The New Ism

  • By OSNS

    Published on 17 June 2013

As I am sure that you already know, once upon a time there was Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, but did you know that today's ism is Relational Art ? And in the same way that in their infancy, previous artistic movements were not thought of as movements, so it is for our current "ism" known as Relational Art. And just like all the earlier artistic movements, today's Relational Art is completely redefining notions of what art and design actually is. And isn't that exciting? 

For those of you who have not heard of the term, The concept of Relational Art " was developed by French theorist Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998 in his book "Relational Aesthetics". Relational Aesthetics is explored through notions of Relational Art: 

Relational Art:

"a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space."

When art is relational: "The artwork creates a social environment in which people come together to participate in a shared activity. The role of the artwork is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing world, whatever scale chosen by the artist."

In Relational art, the audience is envisaged as a community. Rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and an object, relational art produces intersubjective encounters. Through these encounters, meaning is elaborated collectively, rather than in the space of individual consumption.

To put it simply, this means that Relational Art is all about taking art away from galleries (and award shows). Instead, art makes as its subject the social encounters that take place within a dynamic social environment. The viewer's experience of that social environment IS THE ART. 

This is why OSNS is at the leading edge of Design and Design Education, and why we continually say that OSNS is more than a School, it is a movement. It could be said that our new publication, The Belly of the Beast, is a piece of relational art with its readers included as part of its intersubjunctive encounter, when new thoughts and ideas are ascribed and shared through the encounter with the publication. 

At OSNS we definitely see art and design as being a social science:

“We are the creators of experience, the initiators of memory and the familiarisers of a sense of place. We are the makers of meaning, the creators of experience, the initiators of memory and the familiarisers of a sense of place. We are the Cultural Producers"

So how does this relate to you? 

I don't know about you, but I always get excited to think that I am part of history. Won't it be great to one day tell your grand children that you were part of the artistic and design movement called Relational Art, when on June 21, 2013 you celebrate at this Friday's launch of the Belly of the Beast? 

By now, I am sure that you have made the link, and can also see that Relational Art encompasses much more than Art and Design Awards Madness which still clings to the security of 1970's notions of artist and product as hero. Most award shows neglect the human subjunctive encounter, and new meanings that emerge from these encounters, and this is what OSNS is striving so hard to achieve. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, it is a slow haul to educate designers, and that is why I am happy that our leading design publications are stepping away from artist/designer as hero, and also ascribing to notions of Relational Artistic Practice with themes of Your Neighborhood, Placemaking, Education and Social Design. (thanks Desktop Magazine)

Joseph Beuys

Another important earlier name in the field of Social Art and Relational Aesthetics is Joseph Beuys. Beuys is considered one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century because he believed that humanity, with its turn on rationality, was trying to eliminate “emotions” and thus lose a major source of energy and creativity in every individual. He was known to say:

"in places like universities, where everyone speaks so rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter to appear".

I could not agree more, and that is why uniquely artistic places like OSNS are so valuable. 

Unsurprisingly Beuys was dismissed from his role of Professor at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf for abolishing entry requirements to his class, and causing general institutional friction within the Department. This did not prevent him continuing his schedule of public lectures and discussions, and he was known to say:

"teaching is my greatest work of art" - “the rest is the waste product, a demonstration. If you want to express yourself you must present something tangible. But after awhile this has only the function of a historic document. Objects aren’t very important any more. I want to get to the origin of matter, to the thought behind it."

Beuys was influenced by Stiener, and both of their pedagogies hold common themes with those of OSNS. Beuys also saw his role of an artist as a teacher or shaman who could guide society in a new direction, which is what I envisage for our students and all designers. Wikepedia goes on to say that: 

At the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, Beuys did not impose his artistic style or techniques on his students; in fact, he kept much of his work and exhibitions hidden from the classroom because he wanted his students to explore their own interests, ideas, and talents. Beuys' actions were somewhat contradictory: while he was extremely strict about certain aspects of classroom management and instruction, such as punctuality and the need for students to take draughtsmanship classes, he encouraged his students to freely set their own artistic goals without having to prescribe to set curricula. Another aspect of Beuys' pedagogy included open “ring discussions,” where Beuys and his students discussed political and philosophical issues of the day, including the role of art, democracy, and the university in society. Some of Beuys' ideas espoused in class discussion and in his art-making included free art education for all, the discovery of creativity in everyday life, and the belief that “everyone [was] an artist.”Beuys himself encouraged peripheral activity and all manner of expression to emerge during the course of these discussions.
Beuys also advocated taking art outside of the boundaries of the (art) system and to open it up to multiple possibilities bringing creativity into all areas of life.

Essentially, what YOU need to know about Beuys is that he was one of the first artists confident in the potential for art to bring about revolutionary change. This was well before Ken Garland's First Things First Manifesto was written) Beuys enlarged the area of art to the whole life of mankind; "everybody is an artist". He said. Very true. 

Like Beuys, OSNS also sees art and design as being central to the idea of what it is to be human. Have you ever noticed how people are always drawn toward art? Art brings people together and connects us all, and that is why it is so important. This enchantment that it holds over us is how it influences us, and creates change. If your curiosity was ever piqued when you were out somewhere, and suddenly heard the song of a human voice pierce across a crowded public space. Or you were drawn toward a group of artists creating a mural, even captivated watching a face painter at a kid's party. Since cavemen drew on the walls of caves we have all been drawn by some basic primal urge toward artistic practice in its pure sense. If you stop and think about it, that is very powerful. It is also the basis for place making and reactivating public spaces. 


The above discussion point is essentially the whole premise of Belly of the Beast. For just three people, the Beast has been a huge labour to think about, distill, plan, collect and write. Then to design and produce.

My partner (who comes from a central Asian culture with many wise sayings) says:

"it's important to celebrate your achievements (for they are few)"

And he's so right! During the day to day hum drum and monotony of life, when so much gorgeous work pops into our screens via pinterest and design blogs, it is easy to forget how rare and hard won our real achievements actually are. 

So that is why we are absolutely delighted, elated and very excited that the Design Avant Garde (that's you!) will be here and celebrate with us. These events are truly special! This is a brilliant networking opportunity for those who value Relational Art, and wish to initiate further Artistic Practice which betters our Society. Those who come to celebrate will truly value what we are doing up at OSNS, and if not, they are too cool for Old School. (and that's very uncool). 

To end, this quote by Rosetta Lake Mills from the Belly of the Beast encapsulates perfectly the magic that we are truly celebrating on this coming Friday night:

Can you see the connec-tion? As designers, we are not only responsible for our personal goals, the brief and the client, but for the community affected by our work. Through storytelling, we have the power to bring people together and to expose new ideas, choices and lifestyles. We must not forget the environment we inhabit and the individuals we influence and who influence us, not only in our designs, but through our daily interactions. We are all connected.

Penelope Mc Pherson our hard working intern, and Our Program Students will be here tonight preparing a cracker exhibition for you, There is much to do to prepare for opening up our humble little space to YOU on Friday night, plus we must package and post up the pictured editions of the Beast. With this in mind I am sure you understand the lack of referencing and dates regarding Beuys and Bourriard. Please google them!

Thanks for reading. I look forward to celebrating with you on Friday night!