Design as Art By Bruno Munari. Translated by Patrick Creagh. (New York, Penguin Books, 2008. 223 pp.).
Design as Art is a book written by the late Bruno Munari, who was an influential Italian designer and worked during the Futurist movement. He spent his career commending modernity and the idea of a total art form. In this book, Munari addresses his thoughts on various design issues and approaches; stressing the concept of functional art. He uses visuals alongside the text to illustrate his ideas, clarifying these ideas and making the book a functional piece of art in itself. The visuals consist of drawn icons depicting the variation in themes of the human face along with pages of illustrated chair designs. Design should be well thought out and accessible in order to be considered effective. His dialogue addresses this as well as the creation of design as a term and the essential role it plays in modern society.
Munari does not have a problem voicing his opinion and clearly stating his position on the issues that fuel the contents of this book. In his early chapter “Design as Art”, Munari discusses the idea that fine art as one once knew it may not be as essential in “culture today”. He argues that art made for galleries only affects a minute group of people and in order to combat this problem artists need to make art integrated with everyday life. Munari believes that artists should kick the idea of their work being an item that is too precious for the average person to obtain and rather use their skills to create work that is for public use. He says that the designer of today does just this. “There should be no such things as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use” (p. 26). Munari has a very Bauhaus way of visualizing art’s functional role in life. He quotes pieces of the school’s manifesto within his own writing. When everything is made with aesthetic design in mind, all things used in life, whether it is tools, appliances or furniture, can be appreciated as works of art. If designers create things in an efficient and beautiful manner, people who use the products will begin to recognize the impact of good design.
This serves as a segue into Munari’s next issue of identifying what it means to be a designer. Who can be trusted with the task of producing items that will have a direct impact on peoples’ lives? Munari provides a very simple definition. A designer is “a planner with an aesthetic sense” (p. 29). Following, he continues with a long-winded explanation of this simple definition to explain that the term “designer” originated in America while the same occupation existed prior in France but was known as ‘esthétique industrielle’, which translates to industrial aesthetics and discusses and how fine art influences applied art. Though his explanations seem overwhelming and a bit wordy, Munari breaks them up with key points that are less abstract. Each key point that he establishes sets up the topic for the subsequent chapter, keeping the book from feeling choppy and unorganized.
Munari adds humorous and entertaining elements within his writing that adds a relief to an otherwise very informative text. A notable example of this is in a later chapter that leads with the heading “And That’s Not All…”, where he is interrupted mid-sentence with seven pages of chair illustrations. This chapter questions why designers spend so much time redesigning products and he uses chairs as an example to portray this phenomena. He presents chair design as a problem that artists and architects have not been able to solve, playfully suggesting, “all of their efforts up till now have been wrong” (p.144).
Bruno Munari’s scope of expertise crosses over a plethora of mediums. His work in visual arts includes painting, film, sculpture, industrial design as well as graphic design. He also studied literature and poetry. Munari joined the Italian Futurist movement in the 1920s and his works from this time include a body of useless machines. After straying from the Futurists, his views turn away from uselessness and towards functionality. In his later years, Munari was committed to the idea that design was of the upmost importance in visual art due to its way of connecting art to the public. Munari’s book, Design as Art stresses the importance of producing beautiful items for everyday use. This notion is timeless; designers from any era can use this information as a guidebook for creating.