Design Review: Volume 1, Issue 4 (December 1948)
Arts Year Book (continued from p. 9)
Arts Year Book (continued from p. 9)
the shape of things around us and to suggest curative treatment for a sickly condition that has been too long neglected.
The first step towards health is an exact diagnosis of the trouble. Mr. Wadman presents a clear history of the case from our infancy till to-day. He finds the pulse feeble but showing signs of improvement and feels that there is still hope. The malaise results from complicated causes, including infections which involve architecture, furniture, pottery, garden ornaments, postage stamps, teacups—and cats. The prescription is made up of suitable doses of common sense, education, wise freedom, Plischke, Molly Macalister, Olive Jones, and other good designers. The dose is spiced with some well-chosen photographs and some delightful satirical drawings by Geoffrey Nees.
Of course, the whole problem cannot be fully covered in a dozen pages and will not fulfil its purpose without the discussion it is bound to stimulate and the action which must follow. After reading the article, it struck me, for instance, that there seems to be a word lacking in our language to express that quality of good design that we call “Simplicity.” “Simplicity” suggests something easily achieved—that elaboration requires more effort and implies some sort of superiority. Why do stamp designers generally, for instance, not treat the job in the simplest and most obvious manner—a design containing approximate elements of lettering and symbolism that will sit comfortably, reasonably, and attractively in a small rectangle? Why do they immediately create trouble by introducing an unnecessary border that will make the design still smaller, by subdividing the rectangle into awkward areas that have no relation to the given shape and that leave impossible shapes in the background? Why will they choose degenerate lettering that is practically illegible and use realistic pictorial matter that not only creates almost insuperable difficulties for the engraver, but is entirely unsuitable to the scale and purpose of the stamp? The answer is, I think, that it is still greater effort to achieve what we call “Simplicity.” The problem is the same as expressing an idea verbally with clarity and brevity—but it isn't simple!
In the interests of good design and just proportion, I have lingered perhaps too long over the first section of the book, but I do feel that it is a vitally important one and that it will be particularly interesting to those who read this review. Six artists are featured and given a rare opportunity to speak of themselves, their work, and their ideals. Russell Clark gives a thoughtful and concise account of his training and his beliefs. He interprets “Technical Skill” as something as important to Matisse as to the President of the Royal Academy. A. J. C. Fisher discusses Art as an analysis of visual impressions and as a statement of the emotional reactions resulting from visual observation. He believes that vanity and careerism spell danger and that the artist works best in obscurity. Cedric Savage, Vida Steinert, and George Woods are also presented as artist-authors.
R. J. Waghorn writes on the Travelling Scholarship in Art, Alec McDowell, Maenad, and James Caffin on the Theatre in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch respectively, and Stanhope Andrews on “Shadow Catching,” some thoughts on Documentary Films in New Zealand. There is a section of verse chosen by A. R. D. Fairburn.
As a production, the book compares favourably with many overseas publications. It is no easy matter to bring into unity reproductions in colour, half-tone, and line, together with photographs and prints from wood and lino blocks, particularly when different papers are necessary to bring out the best qualities of each. It must be remembered, too, that many of the half-tones are from paintings that were not only never intended for reproduction but were designed to possess that personal quality peculiar to an original that cannot be reproduced.