January 11th, 2017
A Critique of Human Intent
“in order to understand the esthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must begin with in the raw; in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man, arousing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and listens: the sights that hold the crowd—the fire-engine rushing by; the machines excavating enormous holes in the earth; the human-fly climbing the steeple-side; the men perched high in air on girders, throwing and catching red-hot bolts. The sources of art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd; who notes the delight of the housewife in tending her plants, and the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green in front of the house; the zest of the spectator in poking the wood burning on the hearth and in watching the darting flames and crumbling coals.”
John Dewey begins Art and Experience by reflecting on the aesthetic value of art, and very quickly latches onto the fact that you cannot understand an aesthetic object without understanding its intent. You can enjoy a piece of art without a creation narrative, but you cannot understand it. I would posit that this is the same with design, as much as we like to point out the differences between art and design, because art, in the public sphere, becomes part of an aesthetic environment with purpose (i.e., it has become “designed.”) Where this reality, the fuzzy dissipation of objectivity, becomes problematic is in the context of critique. What is the role of critique outside of a critique of process? What is the role of critique outside of a critique of effectiveness? Perhaps this is where design diverges so drastically from art, as critique not longer becomes a question of object but a question of intent. The only avenue for productive criticism is “does this do what you intended it to do?”
This is why every critique ends up being, at its core, a critique of human intent.