Apr 25, 2011
Zelda Harrison

Lightspeed and the Human Hand, No. 5

Jonathan Arena explores art, craft and design in Japan: Entry # 5


Plato once observed that “although craftsmen are all poets … they are not called poets, they have other names.” This centuries old statement is very telling about the design industry today – a semantic notion that allows people to classify and assume, which skips process.

In the new design paradigm that exists today, this is anachronistic to the idyllic notion that the creative process is the same, despite the medium or technique. Although Plato touched on the idea that names can be misleading, he also suggests that craftsmen utilize another way of thinking in their craft – that of poetry.

Who is to say then that a furniture designer cannot possess the ability to think spatially like that of an architect, or analytically like a mathematician (Charles and Ray Eames also worked in the fields of industrial and graphic design, fine art and film). A true designer must be able to know all of his or her senses, allowing them to cross boundaries. For craftsman, like artists, there is a fundamental truth to their being – craft and fine art are autonomous by nature. This just means that they [artist and craftsman] are in direct conversation with their material – intimate and personal. Design, on the other hand, is more a purveyor of society, supplying global solutions and local inspiration.

As is often the case, however, design’s collective conscious can lose site of the intimacy associated with handcraft. In this sense, in the creative individual there exists the three toolboxes of an artist, a craftsman and a designer. Designers specialize in thought, or matters of the mind in context – craftsman focus on the relationship between the head and the hand, or matters of the body – and artists on beauty, expression, and the human condition – or matters of the soul. All three of these abilities require masterful control over all of the senses, and all revolve around a central axis; experience. The timeless practices of design, craft and art were innately sense-oriented. Revert if you will, to polymath Leonardo da Vinci.

Beyond his time in nearly every way, Da Vinci can still teach through his methodology. He was insatiably curious and was able to use his five natural tools to help him achieve the things he is now famous for. He took inspiration from his context of place and time.

For Da Vinci, it was Rome, Italy, and the epicenters of the Renaissance. Today, Japan is one of countries leading the contemporary digital renaissance. In the West, this movement led to the Age of Enlightenment.

What is the next age of art and design in Japan?

Jonathan Arena attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where he received a BFA Graphic Design in 2009. He is most inspired by creative workspaces, uncommon food combinations, and perfect dovetail joints. In his free time, he likes to build things by hand, use his polaroid land camera, and create small experimental websites. Jonathan currently works as a UI/UX designer in San Francisco, California.

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