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Illuminating History by Lily Díaz, 25.IX.2000

THE ACTIVITY OF DESIGN

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The historian Paul Greenhalgh has pointed out how the term design originated from the Italian (Latin) word for drawing, or disegno. And indeed in the 1568 edition of his work, Vasari on technique, the Renaissance painter and architect, Giorgio Vasari, describes design as the "parent of the three arts of architecture, sculpture and painting."6 3and as the depiction, through drawing, of concepts and ideas originating in

the intellect.6 4

Though the customary attempt to exult the fine arts is made, Vasari´s

writing reveals the influence that discourses and ideologies play in defining what constitutes knowledge. There is an ambivalence that is manifested in how Vasari straddles the practice of design somewhere between craft and art, with the latter being attributed a higher, or nobler position. Since it is generally agreed that it was during the Renaissance that the intellectual separation between art and craft became concretised, it can be argued that Vasari on technique, merely reflects on-going changes regarding the position of the artist and applied knowledge in general: Through work and skill, design can approach art for "when the intellect puts forth refined and judicious conceptions, the hand that has practised design for many years exhibits the perfection and excellence of the arts, as well as the knowledge of the artist."6 5

Perhaps it is because of notions such as those inscribed in works like Vasari's that throughout most the European tradition, design has been used to indicate a drawing, thus linking the activity with the practice of the fine arts. In retrospect, schools of Design established in England from 1836 onward, referred to the activity of design as

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came to be held in a higher esteem."

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