Friday, May 20, 2011

Typohpile discussion: Is type design/typography art?

I started a discussion on the typophile website about whether type design is art and I think some of the commentary is quite appropriate to my context book. Because a lot fo these people are typographers, it's quite a well informed set of views. Here are some relevant (anonymous) extracts:

"Actually, I think it is, but there are others who tend to think art with a "A" is grander than what a nicely crafted set of glyphs can offer.

in the end, art is a verdict."

"Type design* is art in it's most basic sense: black and white, positive and negative, mass and void. And yet ... type is most definitely a tool. It can be flawed if it isn't coherent or lacks in technical quality.

*Designing typefaces is not typography."

"Typography and type design are properly Design rather than Art. Of course at the same time, Art can repurpose any other discipline, and typography can be seen as art by typographers. But for me, type design and typography are responses to design questions, fulfilling a brief or seeking to solve aesthetic questions with elegance; therefore it's based on a slightly different premise to Art, which seems to centre on creating something in itself."

"I think I could agree that typography is more of a science than an art. So much of it is objective with defined rights and wrongs. However type design is very subjective and an art. What is so right today can be declared so wrong tomorrow, but there is never absolute agreement on that by anyone. If type design isn’t an art, there would have never been the extended discussion recently on why so many people hate Comic Sans."

"I consider typography a craft, like most areas of design. The sole reason for that is because they have a functional component as well as an artistic one. So by this same criterion the following are crafts and not art as such: architecture, clothing design, graphic design, furniture design..."

"I consider crafts to be activities which require a specialized skills--such as basketweaving or macramé--which can, at times, produce objects of great beauty as well as utility. By your definition, to be considered Art, an activity must serve no practical purpose (lacks a "functional component"), which seems to me to impoverish both Art and ourselves."

I think this one is important because it talks about the Beatrice Warde quote I referenced earier from the 'Just My Type' book:

"I read a quote (and it's a commonly held belief) that typography is best when it functions without being noticed

Disagree. Of course typography is supposed to be noticed. But in a manner similar to a movie set: it's not the focus of the scene, but it enhances what's happening in the foreground. And if it's poorly made or inapt, you'll definitely notice.

The idea that "printing should be invisible" is most directly traceable to Beatrice Warde's "Crystal Goblet" essay from 1955. While the essay has a few good points to make, its core premise — that "invisibility" is the defining virtue of typography — is flat wrong. (Wrong on metaphorical grounds too: go to a decent wine bar and you'll see crystal goblets of different shapes being used for different kinds of wine.) It's long past time for typographers, and typographic educators especially, to pour concrete into Warde's "Goblet" and toss it overboard.

Some defend Warde by saying that her thesis was not so extreme — that she only meant that typography should be suited to the text. A fine idea, but what part of Warde's essay supports this interpretation? If anything, she goes out of her way to reinforce the "invisibility" theme:

But a good speaking voice is one which is inaudible as a voice. It is the transparent goblet again! I need not warn you that if you begin listening to the inflections and speaking rhythms of a voice from a platform, you are falling asleep.

Does this statement make any sense at all?

Warde's essay mostly illustrates the perils of latching onto an appealing but inapt metaphor: everything you deduce from that metaphor will also be wrong."

This argument is a good one that suggests that typography is more than just a technical craft because it enhances the work. It's something I think will form the core of my argument.

No comments:

Post a Comment