What is Idealism?
Idealism is expressed in the gadgets we use, in the places where we live and work, and in the media we see in our daily lives. The urge to put our ideas (our ideals) into visual or tangible form has been a driving force of creation throughout human history. It is part of us. It grows from our individual and collective experiences and insights, as well as our needs, wants, and dreams. But what do we mean by idealism?
Idealism encourages imagination and attempts to realize a mental conception of beauty, a standard of perfection. The idea of beauty is what matters. Beauty is found in the idea the form represents. From an idealistic perspective, all objects and experiences are representations of the mind.
Carefully read all the sections on this page before you write your post.
The Ancient Ideal of Beauty
Since ancient times, the Western ideal of human beauty was defined by the art of the Greeks and Romans.
The statue known as the Spear Bearer or the Doryphorus (above left) is a Roman copy of ancient Greek original. Its sculptor, Polykleitos of Argos, wrote a treatise on the perfect proportions of the human form and created this statue as an example. Polykleitos envisioned the human body as a harmonious set of divinely inspired ratios. By studying numerous models and measuring the key ratios such as the size of the head to the size of the body, he arrived at what he thought were the ideal proportions for a human. Typical of Classical art, the figure is in the prime of life, and blemish-free. It is not a portrait of an individual but rather a vision of the ideal.
The Venus de’Medici (above right) is a Roman copy of a fourth-century BCE Greek original by Praxitiles, the best-known sculptor of his time. Its refined profile and modest pose are features of the Greek idealization of human figures. Although nude goddesses were unknown in early periods of Greek art, this figure came to represent a feminine ideal, and has strongly influenced many artworks since that time, down to the feminists of the twentieth century who rebelled against it.
Idealism in Contemporary Design
What about art in our own times? Is the notion of idealism and beauty still relevant today?
Are contemporary artists and designers concerned with idealistic beauty, with the underlying idea the form represents? And if so, where do we get our visions of the ideal today? From art, design, media, or some other realm?
Idealism is not confined to the traditional fine arts, such as painting and sculpture. “Objects of all kinds, from ancient carefully crafted flint knives to today’s personal digital devices, have been conceived to delight the eye as well as to serve more obviously useful functions. Well-designed utilitarian objects and spaces, from spoons to cities, bring pleasure and efficiency into our daily lives. Artists transform objects for daily use by either designing them in new ways or by embellishing them; sometimes both.” (Artforms, p. 20)
Idealism in Product/Industrial Design
Everyday objects such as the Macbook Pro (above) express the idealism of our technological age.
Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs revolutionized the way we think with computers (Links to an external site.). He fused idealism with digital technology. For Jobs, the Mac was the tool of liberation, and he demanded perfection, originality, and human-centered design (Links to an external site.) in every detail of Apple products. Jobs once stated that “by building affordable personal computers and putting one on every desk, in every hand, I’m giving people power. They don’t have to go through the high priests of mainframe – they can access information themselves. They can steal fire from the mountain. And this is going to inspire far more change than any nonprofit.”
Idealism in Architecture/Environmental Design
The Oculus, a transportation hub designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, expresses an idealistic vision of American resilience. It reminds us that, even in the face of devastation, there is hope.
Located mere feet from the September 11th Memorial and Museum in downtown Manhattan, and a regular destination for visitors to Ground Zero, it takes the shape of a bird, specifically a phoenix, in mid-flight. The symbolism is immediate and you can’t help but feel the power of the idea that underpins the form. The angle of the windows is particularly placed so that every year on the anniversary of the attacks, the sun shines directly through the skylight and illuminates the main hall at 10:28 a.m. (the time of the collapse of the second tower).
Read about how architecture can help build relationships between people. (Links to an external site.)
Idealism in Graphic/Digital Design
Graphic designers combine art and technology to produce powerful designs that express idealism and promote change.
Born in Zimbabwe, a former British colony with with apartheid-like discrimination, graphic designer Chaz Maviyane-Davies creates smartly-designed posters that speak truth to power and advocate issues such as human rights, AIDS research, environmental protection, and free speech. In 2002, he embarked on his most well-known project to raise consciousness about the abuse and violations of rights being perpetrated by the corrupt president, Robert Mugabe, and encourage people to vote. During a month of graphic activism called “The Portal of Truth,” he created graphic commentaries every day, for 30 days, until the eve of the elections, and distributed them by email. The poster, above, depicts a member of Mugabe’s ruthless militia, trained by North Korea, and distinguishable by their red berets.
Check out the Graphic Design of Chaz Maviyane-Davies here (Links to an external site.) and here. (Links to an external site.)
In this assignment, you will find and post a specific example of contemporary design (from one of the three design fields listed below) that expresses an idealistic vision. You will then write and post a 500-650 word analysis, in which you describe and examine your choice, the idea it represents, and how it expresses this idealistic vision. You will support your key points with ideas and information you find in the resources provided, the internet, and with your own observations, ideas and insights. Please cite your sources.
This Discussion is worth 100 points. Please read the instructions and Grading Rubric before you begin.
Your first post to this Discussion is due by Sunday, April 10 at 11:59 p.m.
Your responses to posts by at least two different classmates are due by Sunday, April 17 at 11:59 p.m.
You must post in the Discussion before you can read your classmates’ posts.
Before You Begin
Learn About the Language of Style
Before you begin, please read about The Language of Style. Using types of style to examine and interpret works of art is a key skill you will take with you from this course. Pay close attention to what we mean by “idealization” in art.
Instructions and Grading Criteria
Important! Approach this discussion as you would if you were writing a college paper. In other words, don’t just start writing in the discussion board without having a plan. I recommend that you open a Word document and write a polished 500-650 word paper, then copy and paste this into your discussion post.
Step One: Select a Specific Example of Contemporary Design
Explore the links below, the internet, and the world around you until you until you find a specific example of contemporary design that expresses an idealistic vision. Think out of the box! You will not select a work of art in the traditional sense, such as painting or sculpture. Instead you will select a specific well-designed product, building, or graphic form that serves a clear function and also expresses an idealistic vision. The internet is filled with information, images, and videos about architecture and design, and I encourage you to do additional research about the work you select. More information about Design Disciplines can be found in Artforms, Chapter 11, pages 176-187.
Step Two: Post in the Class Discussion
Your post is worth 80 possible points
After you select a specific example of contemporary design, write and post a 500-650 word analysis, in which you describe, examine, and evaluate the design and how it expresses an idealistic vision. Organize your analysis into three paragraphs, listed below, and follow the instructions. Although not required, it may be helpful to use headings.
At the beginning of each paragraph, write a concise topic sentence that clearly states what the paragraph is about. This topic sentence will help frame the controlling argument for each paragraph and will help your reader follow your key ideas.
Paragraph One: Description and Function
This paragraph should be between 150-200 words
First, post an image, or post a link to the specific example of contemporary design you are writing about. For example, if you choose to write about the design of a specific website, you would post a link to that website. You may also include a link to a video by or about the designer or architect and their work.
In your topic sentence, clearly state the name of the example you selected and its function. Do this in one sentence.
For example: “The Macbook Pro, the well-known Apple laptop, is a portable computer that helps people access information and complete complex tasks for themselves.”
Next, describe the overall design as you would to someone who hasn’t seen it. Paint a detailed picture with words. Your description should be so clear and specific that the reader can imagine, in their mind, how it looks and functions.
Paragraph Two: The Idealistic Vision
This paragraph should be between 200-250 words.
In your topic sentence, clearly state the idealistic vision represented in the design example. What is the big idea that underpins the design? What is the ideal the designer was aiming for?
For example: “The Macbook Pro uses an intuitive human-centered design that promotes individual power, creativity, and liberation.
Next, explain in detail how this ideal is manifested in the design. How does the design express this idealistic vision…the big idea? Support your key points with several specific observations from the design you selected. Each sentence must be clear and descriptive. You can also use ideas and information you find online, as well as your own ideas and insights. Please cite your sources.
It may be helpful to consider some of these factors:
You don’t need to answer all these questions. They are here to get you thinking.
What is the higher purpose that the design serves?
Does the design convey a conception of beauty or a standard of perfection?
Designers and consumers are driven by their wants and needs. What are the wants or needs that this work fulfills?
What is the designer’s primary worldview and creative motivation? How do they impact the design?
Paragraph Three: Evaluation
This paragraph should be between 150-200 words
In your topic sentence, briefly summarize whether or not you think the design was effective or successful, and why. Do this in one sentence.
For example: “Perfect in every detail and fun to use, the Macbook Pro revolutionized the way we think with computers.
Next, analyze your own reaction to the design and evaluate it’s effectiveness in more detail. Explain why, or why not, you think the design is successful. Support your key points with specific observations from the design you selected.
It may be helpful to consider some of these factors:
- Again, you don’t need to answer all these questions. They are here to get you thinking.
- What initial ideas or feelings come to mind after experiencing the design?
Based on your life experiences, is the design personally relevant to you? Does it impact your life or your way of thinking?
Does it express ideals that are important or valued within your community or culture? To you?
What is it about the work of art that you like the most? The big idea? The way it was designed or executed?