16 April 2015

Myths of Inspiration

Text: Bernhard E. Bürdek


Melanie Kurz


Zur Ideengeschichte des menschlichen Schöpfungsvermögens


Wilhelm Fink Verlag, Paderborn

257 pages, € 29,90

ISBN 978-3-7705-5760-8


There is a growing trend towards designers who see themselves as stars and act accordingly – the designer as artist has become the new ideal. Luigi Colani, Philippe Starck, Karim Rashid and even young designers such as Sebastian Herkner have all tapped into this personality cult, which seems to be good for business.

But what lies behind it? Melanie Kurz has investigated creative acts as described since antiquity. Her meticulous history of ideas encompasses Plato, Alberti, Vasari (disegno interno, disegno externo) and Albrecht Dürer and also covers Immanuel Kant’s criticism of the fixation on genius and his entreaty to see scientists as rationalists. Why the author jumps from Kant to the Third Reich in her chronology is not clear – was there nothing of relevance in the intervening 150 years? It’s only after the Second World War that notions of inspiration come to the fore again, with Jan Mukařovský, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault among the important protagonists.

In design, postmodernism has promoted the concept of authorship, whereby creatives see themselves as “artists in the romantic mould” and pick projects according to personal preference rather than social need. This paradigm shift has shaped contemporary design to no small degree. Design processes are shrouded in mystery, while the self-styled maker generation may have been successful in gaining media attention but far less so in business terms. Exploring all of this in depth, Melanie Kurz’s book makes a genuine contribution to design theory.


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