As a design candidate in the MCAD MFA program I was asked to write an “artist statement” which, as a designer, I found inherently problematic. In response I contacted designers whose work inspired and influenced me in some way, asking:
Is there such a thing as a “designer statement,” and if so, how would you go about creating one?
I received responses from 30 designers and studios which I will present here in the coming days. Many of the designers in this survey are represented in the current show Graphic Design: Now in Production.
Education, in many schools, is failing its students. We need to prepare students to always seek truth, and engage in a world that is more interconnected than at any point in its history and paradoxically more fragile, dangerous and disconnected.
Institutions need to stop continually raising student tuition without changing what is taught and the way that information is delivered. One could argue that if we teach the way we were taught then we are failing our students.
The stakes are too high for all of us. We have to look at the bigger picture. We have to embrace at the micro and macro levels. Having students write a statement, a manifesto, become an “ism” is a waste of time.
The design statement should be placed in the pantheon of silly design ideas along with design thinking, the all-class critique and the name social design.
The real questions are why does writing a design statement make a design student a better maker? How does writing a design statement better prepare students to become global thinkers and leaders?
Academies are at their best when there is discourse. Institutions should be places where students can question everything. All students should be able to support the making through analysis and discourse, and I gain comfort from this graduate student who dared to ask.
Your question is sort of confusing to me, as perhaps it was to you. To answer it directly, I would say that I’m sure there is such a thing as a “designer statement” but that I generally manage to avoid composing one for fear it would limit the range of my activities.
Let me know if you think this makes sense. I don’t want to seem unresponsive.
As it is most likely very apparent in my delayed response and procrastination of answering this question, I have an extreme indifference towards describing myself or my work. I believe these statements are often misleading and therefore unnecessary to make public in nature. Rather than speaking about my own practise I think it’s better to investigate the reasoning behind the “designer/artist statement”.
I believe there are two groups of designers/artists. Those who feel the need to inject/project their own thoughts and emotions into/onto the viewer directly and those who would like their art to be interpreted solely by the viewer themselves. Considering myself a member of the latter group, I believe the thoughts and intentions that surround work(s) should be somewhat intuitive based on their environment, date of creation and subject matter. A good example would be when the Washington D.C. based band Fugazi played the Alternatives Festival in 1989. Ian MacKaye was asked why he played music and all he could respond with was “It’s what I do.” It isn’t about the methodology and meaning that the band associates with their music, it’s about the listener’s thoughts, emotions, and interpretations of their music that count.
To me, many “designer/artist statements” are a poor excuse to explain art/design to the public who will in the end have their own opinions on the origin, methods and overall worth of the final product. Although it is indeed true, we all have purpose and methods that we know are not inherent in the final product, let’s leave some of the magic and mystery for our viewers to enjoy. I say out with “designer/artist statements”, let’s give our audiences the opportunity and pleasure of thinking for themselves and developing their own thoughts around the work! Who’s with me?!
Here’s my statement about statements:
For me this becomes a simple issue of semantics. An MFA candidate is asked to craft an “artist statement” not a “sculptor,” “painter,” or “photographer statement.” By singling out a “designer statement” as somehow different they are admitting it is a false-equivalency.
The “artist statement” is useful in the context of grant-writing and curatorial concerns. Here an artist needs to articulate their vision to a specific audience: a jury, a curator, etc., etc.
Designers, in the traditional client-designer sense, have no need for this type of document. The game changes project-to-project and client-to-client … so, any statement drafted would be continually contradicted. Although, it is useful for designers or studios to have broad “mission” or “manifesto” — or whatever you want to call it — to guide and shape their decisions (aesthetic, business, or otherwise). However, I don’t see this type of statement as synonymous with an “artist statement.”
As the Graphic Design exhibition clearly shows, designers do operate as “artists” more and more — by producing self-initiated, clientless projects. In this instance the designer is essentially an artist using design as a tool, methodology, medium, or whatever.
This is all to say: if you are working in the “traditional” designer-client scenario a “designer statement” as equivalent to an “artist statement” is impossible. On the other hand, if you are a designer operating as an “artist” (clientless at long last!) then why not simply write an “artist statement?”
Sorry this took so long — unfortunately, I don’t have a hugely profound answer … but anyway…
Whether it is called an artist statement, a research statement, a statement of interest or a designer statement, I think the ultimate goal is the same; to help others understand what motivates you whether it be inspiration, core values, your persistent question or personal history. I believe that what differs is primarily the way people might read it. Even after Barthes killed off the author, most audiences still naturally look to the artist to confirm an artwork’s meaning. This is particularly true for artworks that are heavily abstracted. The artist statement becomes an important “key” for some that helps generate meaning. Further, it stands to establish an artist’s authenticity as an authoritative and thoughtful practitioner.
In the design world, outcomes are usually evaluated differently. The audience or client may not look to the designer to elucidate a design’s meaning, because other concerns — such as a design’s ability to meet various design goals — dominate. Like an artist statement, it should establish a designer’s authority, voice and core values, but it should also go one step further and address the designer’s ability to reflect those core values creatively within a space defined by design constraints. I must also acknowledge that as a communicative tool, these statements should reflect the author’s personal practice and be addressed to the appropriate audience. I have yet to meet any “pure” artists or designers.
Look for the concluding part 7 soon!