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Critical Reading

Critical Reading

RISD’s culture of critical making forms the focus of a new book being released this month by Wiley, a publisher of educational, business and professional development books, among others in its large family of brands and imprints. Called The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, the attractive 272-page hardcover (and e-book) is co-edited by RISD Provost Rosanne Somerson 76 ID and Mara Hermano, executive director of Strategic Planning and Academic Initiatives.

The new book presents a series of essays by faculty and other academic leaders – along with selected images of student and alumni work – on RISD’s approach to critical making, which involves the hand and mind working to create objects and experiences with real meaning and value. In teasing out how RISD nurtures creative practice, from initial spark to finished outcome, it makes a case for the value of critical making within and beyond the realms of art and design, suggesting approaches to navigating complex problems that may be relevant to people in a wide range of fields and situations.

“Art schools are lively places,” Somerson notes in the introduction, “but few outside their walls have the opportunity to experience the kind of environment where the new is manifest every day, where paradigms are continually stretched and challenged, and where shock and beauty flourish side by side. What is the ‘magic’ in the art and design school learning model … and how might the creativity and expertise that result from this form of education be accessible to others?”

While a single book can’t fully explain the ‘magic,’ The Art of Critical Making offers a dozen compelling chapters by contributors as diverse as Associate Professor of Foundation Studies Leslie Hirst, who writes about the transformative process of becoming a creative practitioner; Furniture Design Department Head John Dunnigan MFA 80 ID, who explains the power of the symbiotic relationship between thinking and making; Director of the Nature Lab Neal Overstrom, who writes about the essential connections between art, design and nature; and Dean of Architecture + Design Pradeep Sharma, who illuminates some of the contradictions involved in creative practice, from uncertainty and paradox to guessing, fear and anxiety.

Other chapters are presented as a series of conversations – one on drawing led by Dean of Graduate Studies Patricia Phillips, another on critique led by Photography Department Head Eva Sutton and a third exploring the relationship of artists to materials led by Digital + Media Department Head Kelly Dobson. Dean of Liberal Arts Daniel Cavicchi contributes a piece on the importance of context in art and design, Professor of Graphic Design Lucy Hitchcock looks at how RISD prepares designers to contribute to contemporary visual culture by “making meaning,” the RISD Museum’s Director of Education Sarah Ganz Blythe writes about the value of learning from historic objects and neurologist Frank R. Wilson, the only non-RISD contributor to the book, offers a preface about the biological connection between the brain and the hand.

“I believe that art and design have critical roles to play in innovation in this next century, much like science and technology did in the last,” President John Maeda notes in the foreword. “The very methods revealed in this book will drive the new ideas, movements and solutions to help us tackle the complex problems of our day.”