The manifesto in it’s basic form is a public declaration of policy and aims published by any group or individual, weather that is one of a political party or by an institution it should state intentions, motives and views and these intentions should, as it’s definition derives from the Latin manifestum meaning, to be clear or conspicuous. From this perspective of being clear and conspicuous it should also be honest and lend itself to transparency.
This research is into some of the manifestos and rules set by artists and creators regarding a number of issues within their practice, such as ethics, morality and the very act of creating; it also highlights issues from manifestos of design studios and personal rules set by the individual, looking at the conflicting issues regarding personal and commercial practice, but also the use of and importance of language when seeking to establish a manifesto for others. Thanks to a number of contributors online, the starting point of this research came from asking those, through groups such as FlakPhoto Network and Crazy Cool Website, to share manifestos, lists and/or rules set by people and institutions; by doing this we can establish what are the more popular and memorable guides, gaining a clearer view of what, publicly, is available and on hand. This is not to discredit or disregard other, lesser known manifestos, but to instead examine what is being used as reference points, and when asked to share manifestos or guidelines, these are the first to appear from these online communities.
The very first link that was sent over was The Manifesto Project, from curators Marco Campari, Lorenzo Mason and Cosimo Bizzarri with executive editor Rujana Rebernjak, this site featuring a series of personal manifesto is an ongoing project that “Leaves the final result to one side as to focus on the creative process.” The opening paragraph from their descriptions reads, “To say that the end result is what counts is just not true. Especially in design. Rather, a good designer is more concerned with the process; that winding, potholed road he embarks upon every time he gets a new job.” The entire collection of manifestos bring together advice and thoughts on the future for designers and makers, giving insight in many ways to the attitude of designers and their need for progress, ethic and morality with their own work, to ensure that these ideas and ideologies are passed on to the next generation of makers.
The theme of this site is focused on the future, that the result in making something is not the final goal but rather the after fact is to be considered. Designers in particular have a responsibility, the way that we use technology, how we read into things or use items and products, all have great affects on multiple aspects in our lives and how we develop, sometimes on a societal level; and this is true for most if not all creative media, photographers, illustrators, writers, curators; each of these fields and the many more that are within creative industries have responsibilities that apply after the fact of creation, weather that is through the use or experience of an item or place, or simply how things are read through suggestion and narrative. One tweet from Sunil Sadasivan states “We in tech who build products, end up shaping human behaviours. At the end of the day, those behaviours will be our legacy. – Products and platforms have second/third order effects and those of us who build have a responsibility to understand what those are.” The links between tech, design, media and art all hold the same values and responsibilities regarding public and social behaviours, perceptions and attitudes. Ultimately this dose not mean that self regulation or censorship should control our practice, but rather transparency and honesty at the source of creation should be understood.
One manifesto in particular from The Manifesto Project by Experimental Jetset named ‘Disrepresentation Now!’ looks back at their own plans for a distributed manifesto; originally designed to be presented as a participatory manifesto at AIGA ‘Voice’ convention towards the end of 2001 in Washington DC. The author’s forewords on this project give insight to the changing nature of perspectives within our practice, that as much as we should consider the after fact of our works with the public, that we should also consider our own stance as practitioner. This text that follows is taken from The Manifesto Project ‘Disrepresentation Now!’ the full piece can be read here.
“We wrote the following manifesto nine years ago. It was written to function within a very specific context: we were invited to deliver a lecture at the first AIGA “Voice” convention, that was scheduled to take place towards the end of 2001, in Washington DC.
Instead of a lecture, we planned to do something else. During the convention, we wanted to do a series of ‘hand–out sessions’, distributing stickersheets featuring abstract wristbands, name tags and badges. This stickersheet was printed in three different colours (red, blue and red). How we envisioned it, the people attending the convention would wear these abstract stickers, forming three different ‘political parties’ (a red party, a blue party and a black party), creating a sort of site–specific artwork. We were very much inspired by the fact that the convention took place in Washington DC, and wanted to create a work that would refer to political rallies, demonstrations, protests, Democratic and Republic conventions, etc.
On the back of the stickersheet, we printed a manifesto. In retrospect, this manifesto didn’t have a lot to do with the front of the stickersheet. But at that time, we felt the manifesto was necessary, to clarify our views on graphic design. Re–reading the manifesto now, we fully realise the manifesto would sooner confuse our ideas than clarify them. In the end, it didn’t really matter. We never made it to Washington to hand out the stickersheets. Because of the ‘9/11’ attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the ‘Voice’ conference was cancelled. The stickersheets were already printed by then.
Most of the stickersheets were distributed by AIGA, as part of a mailing. Some stickersheets were enclosed in issue 4 of the magazine Dot Dot Dot. The manifesto was also published by a German magazine called Perspektive, together with an accompanying interview, which was also published by Dot Dot Dot. And that was the end of the manifesto. Looking at the manifesto now, we see a lot of small things we don’t agree with. First of all, we think the title should have been “Non–representationism” instead of “Disrepresentationism”. Moreover, the categories of ‘representation’ and ‘dis–or non–representation’ are not really part of our thinking anymore. We also used some other words in the manifesto (‘functionality’ and ‘amoralism’) that we would never use now; in fact, looking back at our body of work, we think our work has been very moralistic, from the very start.
However, re–reading the manifesto, we also see a lot of things we still agree with. For example, we still believe that the political qualities of graphic design are situated foremost in its aesthetic dimension, and not necessarily in the direct message it tries to deliver. Furthermore, we are still very interested in the idea of a graphic design that refers to its own material context. And lastly, after all these years, we would still never work for an advertising agency. So in that sense, we still feel connected to the manifesto.”
What’s in yours isn’t in mine:
The contents of a manifesto vary, sometimes drastically, sometimes it is simply the wording that changes whilst the meanings and ideals stay the same. However, examining some of these manifestos it becomes clear there are two very strong opponents, the practitionary manifesto and the ideology manifesto. These two type of manifestos contain a series of similarities that link together and should be discussed first, these links are similar in concept and are the reason that I can not, in good conscience, say one is wrong over the other, however, they do determine the nature of the manifesto and it’s audience, in someways the practitionary manifesto is by and is for the individual, and the ideology manifesto is for the collective and the many, both of which are presented for different meanings and uses.
The Practionary Manifesto
The practitioner in this scenario is the individual the studio or institution; practitioner is not solely the maker but rather the statements made through their manifesto are solely for and about the one, individual. Often these manifestos are written with their own works in mind, they are aimed at showcasing the moral and ethical attitude of the company and are solely for that purpose, they are to be read as a mission statement and overview of their works.
They create a clear understanding of the type of persons or business that you will be dealing with, and through these manifestos they can, in someways, dictate the type of clients and work that is sent their way. Often though these manifestos are vague, used as a sort of branding technique to define the organisation and with this they produce shorter statements or bullet point guides. It would be more akin to suggest that these are mission statements rather than manifestos, as more often than not they are not suggesting or examining ideologies but rather stating who and what they are as practitioners.
One such studio We Are Open Studio list a number of bullet points within their manifesto. The opening line, “Yes, we are open” is then proceeded by a series of ‘To’ categories, ranging from ‘To tell your story’ to, ‘To ask questions’ and ‘To take risks’. As a mission statement these details work well to suggest not only what the studio dose but to also create a sense of direction for the brand. At the bottom of their manifesto they then list ‘Sorry, we’re closed’ which is then again followed by more ‘To’ statements, you can see the full list here.
The first two items that they state they are closed to are ‘To any kind of politics’ and ‘To religious matters’. These statements seemed to feel conflicting, and contradictions to other statements made in their list of things they are open to. For example, ‘To fight for leads and ideals, To change perspective, To take risks, To read between the lines’, how can one stay away from political matters when design is inherently political. Items such as being closed to the idea of working with religion and the tobacco industry are understandably, and actually possible when choosing clients and dealing with design works, but stating that any kind of politics seemed to be something, that in todays society, would be a hard feat and surely hinder their workflow. I spoke with Kai Hoffman, one of the founders of We Are Open Studio to quickly discuss this topic, the following text is that short conversation.
KH – Hey James! Nice point – as it’s our very own manifesto I have to tell that you’re really the first person who worked the meaning out that way …
JW – Hey! I think its an interesting one! would love to know the thoughts behind it!
KH – In terms of politics it we don’t mean that our work might not have a political dimension. But it surely means that we won’t work for any kind of political party. And on the other hand it means that we don’t like ‘politics’ as rigid structures that limit our work – or let’s say the outcome – just because of internal hierarchies and egos … So maybe you can say that as a design studio, we are ‘closed’ to structures that keep us away from concentrating on the best possible result …
And in terms of political parties and religious matters we always always try to stay as objective (and open-minded) as possible. That’s why we decided to not get too involved in those topics (or let’s say specific positions) as a studio – at least when it comes to jobs / clients …
JW – This is great! so it’s more a literal term of who you will work with in a sense, discarding ego and hierarchies in a more direct sense of politic parties – It’s interesting however, that you say politics as a rigid structure, regarding the outcome. I’ve often found that politics opens up the stage, it regards ethics and morality that exposes the different views and approaches across cultures and community. I think I have a personal view that politics is not so much a closed structure but rather a window into society and popular culture. It both effects and is affected by the very systems we live in. I think a basic example of this is access and distribution.
However I am beginning to wonder if politics is necessary at all regarding client led work. If we are to think of it as purely commercial.
KH – Most definitely!
We always saw our manifesto as kind of a navigation system for ourselves and our work during the years and even as a tool for potential clients (maybe that’s why we used ‘politics’ and even ‘religion’ in such a literal and more job-related way – when it comes to clients and companies, internal ‘politics’ can be pretty rigid).
Admittedly before speaking with Hoffman about this topic I assumed that it was not used as so much a literal term, but rather the broader and more explorative aspect of politics that I involve myself in. But after this brief conversation it did lead me to understand that as a manifesto is a declaration, a creed of sorts, then language is perhaps one of the most important factors; can you get across your declaration through simply listing items without having the extended information behind them? This point is even more important regarding ideological manifestos.
An ideology is a system, it is ideas and ideals, it is a policy and the background of principles. Manifestos that are ideological in their nature, are manifestos for the many, to be used outward with no particular individual as their subject, except perhaps a medium of practice in which it leans toward such as design, photography or journalism independently, but even at this point they remain open to all in that field. They are often longer in their form compared to the practitioner manifestos, with a more detailed and descriptive format.
Ideologies are not rules, nor are they to be treated as strict guidelines, but rather they are information curated with meaning and intent, often for the better such as ethical and moral practice or in the practice and medium itself, encouraging a more thoughtful approach and self examination. The ideological manifesto is in many ways, a list of experiences, goals, or a wanting from those who seek to change the darker and more unpleasant ares of a practice. The issues are that some see them as regulation, especially within ethics, when dealing with such topics that are vague and in on themselves hyper-objects within the creative industries, creating ideologies around these topics as guidelines can be a conflicting approach and consideration between cultures, politics and religions can often cause different viewpoints. However, for the most part these ideological manifestos are based around honesty and experiences within the industry, more often than not trying to create a more logical and moral guidance to our practice.
In the late 1970’s German industrial designer Dieter Rams wrote what are sometimes referred to as ‘The Ten Commandments To Design.’ After increasing concern about the state of the world around him – “An impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Aware that he was also contributing to that world, Rams asked himself what is good design, these ‘Ten Commandments’ became a self reflection on his own work and a guideline for other designers. These guides ask for designers to be self reflective, considerate and understanding in their own practice to the point of moral and ethical issues regarding consumption and craft, to be innovative, make a product useful, unobtrusive, honest and understandable; these are just a few and you can see the full collection here via ReadyMag.
“First do no harm” is the opening line to Allan Chochinov’s 1,000 words manifesto, a strongly listed manifesto backed with description on the main points to further explain their meanings and how to think about them. Chochinov’s manifesto is blunt and to the point, kept short and manageable for those who read it and seeks not to bore or be ruling but simply informative, touching on topics such as ‘Teach Sustainability Early‘, ‘Design for Impermanence‘ and ‘Context before absolutely everything‘ these points are guides that help to shape the world of design and Chochinov arguably opens with one of his strongest point.
“Hippocratic Before Socratic. “First do no harm” is a good starting point for everyone, but it’s an especially good starting point for designers. For a group of people who pride themselves on “problem solving” and improving people’s lives, we sure have done our fair share of the converse. We have to remember that industrial design equals mass production, and that every move, every decision, every curve we specify is multiplied—sometimes by the thousands and often by the millions. And that every one of those has a price. We think that we’re in the artefact business, but we’re not; we’re in the consequence business.”
These ideological manifesto are seen throughout different areas of practice, from design, illustration, photography and journalism. In many cases regarding journalism they are focused again on ethics and morality, the BBC have a series of links for Editorial Guidelines, although not a specific manifesto of sorts, guidelines in this case are in the same field of play, these are written for the many to use as literal guidelines or take away understandings of ethics; ranging from Anonymity, Conflicts of Interest, Consent, Feeds and Links, Interactivity and many more, all of which give information and understanding to the topic.
Photography, just as most, if not all of the arts, has a numerous amount of critics that centre their works on uncovering the hidden messages within their practice. Photo journalism and Documentary photography have many writers who all seek to uncover the morals and meanings behind the works of some of the greatest photographers and at the same time give insight and notion to the new and upcoming photographers today. Writers such as Susan Sontag and her book On Photography, John Berger and his book Ways of Seeing, Stephen Bull and his book Photography, these some of the classic examples and are just a drop in the ocean on photographic theory. However, these book are not manifestos, but what they have done as critics is create a sense of self evaluation for creators to think on when in their practice, they have created a way of thinking that extends beyond practice and into evaluation before, during and after the fact. Sentences on Photography by Torbjorn Rodland created a twenty point manifesto on photography that examines the practice with both a technical and theoretical understanding, creating what is a personal view of what photography is and should be, it is a perfect example of a practitioners manifesto, one that takes knowledge from outside sources and experiences. Overall the manifesto has no right or wrong but it should be considered through critical evaluations within a practice.