Steps Toward an Evolution of Images: Prehistory to Industrial Capitalism

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In the acknowledgement that it is now possible to project the end of the biosphere using technologies enabled by industrialism, it is incumbent upon artists and designers to redirect their practices in a way that counters the unsustainable. The separation of the fine arts from design at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has enabled design to actively contribute to the unsustainability of the biosphere, and has encouraged the fine arts to play a passive role, concealing this condition. This paper attempts to explore whether there might not be a valuable space to recover, one that existed prior to the separation of the fine arts from design. Beginning with an understanding of the evolutionary value of art in prehistory, the paper uses a framework derived from evolutionary theory to examine the utility of images within society, using canonic examples from art history as well as images derived from design. Can a more unified approach to the historical study of works of fine art and design offer insights not yet captured by the separate disciplines of either art or design history? Although the paper modestly provides only an exploratory model of looking at specific images, it is hoped that an awareness of the symbolic utility of images might contribute might suggest a way forward towards a new model of practice that could actively confront the condition of unsustainment.


Keywords: Evolution, Memetics, Imagemaking, Art History, Design History, Prehistory
Stream: Analysing Artforms, Meaning and Representation
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


John Calvelli

Associate Professor, Communication Design, Pacific Northwest College of Art
Portland, OR, USA

John Calvelli is an artist, designer and writer. His engagement with role of representation in culture has led through photography, performance, graphic design for museums, and writing. He has directed the Department of Graphic Design at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and designed for the Walker Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He's lectured on design at Yale University and the AIGA in New York. His writing on design history has been presented in London, Vancouver, and Córdoba, Argentina. In Portland, he has consulted for the Museum of Contemporary Craft and organized the Tokyo Flow symposium and exhibition at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Theoretical interests include memetic and evolutionary theories of imagemaking, political economy and issues of value, the ontology of design and sustainability, and the critique of globalization. He has a BFA in Photography from the San Francisco Art Institute, an MFA in Visual Communication from CalArts, a culinary diploma from the Institute of Culinary Education, and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.

Ref: A07P0024