Bruno Munari on Bringing Order to Chaos


Interviewer

In your book, you wrote: “…we try to discover whether it is possible to bring a sense of order to the chaotic images that make up today’s world…”. We live our daily lives in a civilization that is so overloaded with signs and languages that it not only causes a visual saturation, indeed a saturation of the senses in general, but is also profoundly disturbing. The sense of reality becomes lost, life becomes a sham (television is a plant that damages the eyes). Can all this be counterbalanced, combated?

Munari

Bringing order to chaos means distinguishing, classifying, memorizing. When this material is used creatively, it becomes possible to intervene by designing more human objects.

Interviewer

You’ve said that art is not about technique. But an art that fails to take account of the techniques of the past and seeks to create techniques or invent new ones is an art in pursuit of freedom. And unconditional freedom often confounds and generates fear, forces us to call things into question, makes us insecure. Do you believe experimentation, research and art are closely interconnected with one another?

Munari

Yes. All of us are insecure, there is much more we don’t know than what we know. Each of us marks out his or her own path in an attempt to make our way into reality and try to grasp it. Then we come upon Lao Tse, who tells us reality does not exist. As individuals, we have no resources to understand what is around us, unlike other living creatures (bats have radar, dogs sense an impending earthquake…). The reality we are aware of regards instruments. Some insects only live for a season. Plants are the real inhabitants of our planet: there are more of them, they are able to adapt to the climate; they could live without us, while we couldn’t live without them.

Interviewer


You have theorized the concept of subtracting instead of adding, of simplifying, or focusing on the essential. This is a principle that appears by and large to be valid, and applicable to a huge variety of problems, from those regarding the aesthetics of objects to those typical of bureaucracy. This invitation is both theoretical and at the same time eminently practical: can it represent a starting point for the creation of art?


Munari


Subtracting instead of adding means focusing on the essential, on the core to operate on. So once we reach that core, all we need to do (depending on our aim) is either leave the essential as it is (an example is the Pythgorean theorem; it’s timeless), or play around with it, transform it, introduce endless variants. By adding subjective values to the essential, art is created; art is made of subjective values, while research seeks objective values. When the two terms are combined smoothly, art may emerge, perhaps, as rules meet coincidence, or inspiration.

Interviewer


You wrote: “An audience is more inclined to evaluate the manual effort required to create something complicated than to recognize the mental effort required to simplify, since this is not ultimately visible”. Your relationship with the public’s tastes has never been a happy one; even your latest works, the oils on canvas, are a slap in the face of current tastes. A famous critic believes that in the 20th century an unbridgeable gap has been created between the aesthetic tastes of the masses and the research efforts of the artists. What do you think?


Munari


I believe artists engage in research in order to discover new avenues for visual art or other forms of art. The masses go to football matches, and then want to understand the work of an artist, and are irritated when they see things that are too distant from the norm. They feel they are being derided. It is up to them to make an effort, to keep abreast with developments in order to understand. Think of Van Gogh at the time of Leonardo Da Vinci. What would the public have had to say about such “unfinished” artworks, works in which the brushstrokes of such a madman were so strikingly, vulgarly evident? Yet in time…

Interviewer

Do you believe that oriental culture is still able today to act as a beacon for our civilization? Can you imagine culture travelling in the opposite direction, moving from the East towards the West? Today, more than ever before, we feel we are citizens of the world.


Munari

It’s not a question of imposing western civilization on the East and vice-versa, but of blending the two cultures into one. This is what the Japanese are doing. For a thousand years now, they have had a sense of community, while we remain individualistic. An individual’s value lies in what he or she is able to contribute to the community, not for what he or she takes from it. A sports team composed of individualists, in which everyone does as they please (for fear of losing their personality), would never be a winning team.


Read more here


Bruno Munari (October 24, 1907 in Milan – September 30, 1998 in Milan) was an Italianartist, designer, and inventor

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