02 hannah_canoe_02

The intent of this collection of essays is to clarify the relationship between art and design. That they are not one and the same. To draw a clear picture of the processes by which things have been designed: either by material influences or mechanical process. That human beings instinctively produce good design and that a reigning elite survives only by style. That art is the antithesis of design and style occupies the great chasm between them.

Which Indian drew the birch bark canoe? Did you ever wonder if there were design briefs for the bark canoe, the kayak, the Tepee? I doubt it; the canoe was about material, need and possibly the joy of expression. Boats get you across a river, up a creek, onto a pond, out into the sea, and across an ocean. They are about bravery, discover, faith, science and the Gods. They are magic transports taking you away, to, from and near. Boats are about chanting, astronomy, fear and death. It is presumptuous to think boats can be reasoned, they happen for far too many complex ideas to be simple writing on a page much less a drawing. It’s like trying to capture the wind. Impossible! You can’t draw a three-dimensional idea until after it’s realized (designed). I have developed a way of working. I make the thing and show it to people. They can say yes or no but they know what they’re getting and I know what I’m giving.

It is not in tended as a way of defining art, style, and design but to demonstrate the intimate connections they share. Most importantly the intention is to define the processes of designing. A way of seeking out the mystery of design. We have forgotten that many of the criteria by which we define ourselves are contained in our products and their performance. We lifted a fundamental burden from individual designers and have become bad priests! There aren’t methods for individuals to truly judge the output of “things”! birch-bark canoe – 1000 bc.

Bruce Hannah ‘96


Boats named Marie, Marion, and Catherine, women of the sea. As tempting and dangerous as the storms that crash on the rocks. Boats gently lifted from the sea each day, protected, secured against the onslaught of storms and fast rising tides. Beckoning to the fields of the sea, caressed by the moon, burned by the sun, filling up with the bounty, snatched by the nets held aloft by fragile glass floats. Carried by men like newborns. Gently folded and held. Rocks sink the ne stretched to the bottom, as traps for the unsuspecting harvest.

Mended and caressed back to their beauty by fishermen, whose feast and life provide like a womb. Making boats, timbers and ribs, into the painted faces of the women they represent. So fragile yet cared for in ways that remind us of the caresses of love. What happened to this care and tending? The materials, wood and canvas, needed tender, mending love. Needing repairing, painting, and care, restoring resistance to the elements. The materials, fiberglass and aluminum, repel the weather, need to care, need no love, needn’t be caressed to a blush, With names like Cigarette, Stud, Bayliner and Toy- Yot, women no longer sail the seas. Hard names, their blush long gone.

Is it the materials, or the women, who no longer inspire with love? The new materials resist the brush of love, the caress of the rasp. They are harsh and unyielding, they dent and crack, don’t need the care. The care of lover, who in turns needs their strength and flexibility to carry them across the sea of uncertainty. Howling winds, ferocious waves, a death met with the caress of wetness.

Bruce Hannah ’98
(After watching The Postman-Burning Passion)

Design is a process…not an event or a light bulb experience. What is the role of the designer? Design is 10,000 little operations. There are real reasons why things cost $10,000 or $1,000 or $1.00 and they are only some of the 10,000 things you’ve got to think about if you are going to design a product. Who’s going to use it, why, how, when, and what is this thing gonna look like?. I know that’s only five things well I hope to investigate the other 9,995 in the rest of this treatise, tome, whatever.

More questions?

If architecture and design were truly reasoned it would be so crazy you wouldn’t believe it. When I wrote that fifteen years ago Lee Ryder, who volunteered to edit this long-winded diatribe then, wrote in the margin “I don’t think I even want to hear the explanation of this one!” Well, I think she might now although I’m still not sure where I’m going with that thought although I think it has to do with design and not style. If solar panels became shingles, nailed to every roof so that too much energy can be produced eliminating both ugly power plants and engineering nightmares bolted to roofs that fail miserably both design and style wise. No one wants a center-hall colonial in Whiteport with solar shit sprouting from the roof much less a TV satellite dish in the yard. All this stuff has to be part of the solution not tacked on haphazardly after the fact. Where do we think all those spectacular gambrel windows came from? The real world is wonderfully insane if you really solve problems.

Don’t worry about the form, solve the problems and the forms will be crazier and more wonderful than anyone can dream. Art and design are not the same, although they are discussed often as if they were. Design is an extremely dangerous profession or action, art is basically dead. No one really cares what artists do. Do they? I hope to clarify the boundaries between art and design.


Design is a Performing Art
Bruce Hannah 1997© | Illustrations by Bruce Hannah