I guess it’s telling that, in all the design-related posts I’ve done so far, I haven’t posted anything in the classic modernist tradition. The truth is that while there are many modernist works I love, the hegemony of modernism annoys me– I feel like it gets too much credit relative to other branches of design history that are more challenging to understand. I guess that in the end, I suspect that it’s fairly easy to develop an attitude towards modernism: one can latch on to a few easy catch-phrases - less is more, form follows function - and feel that there’s a basis of an opinion here, whereas the underlying assumptions of, say, Constructivism or Art Deco are harder to wrap one’s head around.
One of my very favorite statements on design comes from Milton Glaser (the creative partner, incidentally, of Seymour Chwast, whom I blogged on yesterday) in his essay Ten Things I Have Learned as he calls into question one of the blanket assumptions of modernism:
LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE.
Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’
‘Just enough is more’ is one of the most instructive ideas I have learned about design. The Popova textile design I posted a few weeks ago is a great example of this, I think.
Image: Piet Zwart, whose layouts have a musicality and playfulness that cut between ‘too sparse’ and ‘too busy’.