design t-shirts if you've made your point...


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Some time back I began a lecture for postgraduate students of art and graphic design by
stating that they had probably all learned the wrong trade. Most of them had an educational
background in disciplines that today could be best described as “old crafts.” Now it was not
my intention to demoralize them, but I wanted to confront them with a problem that is at the
heart of being a designer or an artist or a writer or an editor these days. Of course, as a
writer, critic, and editor, I was talking about my own problems too. To an ever-expanding
extent, the work of artists and designers overlaps the work of other specialists in the field of
cultural communication. And this is not only the case in complex applied multimedia
environments—it holds true even for the autonomous or fine arts. For what is the context of
art and design today? How do they function in our culture and society? What is the role of
artists and designers in what is called the information age? It is obvious that understanding
the idea of “information” is a most important key to these questions. More than ever, the
bulk of cultural production files under “info.” We need to be updated every second on any
topic to be able to exist as cultural beings. Information—from the hard facts of economy and
the news to the seemingly trivial data transmitted by advertising and the entertainment
industry—is at the core of our existence. But such “information” is not the stuff that evokes
what the great eighteenth-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant called Interesseloses
Wohlgefühlen, the kind of thing that is in itself valuable, without any connection to practical
use or economic gain. That is where the great idea of autonomous art comes from: the
creation of a thing of beauty as a value in itself, as a purely spiritual thing that has no use
but being precisely that, a thing of the disinterested mind. These days it is hard to be
disinterested. We are bombarded by information and we are compelled to do something with
that information, to act on it, to deal with it.