Nov 8, 2011

REVIEW | Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernism Design in Our Time, Natalia Ilyin, Metropolis Books, 2006

Chasing the Perfect, Thoughts on Modernist Design in Our Time, Natalia Ilyin, 2006

In Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist Design in our Time, Natalia Ilyin writes a personal memoir on her observations on how modern design has affected her life. She analyzes how modernism has created the idea of the perfect. How it has created ratios – ratios that have either a good or a bad side, a hero or a villain. Each chapter Ilyin recalls instances in her life that mirror modernist successes or failures. Modernism is defined as rejecting the dominance of naturalism, realism and academicism in favor of experimental art. 

Natalia Ilyin

Ilyin argues that Modernism “has failed us. It denies the fulfillment of the other half of the mind.” Meaning that humans and more specifically designers have become left-brainers. That in todays design world we have lost our sense of the natural flow of design. We try to be too linear, too black and white; too perfect. Designs have been created with the left-brain, with the modernists touch, with out even realizing it. Modernism has become so etched in life today that it is barely noticeable.

When reading Chasing the Perfect, modernism is not given a very good review. Ilyin has many arguments against the influences of modernism that are all sound. Her arguments make modernism seem like the bad guy of the art “isms.” She shows that designers have been designing for the wrong reasons. That designing for the future, for a new “better” world is not what we should be doing. As she described when she visited the “Home of the Future.” A perfect home in the eyes of the designers but to her was too perfect and not like a home at all. To her a home is something that “supports a person’s individual power and meaning.” The “Home of the Future” did not do that at all.

Ground Zero

Also, take for example the two World Trade Center buildings post 9/11, no loner exists. So within 10 years of 9/11 a memorial is rebuilt on top of the site, the area give a new name, Ground Zero, and soon a new World Trades Center will be built. Like the modernists we are, we strive to build our pain away into something better. By building these new structures we forget about the old, we forget how it felt. The right side of our brain reacted with emotions while the left side adjusted and moved on, or rebuilt. Modernists follow the left-brain because it is easier, more practical and less emotional.

Chasing the Perfect can be related to Contemporary art in that millions of artists today are trying to perfect their work. Trying to perfect the method, the setting, and the size. Trying to perfect infinite pieces to the puzzle. For example, with Susie Rosmarin in her lecture to our class at Texas State University she described her process of making her work as precise. Very mathematical and perfected the way she places tape and paints on the canvas. She is a contemporary artist but those modernist rules, temptations, and ideas show in her work.

Susie Rosmarin, (#412) Spectrum #9, 2008, acrylic on canvas

All over the world modernism still exists. It exists in architecture, engineering, contemporary art, design and even in our personal lives. Making the perfectly linear and balanced skyscraper is modernism. Creating the perfectly structured chair is modernism. Creating the perfect logo with the choice of hundreds of colors is modernism. Modernism is rooted in our society and in Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist Design in our Time, Natalia Ilyin tries to find where in her life she lets it control her decisions and how it affects the people around her. 

-Diana Babson


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