Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Well, not exactly. I will write it myself, of course. What I am looking for are references, in realm of philosophy, art criticism, and fashion. In summary, I am writing about how one can judge fashion design without the influence of marketing, but soleley on the merit of the garment. I am using Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as my focal point. What I need are writings on concepts like excellence, mastery, creative difficulty, and care in any realm. I will take anything from Plato to Poincare to Palahnuik. For example, art critic Robert Hughes in his book Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, argues against precipitation of bad contemporary art and for judging art on what he terms "elitism" (that is his term for excellency, or what Pirsig calls Quality),

It is in the nature of human beings to discriminate. We make choices and judgments every day. These choices are part of real experience. They are influenced by others, of course, but they are not fundamentally the result of a passive reaction to authority. And we know that one of the realest experiences in cultural life is that of inequality between books and musical performances and paintings and other works of art. Some things do strike us better than others - more articulate, more radiant with consciousness. We may have difficulty saying why, but the experience remains... For instance, my hobby is carpentry. I am fair at it - for an amateur... I love the tools, the smell of shavings, the rhythm of work. I know that when I look at a Hepplewhite cabinet in a museum, or a frame house in Sag Harbor, I can read it - figure its construction, appreciate its skills - better than if I had never worked wood myself. But I also know that the dead hands that made the breakfront or the porch were far better than mine; they ran finer mouldings, they knew about expansion, and their veneer didn't have bumps... People who can make such things are an elite; they have earned their right to be... Mutatis mutandis, it's the same in writing and in the visual arts [AND IN FASHION DESIGN!]. You learn to discriminate... This corresponds to experience, just as our perception and comparison of grace in the work of a basketball player or a tennis pro rise from experience. These differences of intensity, meaning, grace can't be set forth in a little catechism or a recipe-book. They can only be experienced and argued, and then seen in relation to a history that includes social history.

I am looking for strong stuff like the quote above. In asking for help, I am utilizing the Internet in its best way - as a vehicle for collective intelligence. You can simply post your recommendations as comments. Thank you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting thesis topic. I would look at Barthes -- if you haven't already -- not just his book on fashion, The Fashion System, but his writings on literature, music and photography. The wikipedia article on Barthes is excellent, serves as a nice roadmap to his ideas. Writing Degree Zero is incisively glossed, "He determines in Writing Degree Zero (1953) that language and style are both matters that appeal to conventions, and are thus not purely creative. Rather, form, or what Barthes calls ‘writing’, the specific way an individual chooses to manipulate conventions of style for a desired effect, is the unique and creative act. One’s form is vulnerable to becoming a convention once it has been made available to the public. This means that being creative is an ongoing process of continual change and reaction." Barthes' concept of form/writing obviously lends itself well to thinking about clothing design. I've never come across writing about fashion, or design for that matter, which makes use of Mikhail Bakhtin's ideas. I think the way he theorizes literature, particularly his concept of the 'diaologic,' also might lend itself well to thinking about value in fashion design. Wikipedia, again, is helpful here:
In case it's helpful!
Speaking of quality, thanks for the feedback on costume national -- arrived at this blog thanks to your signature on styelzeitgeist.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Fashion Critic said...

Thank you. The Fashion System is definitely on my list, but I will look into other Barthes's writings. And I absolutely love Bakhtin, I think he is brilliant. Thanks again, and I'm glad I can be of help as well.

6:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might find it useful to look in to the writings of Harold Bloom, especially The Western Canon. The Books and Schools of the Ages. He writes a lot about the aesthetic value of literaure and it would be really interesting if you could apply his theories to fashion
Good Luck, Ola F

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Laika said...

Very challenging topic. Definitely look at the modernists' writings on fashion asap, because they were writing in a similar vein to what you are proposing. It will also be a good way to identify the potential theoretical pitfalls of writing about aesthetic judgement.
On the subject of craft, check out Walter Benjamin's "The Storyteller," which concerns the fate of craft under conditions of modernity. Hard going, as he is a beautifully cryptic writer, but there are definitely some nuggets worth extracting.
There are also two Goethe essays: "On Art and Craftwork" and "On Strict Aesthetic Judgements" that I suspect will be valuable. They are included in The Rise of Fashion by Daniel Purdy, which looks like a phenomenal compilation of philosophical texts on fashion--everyone from Hegel to Simone de Beauvoir.
More to come...:)

8:28 PM  
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1:32 PM  
Blogger Brad Brown said...

Did you ever finish your thesis? Ho'd it turn out?

10:11 PM  

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