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California College of the Arts

Division of Graduate Studies: M. Design



Spring Semester, 2008 Tuesday, 12:00-3:00

e-mail: bkatz@cca.edu v-mail: 415.703.9566

“No ideas but in things.”

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    William Carlos Williams, Paterson

THING THEORY is an exercise in speculative thinking that is grounded in empirical research and design practice. Over the course of the seminar we will investigate the nature of the object at its most fundamental level: What do things mean, and How do things mean?

During the first part of the seminar we will survey some of the principal disciplinary traditions that address the problem of the object: People have been designing, making and using things for a bit more than 2 1/2 million years, and a rich body of historical, philosophical, anthropological, and psychological literature attests to the centrality of the object in human experience.

In the second part of the course we will question some of the fundamental premises of modern culture by examining the irrational, non-rational, and pre-rational ways in which we interact with things: collecting them, consuming them, keeping them and giving them away, and, of course, making them. We will have the opportunity here to engage in some deep introspection about our own practices and identities as artists, architects, and designers.

The last weeks of the course will be given over to student presentations. Each student will select something (or any-thing, or every-thing, or no-thing) and subject it to a comprehensive analysis. You may wish to consider its historical evolution, the manner of its manufacture, rituals of use, its technical, material, and aesthetic characteristics, its ecological footprint, its cost and value, and so on. The final presentation will include a written essay and may be supported by any additional media that may be appropriate (2-D or 3-D, video, site-specific installation, performance, etc.).


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    attendance, participation, and completion of weekly reading assignments.

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    a series of short (1 p.) responses to reading assignments.

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    a final presentation, including written essay, as described above.


Thing Theory, Course Reader available On Reserve in the Meyer Library, SF. Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; Brown paper packages tied up with string…

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