If you’ve visited the Royal College of Art’s stunning centenary show you might be wondering why one of Britain’s top design schools doesn’t own up to its full heritage in its title. I spotted far more evidence of design than of fine art in the show – and I’d be interested to hear if others felt the same.
A couple of years ago the RCA administration tried in vain to get design acknowledged in the college’s name.
Traditions die hard. But there are sound practical reasons for a change – not only does student output merit it, but current funding partners are often from parts of the world where design is held in high esteem and worthy of proper sponsorship. A change in the RCA’s title might help clarify its message to them.
There is nothing wrong with art and design cohabiting – indeed, design benefits greatly from being informed by art. But design is not art. The two have their own rules and very different places in our cultural and commercial lives. Sadly though, design so rarely gets equal billing in the UK, even where, as at the RCA, it has earned its place.
The RCA show also reminds us what wealth of talent we have here. We appreciate that talent in some areas – as we approach London Fashion Week, for example, the cult of the personality is about to be celebrated again on the catwalks and in top fashion stores. But what of product or furniture designers, say? How often have you seen their output applauded in the British high street?
Modern furniture showrooms may well trade on the spread of “names” they offer, but what of the household departments of stores such as the John Lewis chain? Some, like John Lewis, are revered for their design patronage, yet no-one has persuaded them – or their suppliers – to name the designers of the goods on sale.
It is a small point, but one the design industry might usefully address. Modesty will get us nowhere with a public which revels in the cult of names. After all, how many
London restaurants would be doing as well as they are at present if they’d been coy about the identity of their chefs?