Forsey, Jane. the Aesthetics of Design

By Margolin, Victor | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Forsey, Jane. the Aesthetics of Design


Margolin, Victor, The Review of Metaphysics


FORSEY, Jane. The Aesthetics of Design. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 288 pp. Cloth, $49.95--I am a design historian, not a philosopher. Therefore, my thoughts about Jane Forsey's book, The Aesthetics of Design, will relate more closely to design studies than to the philosophy of aesthetics, although in this brief essay I will say something about both. To begin, I should state that The Aesthetics of Design is a welcome addition to the design studies literature, even though Forsey has directed it to aestheticians whom she would like to take design more seriously. She comes to some valuable conclusions that perhaps challenge the philosophy of aesthetics more than they do design studies; but nonetheless, they contribute a body of informed reflection to the discussion of design aesthetics.

Forsey argues that art, craft, and design are different and require distinct forms of engagement to explore their respective aesthetic issues. What is valuable is that she brings design into the discursive arena with art and craft, rather than relegate it to a subordinate role because it is mass-produced. She disputes the claim that a meaningful object such as a work of art must be associated with a known maker, arguing that designed objects are equally worthy of aesthetic attention even if the designers are not known by us.

From the vantage point of contemporary art theory and criticism, it is not so dramatic to put art and design on the same aesthetic plane, since so much contemporary art refuses traditional aesthetic categories and, in fact, is often indistinguishable from design. Consider the stone chairs of Scott Burton or Richard Artschwager or the furniture of Donald Judd. There are no philosophic arguments that could justify calling them art rather than design, except for the contexts in which they have been exhibited and the critical discourses surrounding them. In Judd's case, he carefully chose the volume of manufacture and the venues in which he exhibited and sold his designed furniture and his sculptures, largely to maintain appropriate price levels for each category.

Since the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1951 in London there have been design museums and there continue to be such institutions today. In fact, new design museums, such as those being conceived and built in South Korea, China, and elsewhere are currently among the most exciting projects in the museum world. Design has become a catchword for a wide range of new practices and visual forms that have attracted the public due to the possibility of experiencing and using it rather than simply looking at it. …

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