The Meaning of Life / Art, Design, and Consumer Culture

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Culture is everything we don’t have to do.

We have to eat but we don’t have to have cuisines

like Big Macs or Sushi.

We have to cover ourselves against the weather

but we don’t have to be concerned whether we put on

Levi’s or Yves Saint Laurent.

The ‘have to’ activities are functional and the ‘don’t have to’ stylistic –

The main basis on which we make choices is in terms of

stylistic differences”

– Brian Eno

The second lecture received from Tracy focused on art & design within consumer culture, looking into how we are placed in this world as human beings, and us as designers, connecting with the society in various ways through design. My generation are classed as the 21st century digital natives (born in, or around 1994), this being true as we’ve grown up with introduction of digital technologies and as a result have interacted with digital technology from an early age, resulting in a  greater understanding of its concepts.

In Today’s day and age technology is what drives society, it keeps it constantly moving, always developing, making older technologies insignificant, but what was it that drove us before technology? Things like good health and the providing of food, and those considered beyond the real such as religion, Gods and symbols, and spirituality, these things took people away from reality. This idea of being taken away from reality is very loosely fitted to modern society as people have strayed from these things, however in it’s place we now consume through the means of shopping! It gives us meaning, it’s the hobby of the nation! Some reasons why we do this include:

  • advertising
  • vanity
  • pressure from peers
  • the need to belong within certain groups of people
  • it assures us that we belong to a certain socialistic group
  • lifestyle!
  • the sense of community and belonging
    • We replaced the old community need of religion and spirituality with this new community. We value the feeling of belonging, and here emotions come into play.

There’s a huge range of experiences around consuming, these include things like food, music, clothing and fashion, health & fitness, cosmetic beauty, art etc.

Culture: 1) the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively

2) the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

3) values and beliefs of people

Tracy showed us an artist of whom I am familiar with called Chris Jordan, he creates works that demonstrates what human beings are doing to this world, exemplifying the unknowing destruction of man. Chris Jordan puts messages into his dotted paintings, made up of mass amounts of everyday items, such as 50,000 plastic bags equal to the estimated number of pieces floating plastic in every square mile in the world’s oceans, 67,000 mushroom cloud photographs equal to the number of metric tons of ultra-radioactive uranium/plutonium waste being stored in temporary pools at the 104 nuclear power plants across the U.S.amongst others.

Aesthetic Theory

The nature of aesthetics – what is art? This is basically sensory emotional values, which have always been in art since cave paintings, what makes it art though?

Theodore Adorno coined the term ‘culture industry‘ where he proposed that popular culture was similar to a factory producing standardised cultural goods such as magazines, programmes, radio films, etc.

The value of beauty differs from place to place, Marlyn Monroe for example in her era was considered beautiful, however now she may be seen as ‘too big’ as western society commonly sees models required to be incredibly slim, but we do however live in an age where airbrushing of celebrities is the norm. It’s a cultural thing, our cultural conditioning makes people see things as the norm in different cultures. When people begin to change this cultural conditioning people react to it, often in negative ways in the past, as Marcel Duchamp did with his urinal piece, during it’s time it was seen as horrible, not art, he was pushing the boundaries of art and authority, he was challenging the nature of art, but things change over time and is now $3.6 million! Other examples of artists pushing these cultural conditions:

  • Andy Warhol – starring in film and other bohemian works, making art out of advertising and packaging ‘why shouldn’t these be considered art?’
  • Andres Serrano with Piss Christ – questioning the nature of religion by putting religious artifacts in his own urine
  • Damien Hirst – Chopping up animals and putting them in carcinogenic formaldehyde, preserving their bodies – Damien worked in a morgue when he was younger so this would have inspired him to work with dead bodies
  • Banksy – questioning authority and being against the elite

The new ‘unreasonable’ designer

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

this is what we designers have to be, we have to be sustainable thus being seen as responsible and looking after the world. Creative problem solver, reflective thinker, intelligent maker, craftsman.

Graphic Design: fine art or social science?

  • I’ve got to imagine everything I produce, all my design products, will be viewed on screen because of the modern digital age
  • Networking = success – I must be creatively thinking and working all the time
  • Efficiency of communication, technology for implementation, perceptual and behavioural concerns, advertising affects on beliefs and actions, cross disciplinary communication, active dialogue and communication networks.

Graphic design cannot me understood in isolation but within a communication system.

The emphasis should be on the interrelation between the audience and the design, actively participating in the construction of the message decisions made based on the STUDY of HUMAN COMMUNICATION – an awareness of psychology, verbal communication, sociology, computing science, marketing and other disciplines.

Animation Heroes – defying cultural convention – used as a political tool.

The Role of Animation

Playful Politics – Reflection of social norms – getting satire and irony out of serious matters

Sofa Satire – Narratives from events and issues of the time

Girl Culture – A vehicle for consumer indoctrination

Authority – Challenging the status quo and platform for alternative belief systems

Us & Them Branding – Epitome of emotional attachment and consumer culture

Animation: the state of being full of life or vigour; liveliness.

Prime time cult TV viewing – family TV

Theories of play – Internalisation of desires, emotional associations with objects, stories and imaginary worlds…

Child development theories:

Sigmund Freud

B.F. Skinner

both looked at when something went wrong it was through behavioural problems, it was all internal and on the individual where as in later studies it was found that external factors such as parents, peers and people > Bowlby attachment theory

Social development theories:

  • Bowlby attachment theory
    • Relationships, peers and care givers ‘Attachment Theory’
  • Bandura social theory
    • Observing others and reinforcement from sense of pride, satisfaction + accomplishment ‘Social Learning Theory’
  • Piaget
    •  altho mainly looked at cognitive development recognised how children actively seek info, who construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world – “Little Scientists” he called them in his theory and intro to ‘Stages of Cognition’…
  • Lev Vygotsky
    • agreed with Piaget but  more influentially, believed children learn actively through ‘hands on’ EXPERIENCES as well as thru parents, peers and the culture at large ‘Sociocultural Theory’ – he says PLAY is a necessary phenomena which allows a child to develop abstract meaning separate from objects – a higher mental function – pretending to ride a horse, a stick for a sword, cos cant do it in reality, have to use their imagination instead – so that “the child’s relationship with reality is radically altered”

“popular culture is a category which floats ambiguously between the anthropological and the aesthetic”

‘The Idea of Culture’ Terry Eagleton Oxford Prof

Cultural & Emotion

Kobayashi & Hara (96) found that cross culturally people show the highest emotion recognition rate with cartoon-like synthetic faces – 90% for surprise/fear/disgust/anger/happiness/sadness

Goleman (95) who looks at ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Happiness increases brain activity + inhibits negative feelings, boosts energy and  sensation of general rest and wellbeing – Enjoyment and surprise are universal  positive core emotions…

McCLOUD Storytelling & Meaning & our ‘connectedness’ to THINGS

JOY VAN FUQUA“What are those little girls made of?” Power Puff Girls & Consumer Culture

BRIAN L. OTT“O my god they digitized Kenny”: Travels in the South Park Cybercommunity

Sarah Banet-Weise – KIDS RULE: Nickelodeon & Consumer Citizenship

Our emotional resistence is lowered when watching cartoons, allowing information to easily be absorbed, and playful politics to set in.

Sofa satire – Beavis and Butthead > taking the piss out of the media. Family guy, Simspons, and Southpark are all examples, basing much of their material from reality, often from the media, Southpark especially with current affairs; dealing with issues that no else did/would do like gay marriage, terrorism, euthanasia, Guantanamo Bay etc. – Authority – Challenging the status quo and platform for alternative belief systems.

Us & Them Branding – The epitome of emotional attachment and consumer culture.

– Nickelodeon

– Double coding in cartoons – having an audience on different levels.

Computer Gaming Imagery

– Feminism

– The male gaze

– Laura Kroft


Other notes:

Design is a professional practice, it is a tool used to attract people, heavily within consumer culture also, culture is the lens we look through, and this is the key to understanding the design process.

Lifelong learning I have to show potential work places what I have to offer, show a range of skills, and that I’m actively designing and working.

The most successful creatives are those who have multiple disciplines, animation, design, drawing, music…




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