Thursday 27 October 2011

Portrait of a lobster: a lawyer looks at the art-style-design divide

Some readers of Art & Artifice will be readers of the jiplp weblog, but most will not. Today's jiplp features "Art, Style, Design" -- a powerful piece by veteran Italian intellectual property scholar and practitioner Mario Franzosi on the inadequacy of European design laws. In the middle of this analysus he seeks to distinguish the three concepts to which the title alludes in the following manner:
"2.1 Art results from the work of artists, those people who, with constant and enduring passion, communicate in understandable form their feelings and thoughts -- feelings and thoughts that are universal: those of the human race. 
Art expresses those permanent ideas like Beauty, Love, Courage, Misery, Heroism, Passion, Faith, which are everlasting principles and sentiments. The message is not immediately evident; especially for modern art, it has to be detected or interpreted; when detected, it makes an everlasting impression. 
One of the 284 lobster paintings
currently available from
Fine Art America -- none of which
look much like lawyers 
Works of Art are in Museums, and also in the lobbies of the most prestigious law firms. Some months ago I was in the office of a well-known, high-profile IP lawyer and I saw in the lobby a most catching picture. In this picture I clearly recognized that lawyer (looking, perhaps, a little younger than his actual years), working tirelessly for a case. The picture expressed clearly the intelligence, dedication, tension and ability of the professional. It seemed that this IP star was considering only the interest of his client, and nothing leaked from the external world. I expressed my admiration to the secretary. And she said (I told you that the meaning of the work of art is not immediately evident !): “Yes, Sir, true. However, it is a fact that the painting depicts a lobster, cooked with onions and potatoes”. I will not tell whether it was lobster or potato or onion that brought me to the identification with our famous friend.  

2.2. Style is typical of stylists, those people who express their style, their personality in their creations. A work of style is recognizable and easily attributed to the stylist. It is the signature of the creator, like a real signature made with a pen (stylus, in Latin). It must show the personality of the creator; if not, it is a creation with no style. And the style has to be consistent: if Armani changes style and designs in the style of Dolce & Gabbana, the public will say that he has lost style, and deserves no consideration and appreciation. The same if Dolce & Gabbana designs in the Armani’s style: nobody would accept it. An exchange of image is not allowed, since it would be a loss or style, no matter whether the new style is good or bad.

2.3. Design is quite a different animal. Designers design common objects, those kind of items that you use every day, in a manner that it is (or should be) appropriate for you and the object. They design common coffee-pots, or typing machines or refrigerators, which make good coffee, keep your food fresh, type letters easily. The personality of designers does not count; it is the utility and elegance of the object that matters. When in a shop window you see a coffee-pot that is a work of design, you look at it with interest, enter the shop and buy it (even if it costs a little more than expected, but not so terribly more), because you have a feeling that it is nice and makes a good coffee. You put the old coffee-pot aside, and think of using the old only if the new breaks out. But the new does not break, if it is good design, so that the old remains disconsolate on the shelf, until it goes, even more disconsolate, in the basement. 
A work of design is a work of a designer, working with other functions in the company. If the company could buy aluminum at a bargain, the coffeepot is made of aluminum; if not, is made of iron. If the company wants to make use of a number of filters that lay in the warehouse and nobody finds a proper use, the coffeepot employs said filters. The product is made with what is easily available, provided is appropriate (fit and match, if I may use the European terminology). The product is proper, but not fanciful; the public does not know, and does not recognize, the designer. The public buys coffeepots, and not names. 
Of course there are contact, or conflicts, between Art, Style and Design. For instance, if you enter a museum of fine art and see a beautiful chair, you may not know if it is a work of Art or Design. But there are ways to find out. For instance, if you sit on the chair and you feel comfortable, it is a work of Design. If you sit and the alarm sounds, the guardian comes with a broom and scolds you, it is a work of Art. The amount of scolding is the amount of creativity".
While the definitions are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the message behind them, and its implications for the protection of applied and functional art, are immense. Readers are invited to share their comments and reflections on the good professor's thoughts.

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