Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm not loving ...

One could argue that, being based on clearly defined elements and principles, interior design is an art form. In the same way that art evokes emotion, reaction, and response, so do rooms. In some ways, rooms are sculptures that one can walk into - a form of installation art created by a designer and commissioned by a client.

So if interior design is an art, why then is there so little formal criticism of it? Art and architecture magazines are filled with reasoned critiques: the
New Yorker carries occasional descriptive and well reasoned articles on architecture, as does New York magazine.

But where, outside of design school juries and client presentations, are the interior design critics?

Shelter magazines generally do not critique interior design, they simply describe, and sometimes gush. The same is true of the ID blogs – at least those that I read. (It could be of course, that I'm reading too few.) Magazines, designers and decorators have common interests which tends to rule out criticism, and bloggers are more likely to write about what they like so there is a natural tendency for the positive to be represented. Yet it is from critique that one learns - in the same way a dancer learns to dance by being told how to improve. Exposure, understanding and the ability to compare and contrast are the means by which one learns and improves.

Those who dare to critique design are often faced with the retort, “well, could you do any better?” the implication is that critique is the same as criticism, and that both are a form of personal attack. But to my mind this misses the point. Few restaurant critics are also chefs. One does not need to direct movies to be a film critic. And an interior design critic need not practice to be able to critique it.

However, one does need to know something of what one is talking about: something about interior design.

Malcom Gladwell in his book
Outliers says that there is a rule of thumb: to be good at anything takes about 10,000 hours of practice. Hours which must to be spent before the point of mastery is reached. The same is true of critique: it requires understanding, study and above all exposure to a lot of the subject matter – in our case, a lot of looking at and thinking about rooms, the way they look and the way they work. That takes dedication. It’s not that enough that you just wake up and decide to bitch. Knowledge, dedication and a degree of passion are required to deliver a meaningful critique.


  1. Well argued. There is too little intelligent criticism both on and offline. A lot of online criticism tends to veer towards the negative, much of it being personal, sneering and juvenile, which misses the point of true criticism which is much more about weighing negative and positive elements and making a balanced and adult judgement.