Style? Strategy! On Communication Design as Meaning Production

“Style, what is style?”, asked the art history teacher in my first year in art school. There was an awkward silence, as we looked at each other in a combination of misunderstanding and uncertainty. Style? Wasn’t that just what we were doing all the time, the development of beautiful shapes, that if one continued improving long enough, would eventually turn into an aesthetically cohesive body of painterly work, shaping an artistic hand: my own style?

To help stimulate discussion, the teacher asked a second question, which according to her, was closely related with the first: ‘What is quality?’ But the discussion didn’t improve, and got bogged down in generalities about the artist as the central creative source of the work and part of a long history of brilliant masters. In short, we couldn’t think further than the art school’s prevailing, but limited understanding of the artist’s position: ‘the style is the man because the man is the style.’ The point of my teacher’s critical questions, however, has been in my mind ever since. Every discipline, as well as cultural production, has to examine their own assumptions and methods, and should not accept these as a given, because theoretical frameworks and methodologies, as well as material conditions, decidedly influence the (nature of the) outcome of that practice.

Article originally published in Modes of Criticism 3 – Design and Democracy (2017)

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