addressing the audience

(Illustration taken from referenced article; original art by Joe Alterio)

In our introduction into the realm on public art last class, one of the questions we focused on was the idea of the audience – in the context of public art, who exactly constituted ‘public’?

Coincidentally, I stumbled across an article today that discussed the very same idea of audience, asking readers – who do we make this for?

One of the most valuable insights I took away from the article was the writer’s distinction between art and design, and how the element of audience was one way in which the two could be viewed as fundamentally different. While art leads audiences into the realm of the artist, the opposite is supposedly true of designers. Design is meant to meet the needs of the user; it is not designer who draws audiences in, but the audience that beckons designer.

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot recently: if art is the self-indulgent child, is design its more practical sibling? Interestingly enough, this article argues that maybe design has been drawn too far into – and maybe even crossed – the boundary of utility. He claims that what we are witnessing now is not just design with the users in mind, but design with a single user in mind: the wealthy. The author refers to this phenomenon as ‘monetized sameness’ – of design measured by the metric of numbers. One line stands out to me: “As mercenary impulses have moved further into the creative fields, the mathematics behind success gets to be quite obvious. The more people, the more money, the more valuable the product”. Like art, design faces the problem of self-indulgence – only this time, instead of indulging the artistic whims and opinions of the artist, the problem is now design that finds itself stuck in the vacuum of wealth.

Truth be told, I felt a little cynical after reading the article: while I used to think design was a means of solving problems, I finished the last paragraph wondering if our profit-centric culture has taken a hold of this field as well. And thinking about it now, I’m sure it hasn’t. Just recently, my friend has been telling me about these boat-schools in Bangladesh, transporting kids up and down the river whilst simultaneously giving them the opportunity to learn. There it is – functional design. Design that isn’t hell bent on the allure of wealth, but design that addresses an audience with real-world problems to be solved. To me, this is design in its most fundamental form.

I feel as though I’m going on several tangents here; in my head, this seemed to make more sense. (It’s late and maybe I just need sleep). But yes, audience – I think what I’ve been trying to say is that audience will always be important. Be it art or design, neither will ever be independent of audience. And more than I thought it did, audience holds a powerful capacity to inform art and design.

I apologize for this long-winded article that seemed to reach no particular point. Maybe it is I who lost track of audience – oh, the irony.
But anyways! Yes. Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk.

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