On the face of it, this is a book you might think could be easily plundered for Pseud’s Corner, being a quite earnest approach to the process of design and its place in a wider society. This is almost inevitable because, as soon as you start to analyse what is, for the practitioner, often an instinctive process, you start to ask the question: what’s my motivation?, which, in terms, the authors do. However, apart from their more analytical approach, much of what’s here is no more than you might get in any basic book of art instruction; it’s just that we’re coming at it from a slightly different angle.
The blurb refers to this as “a practical approach to the theory of visual language” – you can almost sense the funny haircuts and the mannerisms already, can’t you? But stick with it, because this isn’t written by a sociologist but by a potter and an art and design teacher. The use of the word potter is important. If he’d described himself as a ceramicist, we’d know that David Cohen was putting himself right up there with the immortals, but pottery is a more humble, workmanlike calling, so I think we can give him the benefit of the doubt. Scott Anderson turns out to be his son.
What the book gives us is an analysis of form, shape and line which takes into account not only the maker but also the critic and the consumer (there’s even a diagram on page 11 which shows the inter-relationship between these), a complex process in which all the elements both feed on and inform each other in a sort of unholy triangle, the balance of which is what ultimately decides the success of any specific piece. Coming at it from the point of view of the practitioner and without being unduly prolix, the authors spark off a debate which will, in the end, go far beyond the covers of their book and which can be taken at almost any level the debaters choose.
In the second half of the book, eight craftspeople explain their individual approach to design and how they have developed and used their own visual language. Working in diverse fields including glass engraving, jewellery, metal and pottery, their comments illustrate how a common source can develop in an almost infinite number of ways as well as allowing a fascinating insight into the thought processes some serious artists.
All in all, this is a fascinating and thought-provoking book which opens, rather than lectures, the mind.
First published 2006