IMMANENCE VERSUS TRANSCENDENCE
The question consists of knowing whether in works of industrial design, the aesthetics is immanent or transcendent, that is, knowing whether the beauty of a glass occurs through the realization of the glass, from its reality as a glass (immanence) or if it is required that the glass moves beyond its contingence and connects to a superior reality which can be a symbol or privileged structure (transcendence).
When we say that the question is one of immanence or transcendence we mean that this has been a central issue for theorists. For our part we will avoid such an opposition as we believe that it derives from a metaphysical approach, which tends to essentialize and construct entities from multiple and fluid aspects of reality. We will attempt to demonstrate that both those who argue for immanence and those who argue for transcendence are situated in poles which can be dialectically overcome. For the latter, art enters industrial production as a sacred and eternal category, whose values represent a kind of redemption: it is an attempt of humanizing the products of the machine. Nevertheless the abstraction ‘humanism’ retains traces of the feudal man, pre-historical in relation to the industrial era, to which they intend to move without letting go of those obsolete concepts that that abstraction entails. This is so in the sense that humanizing implies manual work, individual production, with the attribution of a prestige that it is not intrinsic to it. We have seen that transcendentalists represent a blockage to the Industrial Revolution superstructure. The typical example of this posture is found in the report Comte de Laborde prepared on behalf of the French Section for the Great Exhibition in London, in which he defended the conciliation between arts and industry. It is needless to say that in such conciliation, the industry should take to the scale of mass production objects ‘artistically’ handcrafted without adding to them any minimal alteration which, regardless of its nature, could be taken as a deterioration of quality. Laborde’s case was chosen as it clarifies well the meaning of many theories about industrial design which are still applied.
Between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of this century, the apologists of the immanent beauty of the machines emerge as an antithesis to Laborde and others. They compare machines to flowers, arguing that both grow in the same manner, according to the rationality of natural laws. Beauty is then identified with technique and nature. Zurko sees ethical analogies in the aesthetic parameters of this faction. Indeed Van de Valde affirms the honesty of mechanical structures. Paradoxically immanentists exhaust the very immanent experience of forms by making them a reflection of other realities. Aesthetics is reduced to human measures in order to achieve the absolute objectivity of nature. It was a reaction - still in its infant age - to the aristocratism that characterizes the first phase of relationships between art and industry. In our view it is in this dualist circuit that the totality of theories about industrial design travels. In the conclusions to these notes, we will attempt to clarify what could be a synthesis that would overcome the contradiction enunciated in the title of this section.
USE OR CONTEMPLATION
The conflict between use and contemplation should not be confused with the opposition discussed in the previous section. In the present case, there is no opposition between antithetic terms, but there is a comparison between a metaphysical attitude (contemplation) and one that, without excluding the former, goes beyond it. However it is not a matter of proposing attitudes, of analyzing the virtues of use and of contemplation to then defend one or the other. The intention is to analyze use as a condition of the experience of industrial design, as opposed to the contemplative attitude which is commonly viewed as the type of relationship between man and the arts. From the beginning we have worked from the belief in industrial design as the essential form of artistic creation in modern life. Therefore we will talk about use as the only valid relationship with the forms of contemporary art.
By use we understand an operational contact between subject and object. Instead of operational contact, we could refer to the consummatory or even anthropophagic relation, borrowing Oswald de Andrade’s term. Such a relation or contact presupposes the need and specificity of the object. The consummatory relation is not idle, ludic. Rather it is clearly defined by being needed. As a result, the modality of industrial design could be named ‘function’. Nothing exists in it - parts or materials - everything functions, everything is a sign which becomes reality through the interpretation that derives from its use. Outside this vital relationship, man faces the inaccessibility or inertia of the thing. Sartre names such inertia, obscenity. We can therefore conclude that outside its use, all relationships are obscene, are located at the level of absurdity. In fact it was this intuition related to usage as the only means of aesthetic communication that led Malevich to his architectural work and Lygia Clark to sculpture Animals. In both cases, however, the relationship was faulty as there was no need of the object. It was an attempt at freely creating use, so the relationship remained at the level of absurdity. It is true that the use, conceived as an exclusive relationship, is deeply connected with the conditions of contemporary life. In cultures of leisure of the dominant classes which existed prior to the Industrial Revolution, it is hard to imagine it. Thus according to Van de Velde, ‘the modern man washes himself, bathes himself, and shelters himself, differently from the pre-modern man. He reads, works, moves and searches for distractions in a different way. The pre-modern man used to bathe, eat and work with affection, as he enjoyed the reading of hygiene advice in towels, a happy sentence printed in a beer mug, tasteful rhymes at the oven, flowers pained in pots and moral sentences in his working office.’
As Velde wrote in 1907, ‘the pre-modern man also worked affectionately because he considered work a penitence: he traveled emotionally because the scarce means of transport that were available to him left him enough time for idleness, so that his heart could be devoted to lyrical effusions.’ He clearly generalized to the whole society a behavior that was perhaps only compatible with the non-working classes. One should not take for granted, however, the profound modifications that speed, for instance, have brought to the way man lives.
In the old days, little was known that would come straight from the sources of information. News was transmitted to people already seasoned by dreams and organized so that it would not disturb their lives. It was the primacy of the system of thought over facts. With the astonishing increase in the quantity of information currently experienced, interpretative systems become secondary to the real, and philosophy is substituted by knowledge (we refer only to inclinations and perspectives). The contemplative reflection gives way to the act of correct positioning in history as the only orientation capable of providing the conditions for managing the quasi-accumulation of information in contemporary life. It is what Gebser calls the ‘aperspective universe’. And the act of positioning oneself is only possible when one takes a side, that is, when one makes USE of the world. The metaphysical imagination moves aside and gives space to praxis. As a consequence we can define the aesthetical realization as the praxis of forms. For this change to be realized as theory, one should perhaps substitute the traditional concept of aesthetics by that of language. By that we do not mean that the imaginary has lost its place in the world, rather that it should be placed within a category that fosters the hunger for myth, which in man is similar to, or the same as, the hunger for bread: we go to the movies and use our gods and these are practical things, objects of daily use. Those who wish to find god in a specific divinity will find peaceful divinity, will find emptiness, and with that, art is nourished by the impurities of the earth. Art is the code through which existence is legitimized, through which man is freed from random individuality and discovers plenitude in the social. The object is its most accepted use. Through its committed function, it reaches the form – the form is the need. We enter here in the territory of the relationship between use and space. We begin with Walter Gropius’ statement on architecture: ‘much more important than this structural economy and its functional emphasis, it is the intellectual realization that made possible a view of new space.’ What is this view of new space? It is broadly known that since the beginning of this century the concept of space, in both arts and sciences, referred to a shapeless and continuous space, an objective space independent from the man who could be involved with it, could analyze it but could never create it. It was a static view of space. Its plastic consequence was the notion of balance, of an eternal space whose maximum manifestation was immobility. Such a notion presupposed a view of man disconnected from doing, whose only science consisted of analysis and evaluation – and the space was one of impotence. In the twentieth century the notion of time and space as human reality came to fulfill the emptiness existing in that previous space. The notion of balance was substituted by that of rhythm. Such space reflects greater power of action for man in the world, an integration: systems disappear and in their place, methods emerge (once more we call attention to the fact that we will not describe the modern world, still blocked by a system of forces that impede industrial civilization from achieving its totality. We are only signaling its potentialities). Reality no longer was an impossible certainty but transformed into a possible adventure. And the given space acquired, the meaning of a space conquered, the knowledge of which is only obtained through communion, or praxis, or use. In this regard the attempt of knowing it through a static look destroys it: the contemplative criteria are inefficient to the forms that are processed in time and space, in the space of use. We therefore see that the use, more than the materialist relationship as applied by traditional aestheticists, configures a new gnosiology.
We have defined form as need. We believe that through intentionality, through function, elements are aggregated in a particular structure. And intentionality is determined by the necessity that makes isolated elements leave their inertia and acquire the grace of form. Perhaps we could define the meaning of need as the impulse for restoration which follows the rupture of balance within a system. If we consider that all relationships are systems, we will have need as the moving force behind all action, be that the search for food, shelter or love. Necessity, with the clarity that characterizes it, excludes that which is gratuitous. Perception too only exists when it is necessary. If an uninterested look was possible, it would never capture the structure. The actual space also only exists when it is necessary, as its form is determined in time by human action. From the comments above, it is possible to conclude that without the concept of ends as a measure for the object, sculpture or tool, no other criteria of appreciation is possible - if we do not define the purpose of something, including art, we cannot admit its existence. It is fundamental that we do not forget the concept of ends, as applied to both the object and the subject: an action without a ‘what-for’ is only a gesture. It may be that we have exaggerated but we intended to show only that contemplation, as an established criterion to assess art, is useless. In summary: space, time, shape, language, value, aesthetics, they only exist in ‘the dramatic commitment of doing.’ (Giulio Carlo Argan)
Having concluded the assessment of some of the concepts to which the problem of industrial design is related, we will now attempt to summarize some theories, schools and movements in the industrial art, from William Morris to our days. We recognize that our goal is polemical. Similar to Descartes, we trust in debate and conversation. We even risk affirming that under certain circumstances, posing the problem of art is worth more than producing it, even for those of us that are makers more than judges.
The Great Exhibition of London can be considered the first great explosion of bad taste in history. It is said that there was a children’s pram in the shape of a ship, standing on a decorated base, and on whose bow an ornament of lace and floral garland dangles from the arms of an image of a winged goddess of victory, forming a type of umbel - a preview of Disneyland, Hollywood and ‘Lojas Brasileiras.’ That was the concretization of the notions of conciliation between arts and industry promoted by Laborde and associates. It must be added that the exhibition was only an external manifestation of horror. Inside factories, a mass of people, including children, with work shifts of more than twelve hours, putrefied in darkness and dirtiness. A huge grimace of the machine (the machine?) before which the sensitive John Ruskin and William Morris are like scared children looking for shelter under the skirts of the past. For them the redemption of man and art was to be found in the return to manual work, as in the professional corporations of the Middle Ages (ironically the great evil represented by industry had its origins in those same corporations). Faced with that grimace, in their sensibility they understood the sterility of any debate reduced to the sphere of aesthetics, like those happening among architects of that period, for whom the important thing was to know which style was the prettiest, the neo-gothic or the paladin. As put by Morris, ‘one cannot dissociate art from the social system.’ Unaware that any transformation should begin from the industry itself, he confused symptoms with causes and chose the imaginary: he established a corporation of art and crafts and had an experience through which he did not commit to the evils of its time. Morris, however, went beyond Ruskin, who remained paralyzed in the contemplation of gothic cathedrals. In his utopism heavily influenced by Thomas Morus, he moved into political militancy and created a socialist league. It was a pity that his Romanticism, his rush for beauty, led him to evasion. When the great mobilizations in London and the Revolution seemed achievable, he became horrified with it and moved away permanently to his idyllic typography, abandoning the ‘vain struggles of this world.’
William Morris’s relevance lays in the totalizing tendency of his conception of art, in the fact he related it with other aspects of society, from the mode of production to a vision of the subjacent world. He identified industry with an evil on which his art should not be based. This position created a contradiction in his work. It was handcrafted and aesthetically fine, but that placed it beyond popular culture, although he sustained that art should be made for the people.
Some of the elements of what could be called ‘the style’ of the twentieth century had already begun to be developed since the sixteenth century. For instance, the tendency to rationalize font shapes, promoted by the Jaugéon Commission in the late seventeenth century; the buildings of engineers in the eighteenth century, or the notion of rational beauty introduced with the French Revolution. Napoleon considered the work of builders as a piece of art. And the sans-serif type, which is so common in our days, was designed for the first time in 1803.
There seemed to be harmony between the development of techniques and forms. However, with the eruption of the Industrial Revolution, the speed of growth reached a devastating pace, and created a situation of cultural imbalance which led artists to irrationalism. It was like a scary process of eliminating provincialism in the world. In order to face it, artists looked for fantasy – it was the era of Orientalisms, Mysticisms, etc. It was within society that such unbalance was particularly acute: that was the time of the greatest misery and the peak of the bourgeois. Only very few individuals, such as Marx, were able to achieve a clear view of the meaning of industry. In the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of this century, this situation was aggravated. Artists, excluded from the productive sphere, hung on to the struggle against industry, which they believed was their worst enemy. In the design of objects for consumption, one notes a move back to the phase prior to the rationalism of the Renaissance. The Pre-Rafaelites exemplify this attitude well. But the industrialization process is irreversible. In the context of academic debates those who intend to oppose it in the name of the salvation of culture become marginalized. On the other hand, the artists of 1900 are aware that only through their integration into industrial society can they survive. They invade the world of objects with their expressionist fanaticism, which turns objects into subjective representations regardless of their actual conditionings. They make out the day-to-day life to be almost a dream, where forms are nothing more than rectified feelings. We risk arguing that the artists of 1900 attacked the world of objects in order to camouflage that world, make it lose its force. ‘The diaphanous cloak of fantasy’ covered the face of the real. As written in a poster by Grasset: in a bicycle advertisement we see a winged nymph covered by herbs but we do not see the bicycle: a whole conspiracy of old symbols is applied to neutralize the novelty of the object, its destructive nudity. We are in full transcendence. It is therefore not a coincidence that the theory of the beautiful-technical-immanent emerges at that point in time, and more specifically, that Van de Velde, head of the 100 movement (art nouveau) becomes one of its first voices.
At the beginning of this section we mentioned that the typical forms, which culminated in the style of the twentieth century, had been evolving since the past century. Then a fear of industry made artists move back to a period before the beginning of the culture which prevailed during the Industrial Revolution. Indeed we see that in Didot’s Cartesian-style graphic arts, the speculations were directed towards the decoration and calligraphy of the fifteenth century.
The spirit that inspired Burne Jones’ Medievalism is the same one that gave support to art nouveau. The alienated artist super-individualizes himself and then searches for social reintegration without wanting to sacrifice the life experiences he had under his marginal condition. Van de Velde will be the bearer of both such exacerbated individualism and the rationalist tradition. He will be, at the same time, feelings and reason, isolated from each other as static cells. And for being these two things, he reaches the extreme in each of them – from super-individualism to the rationalist extremism which led to the art-mechanics identity. Van de Velde suffered from the childish double disease of subjectivism-positivism, without being cured from either of them. When in 1914 Hermann Muthesius, pursuant with Van de Velde’s reasoning and the spirit of the twentieth century, defends standardization in a speech in the Deutsche Werkbund, Velde counter-argues, maintaining that since the artist is a passionate individualist he will never be subjugated to canons.
We have therefore seen how in art nouveau, there is a metaphysical distinction between immanence and transcendence. Such differentiation was a consequence of the dead-end road in which the concepts of art of that period were found. They would either recognize the juxtaposed art – a kind of ‘skin disease’ of reality – or they would have to completely reject figuration as a determining factor of forms.
The observations above are not intended to be a picture of the art nouveau movement. We only extracted some of its features which are useful for us to expose our viewpoint on industrial design. As a result we have not referred to facts which, although extremely relevant in other contexts, would not be of much assistance here.
As in our comments on art and crafts and art nouveau, we will not provide a description of the Bauhaus [school]. Nor will we analyze, in these notes, the experiences of Bauhaus theater and painting, even more so because it is not possible to talk about a Bauhausian version for every single cultural manifestation. In fact it is possible to say that the Bauhaus was a grouping - without the characteristics of an ‘ism’ – of all contemporary tendencies that were combined for the purpose of its construction. Its main distinguishing feature in relation to the other artistic movements was its sharp sense of ordering which, in principle, pushed irrationalism away. It attempted to extract from its sources - Expressionism, Constructivism, Dadaism, Functionalism (Sachlichkeit) and the art and crafts movement – the virtues which contributed to the elaboration of a new vision of arts, yet it moved away from all that derived from the limitations contained in those movements. For instance, the acceptance of Dadaism’s freedom did not imply taking an attitude of childish rebellion against language. Morris’s contributions were accepted without leaving for the Middle Ages. The same can be said about other plastic tendencies absorbed by the Bauhaus. That does not mean that the Bauhaus tried to extract only the forms from those movements as if they were shells empty of content. What it attempted to do was to absorb their progressive features as subsidies for the elaboration of arts that were integrated into industrial society.
Walter Gropius, the founding father of this school, gives continuity to the
movement initiated in Germany by Muthesius and Van de Velde. Nevertheless,
Gropius’ theories should not be confused with the naive positions sustained
by Van de Velde. Gropius, similar to Muthesius, moved further in regard to
the integration of art and industry to the extent that he proposed standardization
as one of his basic projects. He did not restrict his aesthetics to the simple
abolition of ornaments. For him, the important thing was not substituting
decoration by the maschinenstil, but simply destroying the traditional concept
of style, placing the method of work as the single determinant of the formal
result of objects. For Gropius, who was close to Marx in this regard, the
criterion for assessing truth in design is praxis. Gropius not only considered
standardization as the only answer to the problem of manufacturing but he
also believed that individuality had reached its end in artistic production.
He knew that the division of labor could only be damaging to art if art was
linked to individuals. He therefore proposed the substitution of the artist
by the programmer, that is, the creator of forms based on the principle of
team work and who positions himself as mediator in the various stages. He
was against specialization and proposed that all members of a team should
be conscious of the totality of the production process so that they would
all become interpreters of the objects. He wanted to take industry to the
complete realization of the content of objects, starting from the production
of their forms. He wanted to achieve the de-alienation of art through industrial
work and the de-alienation of work through creative consciousness. The style
should free itself from the task of transforming objects into class fetishes.
Gropius wanted ‘a-stylistic’ objects for a society with no class
superstructure (but of course, without transforming the infrastructure). He
considered that the truth of objects should be born idealistically from the
efforts of a lucid elite. It is here that Gropius’ utopism meets Morris’s.
Both want to realize Socialism by analogy in the production of consumption
goods – socialist objects in a capitalist world. The contradiction between
theory and the economic situation gave rise to an impasse in the Bauhaus and
to the impossibility, in our days, of the elaboration and application of a
correct theory of industrial design.
The accusations made against Gropius, that he had reduced art to a cold technicism, reveal on the part of those who accuse him, the absence of a global understanding of the problem: firstly, because they detach Gropius from his context, then it is expected that his work incorporates aesthetic characteristics determined by an approach against which he fought his greatest battle. In a society unjustified by any other reason, it is expected that the objects – from which we are [sic] by an impossibility of an integrated action – carry the symbolic weight of a totem. There resides the lack of understanding of the Bauhaus and the reason for most of the heresies which followed.
We can criticize Gropius’ Utopism. Nonetheless, we can never accept the judgment of his work based on a criterion invalidated by that very work, that is, the contemplation or simplicity of fetishism. Even use, which will give us access to the full experience of the object, is almost a distant ideal if we understand that use is not only the physical manipulation of the object by the subject, but also the communion between the two.
We have cited Animals, by Lygia Clark, when commenting on the contact at the level of absurdity. However, is it not true that such absurdity remains in the handling of consumption objects, if a clear theology that makes the day-to-day life meaningful is absent?
It is from within ‘the spirit of a time with no spirit,’ to quote Marx, that we intend to examine Gropius.
What we should criticize in the Bauhaus, in addition to its utopism, were those works which contradicted its postulates. The Bauhaus aimed at completely destroying the concept of style but ended up locked into mannerisms. Much of what was said as deriving from objective needs was in fact a dried fruit and stereotype.
Another criticism is that the Bauhaus, while attempting to produce a purely industrial art, gave birth to forms deriving from artisan experiences. Materials were attributed a central place. Their impact on figure was considered variable according to whether they were handled by hands or by machines. Could the work in iron and wood workshops – which reflected a direct search for contact with those materials – reveal their nature if such nature was to be completely diverse if they were handled by machines? In the Bauhaus, only with Marcel Breuer we sense a view of forms which is more adequate to industrial production. In his chairs it is not possible to note anymore that the material causes the form, as the material is the form (we here refer to his tubular chairs). Another feature characteristic the Bauhaus was the constructivist movement. It is true that Gropius realized it substantially through his opposition to Doesburg. Through constructivism, functionality and the process of construction were mixed up (such deformation reminds us of the art-technique identification of the end of the late century). Its impact is felt in architecture, and particularly in visual communication: Herbert Bayer’s types, Paul Renner’s Futura, designed from Bauhaus formulae, or Albers’ Chamblon type, among others, are of a level of simplism that not even Albert Durer would employ. These types were projected not from a theory of perception and legibility but according to the possibilities of shape offered by the rule and compass. We affirm that not even Durer would employ such a simplism because during the Renaissance, when he elaborated a method for the construction of fonts, he used geometric tools only to normalize the structure, however, the definitive fine shape was given by hand. It is strange to see such a highly versed theorist as Argan making the mistake of affirming that it was in the Bauhaus that for the first time, there was an attempt to design fonts according to their readability, and that in the history of font shapes, the type was a mere epigraphic complement to the text. Has Argan ignored the theories of legibility, the subtle ones that existed since Charles the Great, who ordered Alcuino to design fonts that could rationalize all the previous writings?
But the point at which the Bauhaus style is denounced as a style in the most traditional sense occurs later when it becomes a superficial attraction to low quality goods. As Valery, Gropius could say ‘Ci-gît moi, tué par les autres’.
THE AMERICAN ‘STYLING’
The Bauhaus school, with all its ideals for the transformation of man through art, ended up becoming what Gropius least desired: a style, a ‘bossa’. In the United States the preoccupation with the shape of products became an extension of advertisement. The slogan ‘Aesthetics is what makes the cash register machine sound’, despite its crudity, encompasses the ideals of American industrial design. Raymond Loewy arrived in the United States in 1919, established his business in a sky scraper on 5th Avenue and forged ahead. He even wrote a book in which he tried to prove the existence of an absolute correspondence between beauty and sales. The designer, the new version of the enlightened artist, now intuitively realizes, in a mysterious way, the remote aspirations of consumers. He is not the man of genius, but the man who is able to smell what is in the air. As is typical in the American style, everything happens as in a fairy tale. Things are born from nothing, the shoe shiner becomes the head of industry, an unremarkable ware becomes a best seller due to the work and grace of the designer. He modifies a product’s presentation and transforms it into the most desirable thing in the world. And that really happens. There are thousands of cases such as the Lucky Strike cigarette or the Gestetner copier. Is that all the result of sensible good design? If that were the case we would be facing the triumph of truth and beauty. But there is something else behind all this: super production.
We have discussed the problem of use as rationality, and cited Animals as an example of a case in which the attempt to generate use superficially kept the relationship at the level of absurdity. Apparently the solution would consist of the immediate abandonment of sculptures and a move towards the production of consumption objects. But that is only in theory, since an integrated relationship can only happen within an actual integrated relationship. In this regard, the relationship between man and consumption objects which takes place in a context culturally failed, in which the day-to-day life is only a means of masking the perception of emptiness, is as absurd as the one in Animals. In a dream world the realist relationship is impossible. It is impossible in a civilization like the American, in which the need for capitalist production to generate artificial consumption in order to sell its super production falsifies the consummatory relationship. Use becomes a justification for a fetishist liturgy. Among the professionals of the advertisement industry, the case of washing machines is well known. While the text appeals to reason (e.g. buy machine X because you will save a certain amount of energy and time), the image appeals to feelings (e.g. a happy family admires the work of the machine while the neighboring family, equally made up of husband, wife and kids, watches them enviously through the window). The only reason for avoiding a slogan such as ‘buy machine X and be better than your neighbor’ is the fact that words go to the conscious mind while images, divested of the legal aspects that only conventional language would bear, are directed to non-confessed motivations. There resides the principle behind the great success of Loewy, Teague, Dreyfus, Earl, and others. What they do is not restricted to solving formal, technical issues of the industry or simply adorning structures. They create imaginary consumption objects – they are the sculptures, interpreters of American frustrations.
We conclude that the function of the designer in the United States is to keep consumers in the dream world in order to avoid a vivifying contact with the naked form of reality, which could make them aware of themselves and of their absurdity, turning them into dangerously subversive elements. The Bauhausian ‘bossas’ were adopted because the American Olympus also admits the myth of reason. This Olympus is as diversified as its Greek equivalent, with the only difference that Jupiter’s place is occupied by Mercury.
Jacques Viénot mixed Morris, Souriau, Gropius, Loewy, and Max Bill, to position France in the race of industrial art. Like his sources of inspiration, he believed in redemption through objects, a belief that was convenient to the interests of the industry. The difficulty consisted of creating a tradition of good taste. Viénot, different from Loewy, does not think that ugliness cannot be sold. In his ethics he does not go to the point of interfering in the social structures, but he proposes education as the only path for the improvement of taste. That is the common position among the humanists who recognize capitalism as inevitable, such as Herbert Read. Faced with the impossibility of a totalizing view, Viénot falls into the position of transcendentalists, such as that of León Laborde a hundred years before. The marriage of convenience between the arts and industry is necessary to achieve man’s salvation. In order to humanize the industry, it is sufficient to educate an elite group of industrial aestheticists. Even worse, Viénot does not trust in the praxis of industrial design as a determinant of forms. For him, the artist needs to be first trained in the fine arts, “high office” arts, and then take them to the level of mass production. It is of little value to make statements against a “decorativism” already dismissed by Adolf Loos and Van de Velde.
What happens with Viénot is the same that happens with other theorists of industrial design. He positions himself at the margins of the central issue – it is not possible to have art that is coherent with industry if art is not coherent with itself, if its social nature remains blocked.
The aesthetic issue in industrial design is ultimately a political issue. So far what can be discussed is whether the design of absurd objects is good or bad. It is sufficient to cite Viénot’s reason for considering artisan objects representatives of good taste, to have an idea of its lack of meaning. He considered that such good taste derived from the fact that the standard models were produced by artists and blindly followed by the artisans, which prevented the bad taste of the masses from contaminating the purity of the archetypes. As a consequence, people could consume objects of very fine taste, but without being aware of it. It was another case of consumption at the level of absurdity. Viénot refers to this situation as the ideal to be attained. Why not say that for him, the important thing was to maintain the standards of the dominant classes?
THE ULM SCHOOL
The Uhm school was founded by an ex-Bauhausian, Max Bill, and is now headed by Argentinean Tomas Maldonado. There was a dispute between the two, as Bill, somehow like Van de Velde, reacted against Maldonado’s radical individualism. He considered that the artist should remain an artist - doing oil painting, sometimes contemplating what is an uninteresting beauty – and that this should not invalidate him as a designer.
On the other hand Maldonado, in view of the growing complexity in industrial production, feared a gap between industry and the producer of forms. In order to avoid this, all interference of Expressionism in industrial production should be proscribed. First the industrial designer had to access technological developments so that he could influence the modern process of manufacturing, characterized essentially by automation. For Maldonado, we have reached such complex times that any wrong decision in the process of product elaboration could be disastrous.
He saw the risk of any debate on aesthetical principles turning into an academic discussion. If principles could not be translated into action on the machine, there was a danger of simply relying on the individual wishes of the artist. For Maldonado, another negative consequence of aestheticism was the risk that in order to satisfy its actual demand for designers, the industry would form them pragmatically, without allowing them to become interpreters of a culture. The goal of the Ulm school is to form highly specialized visual-technical programmers to work at the core of production. The preparatory courses include subjects such as a general theory of signs, linear programming, group theory, topology, contemporary culture and some more complex disciplines. The Ulm criticizes what was mystic in the Bauhaus. The very idea of reformulation of man is strongly criticized as Maldonado’s realist program does not consider that a good design can determine a good man, nor does it intend to substitute all the former cultural manifestations by the designer of objects. On the other hand, Maldonado strongly opposes stylism as a means of artificially implementing goods. The industrial designer is a technician who acts in the areas of greatest responsibility in the production process, he is not a industrial aestheticist. Forms are studied from the ergonomic operation to be performed, not simply from the viewpoint of figuration. These professional ethics consist of carefully following technical considerations rather than those of the market or aesthetics. We then see that according to the Ulm philosophy, the solution to the problem of production of forms is the recognition, by the designer, of the increasingly technical context in which he operates, so that he can avoid being swallowed by it.
We will avoid protesting naively against Ulm’s tecnocratism. We will only maintain our reservations in regard to the practical feasibility of its viewpoints. Firstly, we call attention to the fact that even the most cybernetic industrial designer would not be able to change the orientation of an industry through his specialized work. What could all the scientific operationalism of this world do against planned obsolescence? Secondly we believe that, at a deeper level, the Ulm school is still attached to cubist and Bauhausian figuration, which in this context is referred to as a style in only the most formal sense of the word. Who knows whether the view of a hyper-technical world in which the Ulm school [sic] derives from its need to justify its formalism? Think, for instance, in Otl Aicher’s work in visual communication. Everything is so neat and exact as if one millimeter of difference in the way the visual elements are arranged could destroy Europe. Max Bill says that Mondrian’s style is purely emotional. But is the figuration of the Ulm school not a kind of self-defensive geometrism, like the paintings by schizophrenics? We may be wrong but we can risk making these observations based on what we could closely observe as the results of the Hoschule fur Gestaltung in Brazil.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 had its repercussions among us [Brazilians] as well. Manuel de Araújo Porto Alegre was for us what Léon Laborde was for France. He was a painter and poet, a participant of the Romantic movement and a good friend of Gonçalves Dias. When Pedro II appointed him director of the School of Fine Arts (‘Escola de Belas Artes’), he reformed the teaching methods and gave special attention to the design of arts applied to industry. He attempted to give more objectivity to the school, by guiding it more towards the formation of useful professionals than that of idle individuals who produced a kind of art for which there was not even a minimum level of consumption in Brazil at that stage. Obviously he did not find the conditions to implement his ideas among the academics (it is unknown whether those are still the ones who today manage the School).
From Porto Alegre until 1930, no significant innovation on the issue was reported. Then Lúcio Costa, inspired by Le Corbusier, reintroduced among us reflections on the most current concerns among European cultures. It is strange that the 1922 Movement has not introduced to us the concepts about industrial design which were disseminated at that point. Despite being a movement typical of the discovery of modern life, the 1922 Movement remained restricted to traditional artistic manifestations. The term ‘futurist’ was used to describe the 1922 Movement. Marinetti was considered one of its greatest influences, but no mention was made to Antônio de Sant’Elia, an extraordinary architect, a ‘man of vision’ with regard to the relations between art and industry, and someone with various connections with the Italian futurist movement. Brazil awakes tardily: what was scandalous in the modernist movement in São Paulo was nothing more than the discovery, thirty years later, of Impressionism, Symbolism and other manifestations which had developed in the past century in Europe.
Maybe this is not precisely so. It is possible to counter-argue that Futurism, and Cubism, for instance, are not movements of the past century and we would agree with such a statement. We only call attention to the fact that while the surge of the 1922 Movement included the most recent artistic manifestations found in Europe, qualitatively the movement remained attached to Impressionism.
A sad fact, but one that cannot be forgotten, is that almost everything that has appeared among us in terms of Vanguardism, has derived from foreign movements. Even the Nationalism of the Romantic period, or of the 1922 Movement, are ‘Tupiniquin’ versions of nationalist developments overseas. Europe cries out, ‘it’s time to love the motherland,’ and we feel authorized to love our motherland. National glory is imitated or not, and as we affirm, this is very natural when dealing with under-developed countries.
After Lúcio Costa, it would be Loewy that would come to occupy the scene, with the establishment of Raymond Lowey & Associates in São Paulo. We adopted the American style designs which derived, as we have seen above, from an attempt to solve the problem of sales by only dealing with the appearance of the objects. Brazil, an under-producing country, consumes the forms coming from American super production and, even worse, pays high royalties for them.
In 1948 Lina Bo Bardi and Gincarlo Palanti established the Palma Studio in São Paulo, where they initiate the design of the first modern furniture made in Brazil. But the production is still on a small scale and it does not take into account the Brazilian reality. The workers who built the furniture pieces were Italian, like the designers. The Studio lasted for two years. Then, Lina Bo Bardi introduced a course on industrial design in the Modern Museum of Arts (MAM) in São Paulo. The first of its kind in Brazil, the course lasted for the same period of two years. She later taught industrial design at the University of São Paulo for three years. From these initial experiences, Lina Bo Bardi began a deep investigation of the Brazilian reality, including its physical and anthropological aspects. She made an assessment of objects for popular use, and found in their form, content, and authenticity, the real roots of Brazilian industrial design. In Lina Bo Bardi we find an example of a rising consciousness that artistic problems are only one facet of the social problem. She moves away from a super-intellectual and European view towards Brazilian popular art.
The Superior School of Industrial Design (Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial - ESDI) is the most recent initiative of this kind among us. It is still too premature to judge its results since the ESDI has not had its first graduates yet. However, based on our knowledge of its programs and instructors, we could risk giving our opinion about its potential. We are a little concerned with its characterization as a ‘superior school.’ In an underdeveloped country like ours, Ulm’s scientific operationalism may become absurd. We fear that the ESDI will follow a path which is not congruent with what we need. A school of industrial design should, for instance, be connected with or at least take into account an industrialization plan, such as that developed by Celso Furtado at the Superintendence for the Development of the Northeast (SUDENE). Moreover, even if the Uhm school guidelines were not harmful, we do not believe that the ESDI can maintain its standard. As Brazil does not have the infra or super structure required to sustain such a standard, the ESDI could become a poor imitation. These fears are only partly justifiable, however, since our contact with the ESDI and its students leads us to at least adopt a position of curious observer of what could emerge there. We trust in our power to assimilate and transform influences, in our anthropophagy.
In these notes we have attempted to focus and discuss selected aspects of the relationship between art and industry. Although our initial definition was quite broad, we basically addressed the plastic movements directly linked to the production of objects of immediate use. This was so because we do not consider these objects essentially different from the objects for cultural consumption. Moreover, it is in the specificity of the analogy between these two that we locate the central viewpoint of our search. We will now extract from the notes above some general conclusions about the meaning and the situation of art in the society of our time. From the beginning we avoid the duality between immanence and transcendence, already discussed above. We extend our concept of industrial object to all sorts of modern cultural manifestations, sociologically opposing them to artesanal manifestations, even when we deal with manifestations commonly seen as not committed to any specific position. As a consequence, it becomes nonsense to debate the original as an aesthetic condition. The process of ideation substitutes the process of manufacturing. The dependency of art from individuality is also gone: the conceptions can be perfectly originated from a team, as it happens in factories. Is that not what happens in film production, for instance? There, the division of labor occurs at the core of the creation process without compromising the unified characteristic of the final work. The creative process is interactive, is formed by a collective at every stage of production: the script writer interprets an argument which is in turn interpreted by the director, who then offers it for the interpretation of the public, which is also a part of the creation. We do not subjugate ourselves to Bense’s categories either, which uses the notions of contingent beauty and necessary beauty to differentiate between art and articles of consumption. There is no clear distinction between the two, in the same manner in which there is no inner identity in what Bense supposes to be a category. In fact there can be as large a difference between two objects of consumption as between two works of art. We should analyze the objects – be they for immediate consumption or not – according to the complexity of its nature and degree of determination. From that initial analysis we then could classify their cultural forms, from the most rudimentary tools for daily use to the highest artistic manifestations.
For instance, between a commemorative monument and a residential building – both architectonic projects - there is a qualitative difference equivalent to that existing between a poem and a news article, that is, a difference only in the degree of determination. On the other hand, it is not possible to use the terms design and art to refer to [sic] that exists between films and theater, a painting or a poster. A poster and a movie are industrial designs. If we apply the criteria of communication theory to art theory, the difference between a work of fiction and a didactic work is purely in its goals. The instrumental, in order to be instrumental, has to include consummatory elements and vice-versa. It is necessary to eliminate categories, particularly when they carry an implicit, aristocratic hierarchy. There is a topological continuity between what the experts call discriminatorily, minor and great art.
Brazil is, in terms of its artesanal tradition, a virgin country - we left the Neolithic for the atomic era. We miss the penetration of traditional forms of art – radio, press, TV and movies - what the people consume, or it would be more adequate to say, that portion of the population in Brazil who is able to consume something. Today comics and romances illustrated with pictures (‘fotonovelas’) are the most significant manifestations in visual communication. It is not a coincidence that Chris Marker or Resnais would go after these forms of communication. Clearly that could not lead to Pop Art, a frustrated attempt at penetrating mass communication from a lumpen viewpoint of reality. Neither it would lead to the ‘formalismo op,’ or the ‘paulista’ [from São Paulo] alienation, which is a mixture of the two and is called ‘opop’ or ‘pop-creto’ (simply ridiculous). It is useless to try to use the mass media without committing to its content, which is the genuine collective epic, where there is no place for the intellectualized decadence of the aesthetically interesting (G. Lukács).
Finally, with regard to the theories of production of consumption objects, it is absurd in our cultural stage to talk about stylism. The form of our products will be born from its very urgency and it will be good if it is true. It would be ridiculous to transplant ‘isms’ from countries in which the problem of infrastructure has already been ‘solved’ and where it is possible to think of idle refinement. Our industrial art has to be an art which solves well, which provides exact answer to our demands, be those from the body or the soul.
Rio, April 1965