Rhode Island School of Design has a long and rich history of commitment to the state’s progress and economic development. In 1877, a group of 34 forward-thinking women – members of the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission – envisioned the importance of art and design as vital to the state’s manufacturing economy when they founded Rhode Island School of Design. Part of RISD’s original mission was “to teach artisans in drawing, painting, modeling and designing, that they may successfully apply the principles of art to the requirements of trade and manufacture.”
In a new book, “The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice,” RISD faculty and staff explore hands-on practice, enhanced seeing and perception, and contextualized understanding – all elements of “critical making” – and their deep connection to innovation. RISD’s education is based on the timeless notion of teaching and learning with the hands, mind and heart so that students may develop their own unique approach to making and problem-solving.
How can artists and designers contribute to a 21st-century manufacturing economy and its development? They do so by asking questions: Why does something exist? Does it need to exist? What existed before? What has influenced it? How is it made? Can it be made? What will we need in the future?
Creativity and ingenuity have always made our products stand out in the global marketplace. Artists and designers at RISD take advantage of the most current technology like 3-D printing, along with the most traditional tools and techniques, to create products that are unmistakably imbued with a sense of criticality, materiality and authenticity – in short, with the humanity that technology these days so often leaves by the wayside.
Corporations have begun to recognize that artists and designers are the next change agents. They are engaging RISD students to consider what a traditional business or technology school can no longer do for them – which is to help them envision the future by engaging with some of the most creative thinkers and makers of our times.
It is through these partnerships between industry and art and design that we can conceive of new directions for the Rhode Island economy. Shaped by our state’s history of tradition and success in the manufacturing sector, and together with our unflagging commitment to question, explore, iterate and innovate – to “make critically” – we are poised to lead by producing not only that which has not existed previously, but in many cases, what has never even been imagined.
Rhode Island, starting here at RISD, and in partnership with this vibrant, creative community, is poised to respond to that call. We must ensure that we have a workforce capable of responsibly defining and growing the sectors that will generate fresh ideas and innovations and keep America competitive. With “The Art of Critical Making,” creative innovators – whether businesspeople, practicing artists and designers, prospective students, or educators – can take an inside look at the community of artists and designers that practice this unique brand of critical making so relevant to this day. It will have different meaning for each reader. How will it inspire you? We invite you to find out. •
John Maeda is the president of Rhode Island School of Design and Rosanne Somerson is its provost.