Week 1, October 9, Camberwell College of Arts
The session, which took place at Camberwell, introduced and discussed the meaning of the terms criticism and illustration. The programme for the coming weeks was outlined.

We then looked at objects that everyone had been asked to bring in. I was struck by how much thought had gone into the selection of the objects - how many were 'beautifully' designed, such as the tiny bobbin from a sewing machine, or the fold-up pocket knife.

One difference between criticising design and criticising 'art' is of course that designs have a desired functional endpoint against which one may criticise, evaluate or judge them - do they 'work'?

But, is it simply that form follows function, as some modernists might have it, or are there always other aesthetic choices at work - even in the most functional of objects?

'An object should now be judged by whether it has a form consistent with its use...If the form of an object turns out to be 'beautiful' it will be thanks to the logic of its construction and to the precision of the solutions found for its various components. It is 'beautiful' because it is just right'.
Munari B (1966/2008) pp35-6.

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Back to our objects. First of all we curated an improptu exhibition of the objects brought in - how might they be arranged? Suggestions included by size, by texture, by function... First we arranged by size.


Objects arranged by size from the button to the bear... and the flag...

Next we grouped the objects by function, e.g. containers, receptacles, ornaments, toys.

Another way of classifying might have been colour (in a series ‘See Through’ Swedish artist Helga Steppan 'audited all of her belongings and divided them into a full spectrum of different colour groupings to photograph: White, Black, Yellow, Red, Miscellaneous, Blue, Orange, Green, Pink, Grey, Purple, and Brown' - see http://www.re-title.com/artists/helga-steppan.asp).

If you are interested in colour and its significance then you look at David Batchelor's book Chromophobia (2000). [There is also an extraordinary chapter on 'The whiteness of the whale' in Herman Melville's (1819-1891) magnificent book Moby Dick (1988, Pp. 204-12.)]

Description and criticism
Following our curation of the objects as a whole, we then, working in groups, criticised and interpreted individual objects (the bear had a surprising and slightly disturbing reversible head it turns out).

Description is always a good starting point. As Terry Barrett (2000) says 'description is not a prelude to criticism - it is criticism' (p84). (He did not mean it is the only element of course, but it is perhaps the first and a very important element.)

Barrett T (2000). Criticizing art: understanding the contemporary. 2nd Ed. Boston: McGraw Hill
Batchelor D (2000) Chromophobia. London: Reaktion Books
Melville H (1988). Moby-Dick or The whale. New York: Penguin Classics
Munari B (1966/2008) Design as art. London: Penguin Modern Classics