Design to Artist

Becoming an Artist and False Dichotomies

I am ordinarily a researcher but I feel I’ve always been haunted by art of any kind. The more I studied people and social situations, the more I found myself losing the harsh dichotomy between art and serious work. Whether that was the difference between artist and designer or scientist vs artist, my research continued to blur the lines between art and what could be labelled “ordered work”.

I’ve always loved work such as The Leviathan, MANAKAMANA, and generally everything that comes out of the Harvard Sensory Lab. But it’s really the spirit of letting such dichotomies fall flat that I really take from these ‘ethnographic’ forays into the sensorial. Not just explaining it but allowing you to reimagining with a well thought out sense of sound and visual display.

In the design industry you come across many articles that attempt to show design, especially UX & Interaction design, as being this rigorous and intellectual heavy work; whether it’s programming “real world” physics into a digital device or designing for psychological bias, these articles end up visualising the deeply structured and formulaic process of going from idea to product. Even much of design research that looks at human behaviour results in creating some sort of positivistic or highly configurationist view of their “target” human group. Just look at the persona:

The persona is basically what you see in video game character creations. After we forget the story part, we end up with objects and their properties, this isn’t how you find cultural truths, it’s how you create static properties or psych profiles in FBI/CIA tv programmes. Real humans have modality. Real humans are not just thoughts. Not just cognising.

Not just heads atop a bag of bones.


The industry spends and inordinate amount of time arguing about which “bias” to help “correct” the design and they spend even more time talking about it to stakeholders to drive design. When in reality not all “users” experience the same biases, and not all biases are present when they think they are as different “users” with different “goals” in different “contexts” experience the product differently and sometimes significantly so. In fact I’m sure I can show you how every design fits some “cognitive bias” and then I can show you a bunch of happy users not affected by it at all.

While I take design research and cognitive psychology as being useful, I think the history of design having to “make it’s case” to primary stakeholders has a relation with why the community feels it has to “prove itself”. The result is that any form of intuition or art being the “reasoning” behind some design is aversive to stakeholders as well as the designers themselves. This could lead to designers forgetting something very important. But designers will always be artists as will their managers. Even if they have [enter cognitive bias] which causes them to ignore “who they really are”, at least their are others like John Maeda, who are open to what’s really happening. Art is a mode of being engaged with the world and it’s happening periodically throughout my day without me insisting on the categorisation of the type of work I do.

So that’s why I’ve spent the whole summer creating/designing/arting music. To understand what it is to become an artist, what it is to be culturally accepted as an artist of some sort and how my world changes from “researcher” in the day, and musician in the evening. We are always cycling through modes of existence as Latour put it. Sometimes we aren’t. I’m not talking about sheer feelings, but a mode, in part a mood, a physical/psycho/social state. NOT A STATE OF MIND, BUT A STATE OF BEING. This guides our work, our interactions with the world. It is in large part, our art.

….I choose this summer to become an “artist” and document my experience throughout the process. I want to show all of the roughness, accidents, along with the moments of clarity, and essential turns in the work.

In the next coming days and month, I will be uploading my music work accompanied by my thoughts along with videos and other creative work on what it means to become an artist in my experience. My disclaimer as my good friend mentioned to me, is that this is not an attempt to be authentic, in every way my music is about the world of others as well as my own. The stories, the tonality, the intensity or lack thereof may be at random or it may be getting at how I see a relationship as it is experienced. Lest we forget, we are always already artists. The way we are engaged with the world is the foundation of any art of it all.

Sein Finis — experimental artist and visual anthro living in Philadelphia, PA UK/USA based…

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