on oly thyssen, ‘form & distinction’ [reading]

january 27 2009

on form & distinction

[a mock interview with oly thyssen, danish philosopher and sociologist, and professor at copenhagen business school]

TIFFANY:  good morning, professor.  i’d like to have a conversation with you about art and design, and hear your thoughts about form, distinction, and all of the blurry overlaps in between.

OLY THYSSEN:  yes, of course!  i shall be delighted.

T:  why, excellent.  so i understand that, coming from a philosophical background, you might be interested in how humans perceive the art and design processes, and why we even engage in these activities as a human race.  why do you think this is so?

O:  What does art and design do?  Firstly: seduce the senses through the work’s programming, which is unique and thus self-programming.  Secondly: fascinate.

T:  if both art and design both do these two things, do you believe that they are, in fact, two separate entities?  do they fulfill different purposes?

O:  Art is creation of the work with the sole aim of getting it seen.  Design is more complicated because it is allied with function.  This means that two types of perception must be combined, even though they are alien and external to each other: that which is economically profitable and that which is aesthetically pleasing..  Art is not and should not be functional, but design brings in the ‘extending limitation’ that the product must be usable.

T:  so if function is what anchors design, if you have a need, how does one go about starting the design process?  where does it originate?

O:  as a rule, the design process is more one of reworking than creating from scratch. because we cannot create something out of nothing.  Art and design thus produces the new and the old so that the distinction steps into itself, when the new knows that its fate is not to slip but be shoved back into the past.

T:  a believer in precedence and a shunner of spontaneous generation, i see.  what about form versus function?  as architects, we are educated that forms should arise out of function, and we should not strive to extract function from form.  where does form come from, then?

O:  to give form can be a spontaneous and natural thing. shells and flower petals, crystals and foetuses create themselves, the form arising without an author, but not without a history.

T:  how do humans perceive form?  is it through materiality and tangibility, or immateriality and experience?

O: ‘..a work is a relationship between the earthly and the worldly, which translates as a relationship between senseory perception and imagination.

T:  interesting.  from all that you’ve witnessed through your years in academia, to what extent do you believe design taste is a product of society?

O:  i will have to think about that one.  i will get back to you on that.

T:  thank you so much, professor thyssen.  it was an honor chatting with you.

O:  likewise!


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