Under Consideration is a collaborative publishing effort by Nazli Ercan and Eric Li. This project is a container for an exchange of ideas between one another. Each new entry on this site is a response to the previous entry by the other author; it is the next thought of a continuous conversation. In this regard, the entries themselves become the medium in this unending collaborative process.
N: I have just read this article — and there are many similar others out there— that talks about how Duchamp stole the idea of the readymade from the 20th century Dada artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (Figure 5). This article argues that Elsa was friends with Duchamp. In referring to the Fountain, Duchamp in his letter to his sisters says “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture…” The identity of the female friend has always been a mystery, but the proofs in the article (Elsa was in Pennsylvania at the time when the Fountain was submitted to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, and the company that made these specific urinals was based in Pennsylvania are some proofs.) make a strong case that Elsa was the owner of the Fountain. In fact, she had been claiming found object as her works of art before Duchamp started experimenting with his readymades. I suggest you read the article; it is pretty fascinating and made me a little sad since you know I am a Duchamp fan (I still am). I guess it would make sense since he is a male figure and she is not…
Back to your question about what is it about art that makes us want to associate graphic design with it.. That is something I often think to myself. I can start by answering from a personal point of view: I would not want to only produce commercial works as this would not suffice my interests. What I like in art and why I would like graphic design to be more like it is the free will that comes with it. There is almost some kind of a narcissistic view of graphic design when it becomes close to art: the practice starts to be derived from individual expression; it becomes something that serves to one’s name and to one’s interests primarily. Remember when I asked you whether or not there is an existential component in typography? Then, I guess there is. We would like to create works that showcase our interests to make valuable use of our time on this earth and to feel good about ourselves in doing so. Thus, in making or wanting graphic design to be more like art, we want it to have a greater (existential) purpose. The interesting question, to me, or what I have yet do not have an answer to is this: Is there no other discipline than art where one can pursue individual interests? Is that what defines art? If so, trying to claim something similar for graphic design, a similar understanding, would not help us differentiate design. As much as we want to claim the individual will that comes with associating graphic design with art, perhaps we should omit this tendency and instead find something that is specific to graphic design. I am not sure if this is possible since there are already so many different ways people have been practicing the discipline, but I wonder if you think this is possible? Or do you think this is worthwhile pursuit? Is there an end goal, reward, in disassociating graphic design from art?
E: This reminds me of the concept of the readymade in art, as a way of bringing common objects into the art realm, as well as the concept of the multiple, as a way of bringing art into the hands of people. It seems inevitable that Bruno Munari come up, given that his Cubo ashtray and Tetracono were both early examples of the multiple.
We also see this as a topic of discussion at Documenta 4 (Figure 3) in the essay titled Graphik und Objekte: Vervielfältigte Kunst, loosely translated to Graphics and Objects: Multiple Art. Though with my limited knowledge of german, this is about as far as I can get.
Marcel Broodthaers' plastic plates (Figure 4) also come to mind as pieces of art and graphic design that borrow from cultural readymades (punctuation, signage) and create something new from them. I'm curious how this endeavor differs from the idea of producing art that is meant for humankind as the end product is some object that acts as or resembles a "nonart" object.
Design in particular is fascinating due to its role as an "applied art" or "service industry." Rarely is it given a definition as generous as yours in which design can be seen in the context of art. I run into this issue with many people I talk to who assume that design is synonymous with advertising and marketing.
Maybe a better question is: what is it about art and the philosophies associated with it that make us want to associate graphic design more closely with that discourse than a necessarily commercial one?