Sometimes it can seem as if the design world is speeding forward at a break- neck pace. Shows like Project Runway echo that notion with mottos like “One
day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” But no matter
how high-tech or fast fashion we become, it’s
important to take a breather and look to the past.
Associate Editor Kadie Yale sat down with Sarah
Lichtman, the director of the Masters of Art program
in the history of design and curatorial studies at
Parsons the New School in conjunction with the
Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, to
discuss how the past can benefit the future.
INTERIORS & SOURCES: Can you explain your
position and background?
SARAH LICHTMAN: I’m the director of an MA program
and also assistant professor of design history. I
was an art history major at Vassar and have always
been interested in art history. After I graduated, I
worked in the art field for a while for places like the
Museum of Modern Art and Christie’s, but I ended
up opening my own vintage furniture and design
store in the ‘90s in Brooklyn. Through the store, I
became interested in the history of objects. I had
never had an opportunity to study that stuff; in college
no one taught furniture or material culture. So that
led me to get my master’s and then my Ph.D. from
the Bard Graduate Center [in New York City.]
IS: What is the importance of design history?
SL: Where to begin? First of all, history is important
and using material things—material culture—as evidence is just another way
to study history. So using design and material culture is just one way to really
get into history and culture, and the significance of these things. Looking at
the stuff that surrounds us is a much more direct and approachable way for
people to understand history. It’s one thing to be able to go into a museum
and look at a painting, and it’s another thing to just think about the desk chair
you sit in every day. So I think that through design and material culture, history
is much more approachable and understandable.
IS: Do you see a disconnect between designers and design theory?
SL: Well, I think all designers need to know design history. I teach a course at
Parsons called “The History of Design” that is a survey from 1850 to the present
day. I think in order to be a better, smarter designer, you need to understand where
you fit into the historical narrative—where you work, where your practice comes
from, and how you place yourself in the practice. So I think all designers should
study design history. I think it should be an intimate part of their design education.
IS: When I taught graphic design history, many students would ask,
16 INTERIORS & SOURCES NOVEMBER 2015 interiorsandsources.com
By Kadie Yale | Photography courtesy of Parsons
ABOVE LEFT + RIGHT
Students in the MA
history of design and
curatorial studies get
in the Cooper Hewitt
Museum, learning the
details of design to
instill a concrete
in the history