In Praise of Stacking Books II

Notes, Feb 13


Your must-read books on art and design philosophy


Ways of Seeing

by John Berger
    Ways of Seeing is a book for the designated spectator. Based on the BBC television series (watch the television series here), Berger opens discussions about the visual arts and how they are perceived. But be aware, your way of seeing is going to be changed and even provoked. Be prepared for an open mind and a dose of skepticism for your next visual experience. This book is not for the naive viewer, but for the one whose perspective can go beyond a photograph, painting, or poster design.

    Why is this tiny book so special? Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t speak only about the glorification of the art but the author colorates it with the market value and the self-image of the person who is viewing it. The negative personality traits, like envy, are important for the advertisement. He questions the relationship between the shame and the spectator and how the narrative of shame is changed in paintings throughout the years. The oil paintings were a symbol of the ruling class, wealth, and everything that money can buy. Berger first tries to help us see ourselves (today and in the past) so we can better see the things outside us. We can understand art as long we can understand ourselves.

    We are manipulated by images and also we are the ones who have the role of the manipulator. Seeing images as they really are takes time and knowledge. The viewer also needs to know how to read the language of the visual and this is an excellent manual to start with. 

    “Publicity is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product of opportunity he is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of other.”

- John Berger 


Design as Art

by Bruno Munari

    “What is a Designer? He is a planner with an aesthetic sense.”

    This book is an important read because we are entering the mind of one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. Bruno Munari shares his views on the world that surround us through art and design. Not only does he explores the visual aspects of our lives, he also portraits our complicated modern society overwhelmed by products and art.

    These short essays create one coherent text in which he challenges the mind of the designer and the creative thinker. Even though his explanations are based on the mid-century era, there are a lot of questions about what is next and how we should deal with the fresh ideas of the fast moving culture. The work is insightful and takes a humanist approach to the process of the design as a conscious operation. It’s also a study of shapes, forms, materials, and an inspection of the different cultures and approaches. Munari explains what happened with the myth of the ‘star’ artist, “who must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher’s shop.”

    In order for a designer to create a relevant work (it could even be a sign for a butcher shop), they need to first be introduced to the ways of their world. And that is done by observing the products and how society is shaped by politics, social movements, and other art. This book does not have all the answers, especially due to the fact that it was written in the 60’s, but it’s a good introduction to get us to start thinking and learning the language of contemporary culture.

   “But what is at the bottom of this anxiety that drives artist to abandon safe traditional techniques and certain markets, and to sell mass-produced articles in shops and not in galleries?

It is probably the desire to get back into society, to re-establish contact with their neighbours, to create an art for everyone and not just the chosen few with bags of money.”

- Bruno Munari



by Kenya Hara
    Kenya Hara is well known as an art director of the Japanese retail company Muji. Working as a graphic designer, he says that his professional field is communication and explores the emptiness as a form of communication. For example, the blank paper is not an empty space but a potential that allows for creative outburst. The color white (This book is not about color) is studied as a philosophical concept and also serves as a guide to simplicity in the process of designing and creating.

    His thoughts and research into Japanese culture is very interesting to follow, as we can notice the Japanese influence in current design culture. This can be especially seen in the fields of graphic design, architecture, fashion, industrial design, etc. Its characteristics can be defined by using a minimal approach in designing details, small typography, clean lines, and a lot of white and empty space.

    To be driven by the desire for simplicity (even though desire for simplicity feels like oxymoron) means to seek a quiet aesthetic in the chaos of the city. So, I think of this book more like meditation for the creators who feel that less is more and are eager to find sophistication in the little things. 

    “A creative mind, in the short, does not see an empty bowl as valueless, but perceives it as existing in a tradition state, waiting for the content that will eventually fill it; and this creative perspective instills power in the emptiness.”

- Kenya Hara


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