Integrating art for the greater good of all

Lunching in a Soho restaurant the other day, my companion – a graphic designer – remarked on the joy of having the works of hotshot photographer David Shindman looking down on us. Well, that particular eaterie is in the capital’s creative heartland, so what else would you expect? It’s not the only local venue to use its walls as exhibition space. The work is rarely commissioned for its site, and is often up for sale.

That’s fine, but how much more adventurous for designer Ben Kelly and Science Museum design head Tim Molloy to ask Clare Cumberlidge to oversee an art policy for the museum’s new kids’ space (see feature, page 12). And how refreshing to hear of Edinburgh’s move to brighten up the bus stops at the Gyle Shopping Centre with help from artist Julie Ross. Great examples of art coming out of the galleries and into the public domain.

But should adventurous be the right word to describe such bids – and should, as with Kelly’s Science Museum job, the whole art thing rely on commercial sponsorship? Shouldn’t punters be entitled to good functional design and a bit of delight at the expense of the client?

Of course they should – and, as Fay Sweet observes (page 12), there is growing activity in this area, possibly through the efforts of the Percentage for Art initiative championed for so long by the late Pentagram architect Theo Crosby.

But are designers pushing hard enough to integrate art into projects, be they buildings or graphics? And shouldn’t there be more collaboration between artist and designer?

We tend to think of art as a big thing, far removed from the ways of commerce – even though many big businesses pride themselves on their art collections. But I agree with Brian Webb that there’s scope for far more overlap with design, with so many artists keen to work in tandem. In terms of the emotional response, the lines often blur between great design and art. If designers cross the boundary more, their collaborators’ artistry might rub off, and design might more often be a thing of beauty.

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