What if Fashion Became, What Fashion is Not?

In my 20’s, as a young teacher in the subject of Fashion Illustration, I was always struck by how alien the western concept of fashion was vis-à-vis the lives, experiences and identity of Indian students. The beautiful illustrations they made were far-fetched from their own day-to-day lives. Extra tall figures of sinuous female croquis with broad shoulders and cinched in waists, long necks and bold, form-fitted styles that drew copiously from the images in western fashion mags. They didn’t see it as a problem…rather, they saw it as something ‘outside of the conventional’ and therefore exciting. And going by what the fashion magazines conveyed, fashion was nothing if not exciting! Still others saw it as being anything that was ‘non-traditional’. In other words, they saw tradition as being fixed and fashion as being fluid, and therefore perfectly suited as an alibi in their search for an ‘original’, ‘independent’ voice. Fashion, in the minds of many an Indian student, has been a way to break free from their cultural moorings and explore new ways of ‘being’. However, while they seek escape from suffocating and outdated social mores, they often unwittingly trap themselves in terribly limited notions of fashion.

 

Fashion, in western society, has been both- the machinery and the product of capitalism. In that context, it has been the means by which needs are artificially manufactured, and then in ever-increasing circles of artifice- apparently catered to. In other words, demand was artificially created for the things that industry could supply. Creating demand was a way of sustaining industry, charting growth, generating profits and apparently progressing. The change from a feudal society to an industrial one, created new social strata and fashion catered to the need of non-verbally communicating one’s social status. Thus, fashion came to be so deeply imbued with signs. After all, I know by looking at a garment in a fashion glossy or in a high-end store whether it is apt for me, or whether it is ‘out of my league’. Yet, these are depraving divisions in a society that suffers from poverty and a shameful disparity in wealth distribution. The upper classes in Indian society which show a similarity and kinship in taste and lifestyle to other economically powerful western societies, feel no connection with the vast multitude of economically lower and economically backward sections of society. Fashion, in such a scenario, is a power that caters to only the well-to-do, because it is this segment that can perhaps be seduced to create a demand for the western template of fashion, that our young fashion designers are so eager to supply.

 

India’s history and evolution have been different. Colonized under British rule for about two hundred years, India not only suffered a loss of material wealth, but also a loss of her cultural wealth. Post-independence, India found herself in the middle of a whole new world order, facing new prospects, but with low confidence, given her memories of a battered past. Building an independent sovereign nation required looking at impressive modern societies that had grown in power and influence due to industrialization. With this new exposure, our passive Indian-ness felt like a blemish (one that we must hurriedly conceal). We felt challenged to meet the standards and templates created by western society. Our aspirations, by default, got framed by the western models of achievement and a new work ethic that was directed towards productivity and the generation of profits. While that is a pragmatic way to attract wealth, create wealth and have it up the standards of living for society as a whole, the single-minded focus on wealth alienates us from our own hearts. Simplicity, is seen as a lack of both, imagination and richness, and artifice- as a sign of culture and evolved thought. The condition we find ourselves in therefore, is one in which we are fearful of ‘that which we have distanced ourselves from’. We find it a strain to be open to hearing, seeing and feeling. The result is that empathy- which is our capacity to be receptive and responsive to another- and is a natural human quality, lies undeveloped in us. We are living mechanically, robotically, choosing to deaden our sense of empathy, because what it demands out of us, is unsettling.

Fashion is the design of identity. It’s the crafting of an image or persona through clothes; and what a tragedy it is when that identity is masked or ‘costumed’ as a cover-up for a sense of low self-esteem, rather than being an expression and celebration of who one is. Fashion, with its elitist moorings, tends to exclude a lot of people who do not resonate with western cultural ideals. Like a student of mine, Riya Ranka, once asked: ‘Why must fashion only be a vehicle for masquerading a false sense of richness? Why must it only be a means by which we can pretend to be who we are not?’

 

Saloni Parasrampuria, a third-year Fashion Design student in my program, chose to redirect the gaze of fashion. For her children’s wear project, she didn’t look at those who were already part of the emerging market as existing consumers, she looked at those who always remain excluded. Where designers typically frame their concepts in terms of lifestyle and the psychological needs/ wants of their target consumer, she chose to design for street children, with no homes, marginal incomes and no ‘lifestyle’. Her ethnographic research made clear their needs and ‘life conditions’ (as opposed to lifestyles) and she designed a ‘multipurpose dress’ for five-year old Khushi, a child living on the streets of Mumbai. The dress was reversible, could double up as a sleeping mat and when folded up, as a container for small things. The project was significant on many levels: One, she consciously chose to disregard all questions and concerns about the commercial feasibility of her project. Second, she deliberately broke away from a commonly perceived notion of fashion, and found an unlikely muse, outside of its charmed inner circle. Third, the design process itself led her to arrive at a critical understanding that clothing is not just an expression of style, it’s also, in the context of a yet-developing economy, a mark of basic dignity, self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Fourth, it’s not the thing in itself that produces a sense of well-being in the owner (people can be happy with or without fashioned things), rather, it’s the awareness that someone cares enough to cater to their needs. The video below beautifully captures little Khushi’s joy on receiving ‘the gift’ that Saloni made for her.

While fashion undeniably has power, it does so only when it has in its system- a beating heart. The heart must do what the heart does best- it must actively search for that which makes it beat, makes it race a little, makes it smile and makes it cry. After all, it’s in resonance that the heart throbs. We must come to know what matters to us and who matters. For that we must look at our immediate surroundings with a little more love and concern, and deepen our engagement. We must seek purpose. We must ask uncomfortable personal questions of ourselves; recognizing that blind imitation can never be deeply fulfilling. In and through this questioning, we must come to understand our strengths. It’s then that the work we do, becomes meaningful. For now, it’s best not to treat fashion as a fixed defined concept, but as an abstraction that is open to new interpretations. Who knows, in the search for authentic interpretations, we may be freed from our need for borrowed ideas and can confidently reclaim our mortgaged identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image source: Saloni Parasrampuria

Video: Saloni Parasrapuria

Music: T Series

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Ssshhh…Don’t Interrupt When Change Speaks!

The biggest failing of our education system is that it makes the young numb to the tickle of change. It promotes the idea of education as a job guarantee, and as a ticket to a cushy life. It however fails to build the character that is required of an adult to face her world and to also shape it; to lead and not just follow.

Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.”

-William Pollard

How deeply true is the above thought. Understanding that change is inevitable, is an evolution in human consciousness. Initiating change, therefore puts us in a better position to manage the change, as opposed to fighting it or simply enduring it.

Designers too, will be expected to be more than just spin doctors who put old wine in new bottles, they will be expected to lead change. Designers therefore should be able to:

  1. Observe
  2. Find opportunity
  3. Collect pertinent data
  4. Analyse data
  5. Draw insights
  6. Hunt for inspirations
  7. Propose possibilities
  8. Develop samples
  9. Fabricate the prototype
  10. Test it
  11. Make modifications
  12. Refine it to a finished form

Please note all the actions that constitute ‘designing’ are in blue. They’re active, and not passive in virtue. Nowhere in this observation of the design thinking process, is there a recommendation for ‘asking for permission’, ‘doing as one is told’, ‘imitating’ or ‘finding an idea that works.’ The mindset that is driven towards change is very different from the mind that is set on the ideas of success and guarantees. As designers of the education of the future, it is this mindset- geared to lead change-  that our programs must help cultivate.

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

                                                                                                            -Steven Spielberg

To observe is fundamental to the design process. It’s also moral, when it is a solitary act; when you see things with nothing but your own awareness. To enable the student to independently observe should be the most essential goal of a foundation program in design. Observing allows us to find opportunities. An opportunity as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is: A good chance, a favouarble occasion. A chance or opening offered by circumstances. Good fortune. I’d like to add, that an opportunity is also the chance to discover potentiality and make possible (the potential).

Opportunity, it must be noted, is entirely, in the eyes of the beholder. The ability to see opportunity requires a deeper vision, one that has come into being as a consequence of being on a quest…having a deep desire to understand what might be the way forward. Without this vision, one fails to see opportunity and can only see problems.

Problems are opportunities in disguise. Our inability to recognize and see opportunities where problems stand, alters the course of our destiny. A problem by virtue, requires a solution. It’s something we must either tackle, address or bypass. It feels bothersome and as a result, it stubbornly fixes and limits the discourse of design. We busy ourselves in designing ‘solutions’ for problems that are at best only imagined, or at worst, simply breeders of other, more complex problems.

An opportunity on the other hand is perceived as a chance to act thoughtfully. It enriches design discourse. It brings in fresh criticality to old concepts. It necessitates the search for insights. It leads us to meaningful and purposeful learning.

“Every project is an opportunity to learn, to figure out problems and challenges, to invent and re-invent.”

                                                                                                            -David Rockwell

To paraphrase this, every project in our programs must be designed to be an opportunity

  1. To learn
  2. To figure out problems and challenges.
  3. To invent and re-invent.

At present, the design of our classes, seems to view failure as an aberration, as a problem. Not only is it not seen as a golden opportunity to learn, to observe the problems and challenges first-hand, it’s seen as THE problem, that must be by-passed. Somehow, we confuse the failures of the outcomes of speculation and trial to the personal failures of the student. The result- the student would rather not think, would rather not try and would rather not risk a self-initiated attempt. Not only is risk-taking not rewarded, it’s not encouraged.

The ways in which we unwittingly do this are:

  1. We are trying to discern evidence of a student’s learning in either her success or failure in fulfilling assigned tasks.
  2. We are assigning tasks to test (and thereby assess) her understanding, preparation and efficiency.
  3. Teaching and learning are construed as performances, where teacher and student must each perform a set of distinct tasks with proof that those tasks have been completed, so that the incidence of learning may be conjectured.

However, had teaching to be viewed or understood as being devoted to learning, we may actually transform each from being a performance, to becoming a consistency- a way of being and not an act done (and then forgotten).

What if we:

  1. Designed our classes to yield opportunities for learning?
  2. Consciously set out to evaluate the difference between, when our classes are presented as opportunities to learn things of value as opposed to being a time and space where they must learn, a pre-determined set of values?
  3. Assigned tasks not to test students’ abilities, but to provide opportunities for them to summon their own understanding and give them a chance to model their knowledge?
  4. Simply boiled down all critical differences between ‘the wrong way’,’ a different way’ and ‘not the best way’ to the essence of it being nothing more than a ‘changed way’? Would that allow us as educators to open up our own minds to the possibilities of innovation?

After all, an education for change, for innovation, cannot run in the same vein as one designed for continuity, stability and maintaining the status quo. Yet, the action to bring about this change must not be a hasty one. We must dwell on the questions that emerge from this contemplation:

  1. How do we educate students who have been taught to follow, to now be geared to lead?
  2. Do they need an indoctrination of methods or do they need an engagement with practices?
  3. Must an education for change and innovation, perpetuate the ways and practices that belong to the very world/ systems we want to bring change to? Or, must we reject outright, the old ways and replace them with new ideas that impress us with their courage to challenge?
  4. Must our education make a clean break from the pedagogies of the past and risk that our students will not come across as being ‘knowledgeable’, ‘sophisticated’ or ‘equipped’ to continue the lineage of the industries they will come to work within?
  5. How do we come to arrive at the centre of a glorious past, an ailing present and an uncertain future and be equipped to function creatively, intuitively and reflectively and come to be seen as valuable contributors to the fields within which we work?

Let this conclude as a question that hovers in your mind, as a constant reminder that these are not problems, but opportunities to grow…to be who we’ve never allowed ourselves to be.

 

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Designers: The Mad Knights

Design, as a creative discipline is like no other. It has a history, but no rules. Its concept is amorphous and ever-changing. It stands on the shifting sands of time. In the past, design meant and was generally understood to be the appearance of a thing and how it looked. Then, it became about how a thing works and now, it’s about how it engages with, and impacts society. Also, design may no longer be discerned only in the expression of an idea in terms of its formal qualities, but also in the intelligence and sub-conscious process that manifests such expression. Design therefore, is in ‘how something is done’, in ‘what is done’, in ‘how it works’ and in ‘how it impacts our lives’. It is the method, the medium and the message.

Design education cannot be cast in the same mold as other disciplines. Its objectives are different. Learning through imagination and play, making conscious the sub-conscious and making purposeful and directional, the intelligence- constitute the aims of its pedagogy. Investigating concepts as opposed to learning about them, experimenting with ideas and making productive, the failures, iterating and improving, reflecting upon the successes and failures of all attempts- are essential aspects of design education.

Creative work is unique. It does not respond to like with like. On the contrary, it begins to think of other possibilities. It works within constraints and yet transcends them. This ability is unique to humans- the ability to speculate, imagine and create beyond what is. In the process, the inert is made dynamic and responsive to the intelligence of the human mind. Creative production, unlike the set and established routines of non-creative production, requires imagination to propel knowledge and the ability to navigate through the dark unknown.

So, how does one learn in the face of the unknown? Design education pitches its mission on this question. Since designers are required to not only be aware of how things ‘are’, but also how they can employ their minds to imagine how things ‘can be’, design education has an epistemological dimension and an ontological one. In other words, in addition to ‘learning by knowing’, student designers must ‘learn by being.’ The ability to function in a climate of ambiguity, to imagine possibilities, to experiment and learn from failures and to have the tenacity to stay the course till the realization of an idea- are the attributes of a designer. These attributes can be cultivated only through the process of doing, encountering, reflecting and circumventing the obstacles. Learning here, is therefore by doing and being. It is by making the leap of imagination that designers come to know what they must know. Much like the mad, self-appointed knight, Don Quixote, who with a head full of romantic ideals, set out to make good the world and rid it of its evil; and who in the end found his reason (but lost his reason to live); designers too, begin with idealistic fervor and learn along the way, about the limitations of imagination intersecting with reality. Their ideas are cut down to size. They gain first-hand insights, which is so much more valuable than receiving second-hand information. They meet much failure, before they meet success. Design, it must be remembered, is an evolutionary process- one that goes from the known to the unknown. Aware that we occupy a space of potentiality, designers through their work navigate uncharted territory and set precedents.

Design education is about culture, not rules. There are no rights, there are no wrongs. There’s no assurance. Nothing is guaranteed. You may not get to the star in the sky, you wanted to arrive it, but by God, you’ll enjoy the journey. And who knows, discover a whole new galaxy along the way.

 

India: Not An Idea, But An Ethos

“Apne hi paani mein pighalna, barf ka mukkadar hai.”

To melt in its own water, is the eventual destiny of an ice cube.

-A dialogue from the 2004 Hindi film, “Swades”

India became a republic 67 years ago. This means as a nation, we are 67 years young. But the history of India as a civilization and culture is around 5000 years old. Our culture is older than our national history and therefore, pervades it. Tolerance for different faiths is an intrinsic part of the Indian ethos and that is evident in the fact that we are a patchwork of different religions and ethnic groups. The culture of harmonious co-existence, with an emphasis on living a life guided by high spiritual ideals- was the DNA that enabled India to emerge as a modern, secular and democratic nation. Our cultural heritage is rich and diverse. We have a variety of foods, costumes, arts, music, dance, architecture and rituals of worship; and all of these constitute the intellectual and aesthetic infrastructure of the people. Or, in simple words, their programming.

 

Modern life, however, is characterized by new ideals. The new emphasis on sophistication, technical education and the abstract ideal of GDP- towards which all human enterprise and endeavor must be directed, clouded the more culturally pervasive ideal of yoga and moksha (transcendence of limitation by uniting oneself with ‘pure unconditioned consciousness’ and liberation through self-realization). These two ideals call for two very different mindsets. While one reasons with us to systematically and gradually renounce worldly life, the other exhorts us to participate more assertively, pro-actively and deliberately towards the ideal of nation-building, with a focus on external, visible development and progress. Modern India desires this ideal of external development, where the state’s institutions are working with the single-minded goal of an ever-increasing measure of growth and progress.

 

This dichotomy presented itself as a crisis to the Indian heart and mind, living in post-independence India. On the one hand, all traditional rituals, arts and crafts were designed to align creative work with the ideals of yoga and moksha; while on the other, modern ideals demanded an alignment with the ideals of visible progress, higher standards of living, economic feasibility and profitability. The former, required us to consciously and devotedly live our lives on the principle of faith and thereby gain an internal mastery over the vagaries of worldly tribulations; while the latter required us to dedicate all work to building institutional structures to control, manage and contain the risks posed by an unpredictable world. The new world required objectivity and so, science replaced faith and was seen as leaning towards the truth; and in opposition to faith, that was seen as being baseless belief. Controlled semantics, became a distinctive feature of modern life that was characterized by mass education, broadcasting, censorship and the controlled dissemination of information. These were two distinct and seemingly incongruent ways of life- one being about intrinsic evolution and the other, about extrinsic evolution.

 

Traditionally, human creativity was characterized by artful expression and therefore, was closely aligned to the ideals of beauty and truth. However, in modern India, which was standing on the premise of scientific achievement, technological advancement and ambitious economic goals- creativity became associated with industry, inventiveness and innovation. Artful creativity, supported by royal and upper-class patronage, for centuries, had been the system that had nurtured- slowly and steadily- the development of sophisticated craft techniques; whereas technological advancements, that afforded an economy the means of mechanized production, slowly relegated craft to being nothing more than the means of catering to sentiment and producing kitsch in a slick world with new semantics for sophistication. The modern nation saw the slow and painstaking craftsmanship of the karigar, as being unsuitable for the ever-increasing demands of the ‘markets’, that were being conceptualized, created and developed at a feverish pace. No longer were we only catering to need, we were catering to want or human desire. Modern life so far, has been driven by ideas of competition, brand building, market share and The Next New Thing and modern India, clearly doesn’t want to be left behind. India is capitalizing its cultural brand and has a large market share in global handicraft exports. This sector is an important one for the Indian economy. It’s one of the largest employment generators. There are 7 million regional artisans and more than 67,000 exporters/ export houses that are promoting regional art and craft in domestic and global markets. India is trying to integrate its cultural heritage to nation-building strategies.

 

Modern life therefore, is akin to being on a perpetual adrenalin rush! The value system that had created the cultural heritage we are so proud of, no longer exists. We are creating a lot more things and more rapidly than ever. But then we’re also creating rapid obsolescence. The future will have no heritage to be proud of. The difficult questions that face us- a young nation with an ancient past- are:

  1. How do we preserve not just the craft, but also the values that pervade it?
  2. What does innovation, seen in the light of a rich tradition mean? Does it mean the superficial innovation of the form, the technique or the more difficult task of re-interpreting the cultural values that imbue the work, with modern sensibilities?
  3. Modern industries geared towards adoption of new technologies, creation of new markets and the generation of more profit, have re-conceptualized entities. Patrons became customers, who later became consumers, and who have now become users. This has had inadvertent ramifications for the status of the artisan- at first a karigar, then a factory worker, and now-an operator. By what strategies will we support and restore the status of the craftsman?

In the absence of a critical understanding and appreciation of our craft traditions, we may end up destroying the very same cultural capital we are profiting from. Student-designers must be made aware of:

  1. Our rich textile traditions
  2. The ideals, cultural values and social structures that have sustained our crafts.
  3. Their significance and place in our day-to-day lives and the role they play in the crafting of our identity.
  4. How new cultural traits may be mindlessly adulterating and disrespectfully appropriating cultural heritage.

 

They must gain a knowledge of:

  1. The artisans and their way of life.
  2. How modern systems may have irreversibly damaged their way of life and stripped them of their special social status.
  3. The ways in which these crafts may be protected, nurtured and developed for participation in contemporary markets.
  4. The strategies by which new, empowering semantics may be developed, communicated and disseminated into mainstream consciousness.
  5. New applications of traditional techniques.

Finally, they must experiment with the arsenal of skills available to them and consciously and purposefully develop new forms of craft. Thus, the designer must not just be the creator of new forms, but must also shoulder the responsibilities of becoming the author of new stories, the creative director who will shape new ideas and the convener of modernity’s new creative artists and craftsmen.

 

References: Indian Handicrafts and Exports; ibef.org

 

 

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The Relationship between Art and Design

 

The Nature of Art

Ever since man discovered his propensity to create and recreate things as he perceives or imagines them, art-making has been around as the father of all human activity. Its primeval status is unprecedented, its importance as an evolutionary agent undisputed and its continuing relevance even in this age of interface technology and robotics, unmatched. Art-making corresponds directly with man’s intrinsic nature of potentiality and creativity, which is nothing but the nature of life itself. In and through art-making man not only discovers his inherent tendencies, but also discovers and hones his faculty of free will- that exalted state which holds promise for the realization of man’s capabilities and enables him to wilfully transcend his current state. Art has an empowering quality and therefore it is, that in the making of art, we make ourselves. Richard Wagner finds nothing less than salvation in the experience of art. “I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven… I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of that one indivisible art… I believe that through this Art all men are saved, and therefore each one may die of hunger for her… I believe that the disciples of High Art will be transfigured in a heavenly veil of sun-drenched fragrance and sweet sound and united for eternity with the divine fount of all harmony. May mine be the sentence of Grace… Amen!”

Thus art-making, as implied may be understood as a situation in human activity which is closest to divinity. In the creation of art, what emerges is that not only is that which is being made art, but art is also the artist, art is also the skill. Thus, art has the ability to infuse its character in the doer, the done and the doing.

Art, by its nature leads us to truths in a way that no other human activity or institution can. It pitches its enterprise in discarded mental spaces or those that we are too afraid to dwell in. It urges us to think about, introspect, feel and resolve the morass of our existence and thereby paves the way for our evolution.

Art and Design in modern times

Art in modern times has come to be understood as a separate human activity- separate from say trade or manufacture. Although such a segregation serves in assigning a special status to art, it can also- by that very token- render it irrelevant or meaningless. Art, instead, can very usefully be understood as the pursuit of truth and perfection in all human activity; yes, even trade and manufacture. Any activity can be imbued with artistic qualities when it is done in communion with the doer’s inner calling, governed by intent and led by its pursuit of truth and perfection.

Design, in contrast, inhabits a more defined space. Its primary task is to fulfil a need; the need may be physical, emotional, intellectual or societal. Designs are reckoned responses to identified problems. If art lays before us, things we should be concerned about, design busies itself with working through those concerns. Art stems from philosophy, design from teleology.

The symbiotic relationship between art and design

The making of art can be both an instinctive act and a carefully measured and charted process. “Art,” according to artist SH Raza, “is a profound personal reaction.” If we view art from that standpoint, it may seem that art-making requires spontaneity, an instinctive urge or something as quick and as unpredictable as a reaction. This may be true to the point when an artist feels moved by a particular thought, idea, event or circumstance and finds in it a need or a calling for resolution, for working through its character. This need for working through a subject matter seems important for human beings, for society-at-large, because there is a universal need to understand appropriate ways of feeling, to clarify our thoughts, to articulate ourselves better and to transact with the world upholding those moral values that we hold dear intellectually but find great difficulty in putting into practice. But art-making doesn’t reach its function with simply feeling. The expression and presentation of art require skill, an understanding of the materials which the artist puts to the task of expressing his feelings and an exemplary understanding of his craft. Yes, art-making begins with feeling and finds expression through craft. Great craft in turn, must reach out and connect with the beholder.

So then, is the culmination of art, design? The process of art-making requires a keen understanding of the materials that the artist will use to present his subject matter. And this understanding, in turn, comes with the observation that the material world holds immense possibility and purpose. What those possibilities are and what that purpose is, is subject to the imagination of the human mind. The human mind can imagine and see value and breathe life and purpose in seemingly inert matter. He may craft it carefully with respect to its inherent character so that we may find in it beauty and reaffirm our faith in the sublime.

This ability to see value, usefulness and possibility in the material world is the office of the designer. Thus, the relationship between art and design appears to be a symbiotic one where the making of objects is not purely a mechanical activity; it requires the imagination and sensitivity of an artist. And the artist, in turn, in order to express himself purposefully and with clarity, requires the mindset of a designer.

How can the study of art be useful to the designer?

The study of art can lay before the student-designer an intimate account of the history and evolution of human thought. It can reveal to the student those past existential arrangements, those knots in the collective consciousness, those dilemmas that seemed to have touched the most sensitive of humans; who by their inherent vulnerability and sensitivity felt things more deeply and readily than the rest of the clan. Because they felt, they introduced us to those feelings. In and through their sensitivity, they sensitized and civilized the human race- at least to the extent of inspiring appreciation for their work. What was it they felt? What moved them? How did they express themselves? What methods did they employ? What attitudes governed their purpose? What were the elements of their work? What were their chosen arrangements?

Leave alone the answers, just the questioning that the study of art can inspire, itself is of immense value to the student-designer.  It equips the student-designer with a probing mind- a mind that questions in a bid to sieve out the most intimate, essential aspects of a work. And such a questioning is an apt and necessary beginning in the unfoldment of a creative mind.

Conclusion

Perhaps art and design are not separate. Perhaps they are one and the same thing. Perhaps all creation begins with the stirrings of art and is manifest as design. Perhaps the human mind can only understand art through design and conversely, our sense of appreciation can only be developed through art.

 

References: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art: Richard Eldridge; Cambridge University Press

Image Source: bostonmagazine.com

 

 

Fashion- The Hippie-turned-Hooker

Fashion is a perennially changing hypothesis. What is it? What does it do? How does it work? Why does it matter? What is good? Ethical? Aesthetic? Many answers have been given and we’ve come to see that fashion isn’t easy to define. It encompasses the physical, existential and moral dimensions of our being. Yet, fashion is regarded as a vain trifle; somehow less important or even insignificant in the larger scheme of things. A bricolage of many things, fashion is neither purely art, nor purely craft. In the context of mainstream, tradition-bound culture, it’s a hippie- purposely atypical, unconventional and subversive! But its romanticism becomes the stuff of youthful aspirations. It becomes the collective memory of a middle-aged generation that describes its nostalgia in terms of the clothes they wore, the attitudes that defined their existence and the bitter-sweet experiences they lived through in the costumes of their youth. If fashion is the aptness- the perfect point at which Time, Space, Feeling and Response collide- then why is it regarded as whimsical, purposeless and vain?

Let’s attempt to understand this incongruity between what fashion is and how it is viewed, discussed and treated in society. Fashion, over the years, has come to wear a glamorous face (perhaps because of its earliest patrons being the upper classes on the one hand and the artists, the poets, the dreamers, the musicians and even the charlatans, on the other). We won’t recognize it, or even acknowledge it, if it doesn’t emerge before us looking glossy and all glammed up. If it does so, it will have to have another name! Glamour over time, has been demystified. It’s lost some of its sheen; come to be seen as shallow, superficial and not a worthy pursuit for a happy, meaningful life. So, while all other aspects of culture chose to evolve by diverging from glamour, fashion continued this unholy alliance. The way fashion was presented, communicated, marketed and sold- remained unchanged; fashion was- and to a large extent still is- packaged and presented in literal and metaphorical glitz and glimmer. Once a power-packed phenomenon rooted in social and cultural experimentation, it soon became the myth, marketing professionals alluded to- to capture new markets. Fashion, so that it be pursued by the now distanced and disinterested mainstream, had to be seen as being seductive, glamorous, somehow out of reach, somehow forbidden… in some sense equivalent to the lure of the mistress, when you’ve ‘chosen’ to be in a committed relationship with your wife. The status of fashion pretty much got equated with this typically patriarchal view of women. And if I may dare to say so, met with no different a fate- it was made spectacular, desirable, seductive, presented at first, to the most high-end customers and then emulated across all tiers of ‘lifestyle’ products. Fashion was no longer an intelligent expression of who we were in the time and place we were at, but became one amongst many attributes of ‘what we wore’. And what we wore, was changeable, replaceable and as such unworthy of all the time and attention we expended on it. And so, fashion while being an industry that constitutes some of the most artistic, intelligent, intuitive and meticulous craftspeople, never gets its due from a society that sees fashion as nothing more than the varnish that coats purpose, function, utility and performance.

 

Image source: awareness act.com

 

 

Fashion is Maya.

The Truth alone existed before the names, forms and qualities of the world came into existence. Therefore, the Truth must be the cause of the world. But the Truth is changeless. It cannot become anything other than itself…But we see that the world exists, yet it is ever-changing, inert and sorrow-ridden. Then from such a changeless cause, how can this changing world emerge? 

To explain this, Vedanta postulates the concept of maya…- that which is not, yet appears to be is called maya. …A snake is seen on a rope. The rope cannot create the snake, yet we experience the snake.

Maya has two powers:

  1. The veiling power (avarna shakti): This is the nature of ignorance that veils the Truth. This by itself cannot create the world.
  2. The projecting power (vikshepa shakti): This is the creative power that projects the entire world of names and forms. It manifests inherent impressions. It cannot do so without the veiling power. As in the example, the ignorance of the rope should precede the snake vision.

-Tattvabodha, Sri Adi Shankaracharya (commentary by Swami Tejomayananda).

Is Fashion the dress we wear? Is it the material? Or the colours? Or is it in our combination of clothes? The answer to these questions will only add to your confusion- fashion may be discerned in all of these, but is none of these.

The raw material of fashion- apart from fabrics, trimmings, notions and the available resource of clothing and accessories we wear everyday- is also our social life and the interactions that constitute it. The intelligence that is brought to fashioning the raw material is the sourcing, treatment, forming and styling of it to tell a distinctive ‘fashion story.’ The thematic arrangement of colours, fabrics and styles is a ‘fashion story.’

The inspiration that underpins this thematic story is called a ‘mood’. The mood is a sketchy impression of the ‘images’ it must evoke and/or the attitudes it must inspire. This sense of images and attitudes in turn, is an abstraction drawn from everyday human interactions plus the aspirations and desires that breed through the flux of life. Fashion, in essence, is an attempt to make perceptible that which is only ‘felt’ or ‘desired’. The inspirations are what breathe life into the ‘new forms’ or ‘new looks’ the fashion designer draws out.

The ‘bodies’ (in the sense that these are the outermost layers that we don) that the fashion designer brings to life are short-lived; they have only apparent reality. They appear to exist, have meaning, communicate and exude power- that is till our experience of the world remains unchanged. The moment we have moved past an experience and it has become memory, we begin to seek ‘new body images’ for ourselves. We seek persistence of our being. It’s important for us not only to be seen, but also to be remembered. The fear of invisibility, or for that matter, being forgotten, is closely allied to a very primal fear- the fear of being denied existence.

On a deeper level, we are always trying to ‘survive’, to ‘persist’ and to ‘cheat’ or ‘escape’ those situations that threaten to end our existence. Our love for fashion, and our willingness to be tormented by it, is a reflection of this need ‘to continue to be’.

Not knowing who we truly are, we live our lives speculating who we may be and day-in and day-out- wittingly or unwittingly- we chisel out a form for ourselves. This dilemma of knowing that we exist, but of not knowing who we are- gives rise to our world of relationships and self-created experiences. In such a world, fashion becomes a ‘phenomenal power’. It creates, sustains and when the time has come- it destroys the images we have come to inhabit. Fashion persists because it denies itself a permanent, unchanging existence. It doesn’t allow itself to die; it only reinvents itself. Fashion is a reflection of the world; the world is maya- a mere projection!

Fashion is Maya.

 

Image Source: Getty Images/ Nelson Barnard. Prabal Gurung. NYFW Feb 2017.