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Design criticism and social responsibility: the Flemish design critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993)

Fredie Floré (2011) Writing design : words and objects. p.33-44
abstract
As several historical studies have shown, the 1958 Brussels’ World’s Fair, marked a pivotal moment in de experience of modernity in Belgium. It provided the visitors with an international overview of new forms, buildings and products. In doing so it also opened up a challenging set of design critical questions, dealing for example with the quality and ‘authenticity’ of the national design production. This article focuses on the way design critics in Belgium responded to the altering situation. It especially discusses the work of K.-N. Elno, who, from the mid 1950s onwards, became Flanders’ most prominent design critic. Elno’s oeuvre is marked by a continuing discussion of the social responsibilities of the artist. Elno started off during the Second World War as an art critic. However during the fifties he gradually turned his attention to architecture and especially product design, as he believed that it was in these disciplines that an artist could fully develop his ‘social’ mission. According to Elno, also design critics had responsibilities towards society. In his own case this first and foremost had implications in terms of content. As several of his contemporaries, Elno developed a modernist approach which was meant to ‘serve’ mankind and deal with people as unique individuals. This way he became one of the pioneers of the anti-authoritarian critique of the 1960s in Belgium. Elno’s social ambitions also influenced his choice of media. For example he liked to write for newspapers or periodicals which did not prominently focus on design. According to Elno, discussing the everyday social meaning of design was only possible in the context of an all round form of journalism. Elno approached Expo 58 with distrust. He strongly criticised the emergence of an Expo-style, a design style which he believed to be superficial and unauthentic. Nevertheless in the 1960s Elno’s dialectic form of criticism and his close observations of the everyday living environments led him to a more nuanced appreciation of kitsch. However, the ambition to reconcile modernist values with a revaluation of the individual appropriation of material goods was hard to maintain. From the late 1960s onward Elno gradually closed of his career. Based upon an in-depth study of his collected writings, this paper argues that his final decision to remain silent is significant for the understanding of his work and at the same time revealing for the direction in which design criticism in Flanders was developing.
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
year
type
bookChapter
publication status
published
subject
keyword
design criticism, K.-N. Elno
book title
Writing design : words and objects
editor
Grace Lees-Maffei
pages
33 - 44
publisher
Berg
place of publication
Oxford, UK
ISBN
9781847889553
language
English
UGent publication?
yes
classification
B2
copyright statement
I have transferred the copyright for this publication to the publisher
VABB id
c:vabb:322639
VABB type
VABB-4
id
1971197
handle
http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-1971197
date created
2011-12-21 09:23:11
date last changed
2017-01-02 09:54:50
@incollection{1971197,
  abstract     = {As several historical studies have shown, the 1958 Brussels{\textquoteright} World{\textquoteright}s Fair, marked a pivotal moment in de experience of modernity in Belgium. It provided the visitors with an international overview of new forms, buildings and products. In doing so it also opened up a challenging set of design critical questions, dealing for example with the quality and {\textquoteleft}authenticity{\textquoteright} of the national design production. This article focuses on the way design critics in Belgium responded to the altering situation. It especially discusses the work of K.-N. Elno, who, from the mid 1950s onwards, became Flanders{\textquoteright} most prominent design critic. 
Elno{\textquoteright}s oeuvre is marked by a continuing discussion of the social responsibilities of the artist. Elno started off during the Second World War as an art critic. However during the fifties he gradually turned his attention to architecture and especially product design, as he believed that it was in these disciplines that an artist could fully develop his {\textquoteleft}social{\textquoteright} mission. According to Elno, also design critics had responsibilities towards society. In his own case this first and foremost had implications in terms of content. As several of his contemporaries, Elno developed a modernist approach which was meant to {\textquoteleft}serve{\textquoteright} mankind and deal with people as unique individuals. This way he became one of the pioneers of the anti-authoritarian critique of the 1960s in Belgium. Elno{\textquoteright}s social ambitions also influenced his choice of media. For example he liked to write for newspapers or periodicals which did not prominently focus on design. According to Elno, discussing the everyday social meaning of design was only possible in the context of an all round form of journalism.
Elno approached Expo 58 with distrust. He strongly criticised the emergence of an Expo-style, a design style which he believed to be superficial and unauthentic. Nevertheless in the 1960s Elno{\textquoteright}s dialectic form of criticism and his close observations of the everyday living environments led him to a more nuanced appreciation of kitsch. However, the ambition to reconcile modernist values with a revaluation of the individual appropriation of material goods was hard to maintain. From the late 1960s onward Elno gradually closed of his career. Based upon an in-depth study of his collected writings, this paper argues that his final decision to remain silent is significant for the understanding of his work and at the same time revealing for the direction in which design criticism in Flanders was developing.},
  author       = {Flor{\'e}, Fredie},
  booktitle    = {Writing design : words and objects},
  editor       = {Lees-Maffei, Grace},
  isbn         = {9781847889553},
  keyword      = {design criticism,K.-N. Elno},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {33--44},
  publisher    = {Berg},
  title        = {Design criticism and social responsibility: the Flemish design critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993)},
  year         = {2011},
}

Chicago
Floré, Fredie. 2011. “Design Criticism and Social Responsibility: The Flemish Design Critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993).” In Writing Design : Words and Objects, ed. Grace Lees-Maffei, 33–44. Oxford, UK: Berg.
APA
Floré, F. (2011). Design criticism and social responsibility: the Flemish design critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993). In G. Lees-Maffei (Ed.), Writing design : words and objects (pp. 33–44). Oxford, UK: Berg.
Vancouver
1.
Floré F. Design criticism and social responsibility: the Flemish design critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993). In: Lees-Maffei G, editor. Writing design : words and objects. Oxford, UK: Berg; 2011. p. 33–44.
MLA
Floré, Fredie. “Design Criticism and Social Responsibility: The Flemish Design Critic K.-N. Elno (1920-1993).” Writing Design : Words and Objects. Ed. Grace Lees-Maffei. Oxford, UK: Berg, 2011. 33–44. Print.