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Artnet Design

by Brent Lewis

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Everyone loves famous designers. They are smart, sophisticated and clever. Big companies pay them big money for their special sensibilities. Most likely they are great at playing pool, can recite poetry from memory and are adept at choosing wine at dinner. We love them because they are all the things we are not.

I think it was probably always this way. A couple of centuries ago, I’m sure everyone clamored around when Thomas Chippendale unveiled his new, Chinese-styled chair in London, inspiring a generation of furniture makers. I imagine French society was abuzz when Georges Jacob was commissioned to make furniture for Marie Antoinette. Or 100 years later, did not François Linke make a huge splash with his fantastic re-inventions of antiques that are still sought after today?

Why all the fuss? Does it have to do with an inner, almost primal, respect we have for people who can actually make things? And look at what they make: things that you didn’t even know you needed until you saw them. Things that are better, more comfortable, more efficient and more thought-provoking than anything you might imagine. The designer is at once artist, inventor, philosopher and engineer. He or she is daring and dramatic, thoughtful and sensitive, studious and learned.

Designers are important because they make the things we live with and use on a daily basis. And in doing so, they influence and in some ways define our daily experience and the way we feel when we drink coffee, have a meal, sit on the sofa, turn on a reading light, open a drawer or do any of the countless, everyday, unnoticed things which involve something someone has designed. Very few people have the ability to reach us in such an intimate way.

Given that we grant them such open access to our lives, designers need to be a special type of person. They have the ability to enrich our lives by creating beautiful and meaningful things. Granted, it’s a tall order. But when done right, it’s a revelation. Think of the impact still felt through the work of Josef Hoffmann, Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames or Ettore Sottsass.

And now, we follow, at every turn, the work of Wendell Castle, Maarten Baas, Tokujin Yoshioka and Tom Dixon, among so many great contemporary designers. And when they do think of whatever they think of next, we will continue to celebrate the designers and revere their fantastic objects. We will make space for them in our minds and our homes.

We are in a time of great innovation, which has been called a new Industrial Revolution. The technological advances taking place in 3D printing and similar fields are enabling artists and designers to create objects that previously could never have been made. And at the same time, contemporary designers can more easily move their works from their studios to the international stage. It certainly is an exciting time for the design field. 

Designers have a greater ability to communicate and accomplish their goals now more than ever before. And ultimately, that is the point. In the end, design is about an object that has been created with a specific purpose in mind, whether artistic, architectural, poetic, social or political. Design fills an object with the power to communicate. It gives an object an agenda.

To be a designer is to have the courage to express something through objects that are often seen as commonplace. It takes a special kind of person to do this and do it well. And we need them and love them for it.

BRENT LEWIS is the Senior Specialist of Design for artnet Auctions.