organic system of organization developing in Delicious and Flickr was called a 'folksonomy' by Thomas Vander Wal in a discussion on an information architecture mailing list (Smith, 2004). It is a combination of 'folk' and 'taxonomy'. An important aspect of a folksonomy is that is comprised of terms in a flat namespace: that is, there is no hierarchy, and no directly specified parent-child or sibling relationships between these terms."
Adam Mathes)

Wabi Sabi, incompleteness, imperfection

“Wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,” wrote Leonard Koren in his book 'Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers'. It is a beauty of things modest and humble, and of "things unconventional". Peripherally associated with Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi values characteristics that are rustic, earthy, and unpretentious, involving natural materials which are used neither representationally nor symbolically.

A drawing by Dick Bruna from 1975. Early Miffy editions show a greater tension between his will to achieve elementary form, almost geometry and the glitched impossibility of achieving this by hand. Somewhere in this impossibility is the best bit. The wabi-sabi.

Deep Play

In order to improvise, to break our habit, to provoke serendipity in process, do we need rules? Diane Ackerman, in her 1999 book Deep Play, she describes Play as having "its own etiquette, rituals and ceremonies, its own absolute rules. As Johan Huizinga notes in Homo Ludens, a classic study of play and culture, play 'creates order, is order. Into an imperfect world and into the confusion of life it brings a temporary, limited perfection.'"

Also that "Play always has a sacred place– some version of a playground– in which it happens. The hallowed ground is usually outlined, so that it's clearly set off from the rest of reality.”

Is The Grid a kind of playground? This is from Armin Hoffmann's book 'His Work, Quest and Philosophy'. In 'anti-form' (see Eva Hesse image in earlier post) terms the grid's resistance fosters invention and nuance.

Bas Jan Ader's funny, sad-happy falls. Ackerman notes that "Play's original meaning was quite different, something altogether more urgent, more abstract. In Indo-European, plegan meant to risk, chance, expose oneself to hazard".

Allan Wexler, in a very similar way to Miranda July and now Daniel Eatock, works to hard-and-fast rules which bring both economy and absurdity. The virtues of limitation.

Jake & Dinos Chapmans' exquisite Exquisite Corpse series of etchings were processed according the game as conceived by the Surrealists in 1925, out of physically induced parameters which would allow the subconscious, for transgression, to become visible.

Henri Matisse at work. The colour image shows him at 83 years old. Somehow immobility and disability made his work more apparently 'his'. For me, HM's judgement of colour, composition and what-not-to-do are the ingredients. Aesthetic judgement is classically to do with standing back, object-subjective balance. The ageing HM overcame his limitations by using an elongated brush. He cut and then worked with an assistant-collaborator who would paste-up on the wall with him as onlooking instructor. Made his work more 'his'.


Destruction and Creation

Last year my Illustration group were discussing the impulse to 'destruct', especially when one is young. As a kind of creative-play-process. Some had been reading 'The Destructors', a short story by Graham Greene, about a gang of boys who systematically destroy a house from the inside out:

Smash all the china and glass and bottles you can lay hold of. Don't turn on the taps - we don't want a flood - yet. Then go into all the rooms and turn out the drawers. If they are locked get one of the others to break them open. Tear up any papers you find and smash all the ornaments. Better take a carving knife with you from the kitchen. The' bedroom's opposite here. Open the pillows and tear up the sheets. That's enough for the moment. And you, Blackie, when you've finished in here crack the plaster in the passage up with your sledge-hammer.' 'What are you going to do?' Blackie asked. 'I'm looking for something special,' T. said. It was nearly lunch-time before Blackie had finished and went in search of T. Chaos had advanced. The kitchen was a shambles of broken glass and china. The dining-room was stripped of parquet, the skirting was up, the door had been taken off its hinges, and the destroyers had moved up a floor. Streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators - and destruction after all is a form of creation."

A clip from 'Steamboat Bill Jr.", Buster Keaton's classic of 1928. You may know artist Steve McQueen's appropriation of this moment. Keaton performed all his own stunts and this had to work. There is some connection surely between the visceral enjoyment of making and un-making.

Steeplejack Fred Dibnah's chimney demolitions gained a cult following until his death a couple of years ago. Again the process is essential viewing; as Tim cites below, the relationship between planning and on-the-hoof-reactive decision-making is fundamental. As this documentary suggests, the 'live' gathering had a similar motive to that which congregated for public hangings.


The Aesthetics of Process

Daniel Eatock's new monograph Imprint elicited the following comment in a review at Core77:

"For any designer struggling to find a place to start, reading Imprint should be ample proof that almost any starting point will look brilliant in retrospect, provided that enough work, practice and repetition went into the final product."

Eatock's prolific ouput includes many projects that rely upon painstaking or time-consuming processes such as allowing a complete set of Pantone markers to bleed through a stack of paper (see image).

Wim Crouwel's 'New Alphabet' from 1967. Timeless and lean in it's form I think because the process was determined by constraint. Namely, at that time, embracing low-resolution-screen-limitation of typography. It was a theoretical exercise, as he says below. We are still talking today, though, about the inclination of type-design towards print rather than screen. His underscored m's and w's and single case character set still feel like a better substitute for the incumbents.

Mr. Crouwel is a young old man. I saw him talk a year or two ago and it was clear that he has always used a total grid in one way or another but in order to free himself compositionally. Something within which to improvise. Never heard anyone before or since make a search for Neutrality sound soulful.

Imagined, Observed, Remembered

Peter Blegvad: "I began doing comparative drawings of subjects Imagined, Observed & Remembered, in 1977 in New York City, pursuing a line of enquiry which grew out of my first commissions as an illustrator and my struggle to evolve a style suitable for that genre. At work, I was often required to depict things which I could not, without recourse to a model, render 'realistically', but for which I could usually invent recognizable hieroglyphs (as a cartoon is a hieroglyph) by basing these on an eidetic approximation of the particular item which I could "see" with that undissectable organ, the "mind's eye."

In my immaturity, I sometimes experienced a kind of vertigo when drawing, for a client, things purely as I imagined or remembered them to be. Would a picture of the idiosyncratic eidolon or phantom in my imagination be legible to the public as a sign for the thing intended? I doubted it. Often I destroyed the unity of my illustrations by populating, for instance, a stylized cartoon with items (the 'props' of the scene) which I'd copied in an academic manner from life or from photographs in my compulsion to 'get them right'.

Primarily as therapy, therefore, I began drawing sundry items thrice - first as I imagined them to be, then as I actually observed them to be, and lastly, after a suitable interval, as I remembered them to have been. I accorded no less a degree of 'reality' to the item as it appeared to my imagination or memory than to the item as it appeared to what Blake called the 'vegetative organs' of sight."



A detail from Eva Hesse's 'Untitled' drawing (1967), more or less A4 in size. It beautifully encapsulates something of the loosely grouped 'Process Art' of the late-60s and early-70s. Robert Morris contemporaneously "posited the notion of 'anti-form' as a basis for making art works in terms of process and time rather than as static and enduring icons".

At a future-of-graphic-design-type-discussion at the RCA last year it was interesting to hear Rick Poynor question the lack of pursuit of 'form' in prevailing recent work.


"The critical characteristic that distinguishes one kind of workmanship from another is at what stage creative choice is introduced into manufacture." Peter Dormer

"In craft production, conception and realisation are linked and coordinated by the interplay of hand, eye and materials."John Heskett

This film shows Isaac Button, one of the last potters in the UK to practice as a tradesman rather than an artist. Although Button's pots were probably pre-planned, the film shows that design decisions can be made with instant effect upon the end result. The process allows ideas to be tried on the spot and the results considered, like the making of Martino Gamper's chairs below. This sets craft activities such as these apart from production processes that use pre-defined jigs, moulds, dies or presses.

Mythical Process

An Apple advert, aligning itself with Picasso's 'process' (from Paul Haesaert's film, 'Visit to Picasso'). I think he knew exactly how to create an aura around his process which surely had very little to do with reality. Apple continue to associate themselves with a kind of lateral approach and free-jazz individuals who 'think outside the box' (sorry). Microsoft have recently countered with their 'I'm a PC' campaign.

A similar treatment, this time by Pritt and using Michael C. Place (Build). Here though there is more sense of the 'kit' he uses and an implication that the image is planned.

Put on a Pair of Pants

Ivan Brunetti says:
"One of the most difficult parts of being a cartoonist is being your own editor, since every line affects every other on the page. Perhaps the single most difficult part, however, is just starting a page. One trick is to make sure you draw something, even one panel, before going to bed; it will raise your spirits and 'carry' you over into the next day's work. Do not wait until you are 'in the mood' to draw, or until you 'snap out of your funk'. You must force yourself to draw even if it feels joyless and pointless. You will feel better the next morning. Feeling follows behaviour, not the other way around, as my therapist constantly has to remind me. Finally, both Seth and Chris Ware have told me this, and I have grudgingly come to realize that they are absolutely right: when you sit down to draw, you should 'dress for work'. Have respect for your craft. Put on a pair of pants."

Martino Gamper: Confronting the Chair

Martino Gamper's process for his 2007 project '100 chairs in 100 days'. "Using a stock pile of discarded and donated chairs Gamper creates his new chairs from elements of existing ones. By deconstructing the chair he gains a new insight into its construction and use of materials which informs the creation of the new design. The process is immediate, spontaneous like sketching in three dimensions" (from Design Museum's exhibition).

Sister Corita's workshop

'Sister' and Activist Corita Kent's screenprint workshop at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles (c. 1967). Buckminster Fuller described his visit to this department as "among the most fundamentally inspiring experiences of my life".