A Critique of the Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld

Subject: ⚖️ Law
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 9
Word count: 2256
Topics: 🟡 Morality, ✨ Design
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Design can be defined as the creation of a plot in readiness for the construction of an object as is the case in developmental processes. Though the process may be belittled, it involves more than creativity. It is at this moment that an artist ensures that their design corresponds to the ethical standards of society (Verbeek, 2008). The tool must be made such that it can only be used for a noble purpose. If it is used wrongfully, its creator may be questioned. According to Papanek, a designer’s responsibility should extend beyond their proprietary needs and consider how his or her work will affect the society (2012). An artefact may be seen as moral if it provides safety and does not upset the circle of life. It must use resources optimally and promote conservation where possible. The design, choice of manufacturing materials, the ability to recycle the item, its use of energy, and the production process are analysed when checking the suitability of the object (“Moral Issues in Design and Technology”, 2017). Notably, society cannot infringe stringent rules on a creator’s work, as it would kill creativity. Therefore, the preservation of morality is left solely to the artists themselves. Over the years, the works of numerous artists have shown respect for social structures. However, some have created artefacts that defy ethical standards. Ideally, an object should provide a workable solution to a problem. Most importantly, it should have minimal side effects.

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The item in discussion is the red and blue armchair. It was made in Holland. Whereas the original piece was designed in 1917, this particular design came to life in 1923 when the artist decided to include these two bright colours (Wolf, 2017). Gerrit Thomas Rietveld designed the artefact. He was a Dutch furniture designer and an architect. The man was born in 1888 and died in 1964. The artist was a part of the De Stijl movement. The association was founded in 1917. Its members supported the abstraction of objects by reducing pieces to their essential forms. The team also used primary colours as well as black and white. The foundation was famous for using horizontal and vertical lines in their creations.  Gerrit’s involvement in the group often influenced his work. Rietveld products were focused on the three-dimension form. He added these skills to the stylistic principles of De Stijl members. The creation of this chair made him famous. It was one of his most successful productions (Dettingmeijer et al., 2011). Other significant works include the Rietveld Schroder House that is also a world heritage.

The original chair was made out of plain beech wood and plywood panels. Rietveld kept the design as simple as possible since he wanted it to be produced in large numbers (Smyth, 2013). At that time, complicated art was used only on unique items. The pieces of wood used to produce these chairs were all a standard measurement. It was also created using vertical and horizontal planes, as was the custom in the De Stijl movement (Lu, 2014). In 1923, the red and blue chair was born when the artist decided to paint the first chair (Wolf, 2017).  The object has a black frame, with yellow cutting edges. The seat is painted blue, while the backrest is red in colour (Macel et al., 2010). Regarding its shape, the item has a reclining back that makes it comfortable. Aside from its paint, it does not have additional decorations. 

The functionality of the chair is simple. It offers comfort, but not too much of it. Some would say it was designed to keep its user alert (“The Museum of Art”, 2017). The seat was bought and used by homeowners after its creation. Its design made it a unique item that was necessary to have in homes. The seat does not reflect the status. A simple tool was made for use by the low and middle-income earners. However, over the years, its value has appreciated. Notably, it is still in production today. Companies such as Cassina, Charlieroe, and Spacify still produce and sell it (Vannock, 2004). Its existence shows that great works of art continue to survive even after their creators die. The product has become an icon of modernism (“V&A Collections”, 2017). In 1970, Gerard Van der Groenekan rebuilt it. He had worked, as Rietveld’s assistant in making the earlier versions. 

In his book, Papanek claimed that a designer’s products are not an accident but a product of his inspiration (2010). The fact is confirmed by the details of the red and blue chair. Its tints and design are not incidental. Instead, they are intentional acts of Rietveld. The colours used by Thomas correspond to the dogma of the De Stijl movement. The dyes allowed by the group were red, blue, yellow or black, grey, and white. The use of these basic ensigns shows the rudimentary nature of the items. The products were expected to free of individuality and the artistic prejudices. As such, the group was able to express the emotions of the universe. Notably, in 1923, Rietveld opted to use thinner wood for his products.

A black frame draws attention away from the chair, making it a functional rather than ornamental seat. It also allows it to disappear in the background of a room. The power of this shade was revealed when it was placed in the Schroder house that Rietveld designed and built later (Rawsthorn, 2010). The yellow colour used on the cutting edges brings the concept of three-dimensional spaces to mind. It highlights the existence of a third plane; bring about a theme of abstraction (Margolin, 1996).  The armrests are also designed to communicate stability rather than comfort. The parts are wide enough to support one’s arms, but narrow enough to limit the leisure of leaning on them. The monotony of their colour allows them to blend in with the chair’s frame. Aside from that, the use of a blue shade for the seat indicates passivity and femininity. It gives the item a soft touch of comfort. On the other hand, its red backrest portrays aggressiveness and masculinity (Vannock, 2004). The packaging of the chair represents all paradigms of humanity. It symbolizes age yet youth, male yet female, and poor yet rich. Its design expresses that reality is complex and not readily determined.

When designing this seat, Rietveld felt that the item should not be used to retire from the world. It was built to keep its users alert and aware of their surroundings. The intention explains why it is not as comfortable like others of its kind, such as the club chair. The armchair criticized the traditional concept of relaxation (Romeo, n.d). It was designed in such a manner that a user seems to float in space. It emphasizes that real rest is a result of individuals relating to the world. Its colour, form, and shape are such that they emphasize the universe’s existence, thus creating the intended connection. The use of the chair was meant to allow people to feel abstract materials (Righini, 2001). It encourages composure rather than complacency. Therefore, Rietveld’s design can be said to be one that promotes dynamic tranquillity. He meant to motivate the users to reflect while resting. In a way, he intended to condemn the sin of being a sloth.

When Papanek claims that design is a conscious and intuition effort to impose meaning order, he offers some factors that can be examined to establish if an artefact is realistic. The first aspect is the method of making the item (Shangsong, 2012). The category encompasses the interaction of materials, tools, and processes. In analysing these factors, one can determine the effectiveness of the creation of an object.  The making of the red and blue chair involved simplicity. The products used were wood and plywood. The process includes the acquisition of raw materials from nature. Therefore, it cannot be termed as a green investment. It has not been disclosed whether the designer ensured that he replaced the fallen trees. However, the chosen design seems to minimize the amount of timber used per chair. The simple work of art can be concluded to have an honest and optimal manufacturing process.

Another factor that ought to be considered is the use of the said artefact. The red and blue chair was made for seating. Rietveld designed it such that it allowed the user to relax while remaining conscious. It also allowed its owners to experience the abstract nature of the universe. It was designed to provide composure, but it was not too comfortable (Overy, 1990). Notably, the seat served the purpose for which the designer intended it. Clients bought it for use at home and other social places. Over the year, there has been no report of any misuse of the product. 

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It is also important to consider the needs that an artefact satisfies. Here one examines if it is a luxury or utility product. The red and blue chair was designed with simplicity. It was made to cater for the physical want to rest. By creating it in the unique layout, Rietveld hoped to satisfy the psychological need of human beings by allowing them to connect to the universe (Romeo, n.d). The item was also made to satisfy Rietveld’s economic desires. He came up with the design with intent to make it commercial. 

The content of a plan should also reflect the time and conditions that surrounded its conception. The red and blue chair satisfies this condition. Its simplicity represents an age before excessive technological development. Additionally, its desire to show a three-dimensional world revealed that the 1920s were a time when a man was seeking to discover his connection to the universe. Its unique design is also representative of a time when architectural knowledge was thriving. The red and blue chair reveals the discipline of Gerrit Thomas Rietveld as a designer. He designed with the world at heart. He did not use this creation to express himself egocentrically (Jen, 2008). Instead, it was created in such a manner that it emphasized the societal belief of a three-dimensional world. 

The design of the red and blue chair is also authentic since there is no record of any other seat that had been conceived in the same manner before. It was Rietveld’s masterpiece. As such, it satisfies the condition of authenticity in the field of design. In fact, the creation was so efficient, such that it serves to inform some of the furniture designs today (Yu, 2015). Modern designers have made it more comfortable by including cushions. However, this move can be critiqued since it encourages extreme comfort, thus going against Rietveld’s motive.

The red and blue chair can be said to be on the side of good since it emphasizes concepts such as a conscious mind. The value refers to the mental alertness of an individual. The design of the seat is made to bring this to light. It keeps its owners rested, but not too much as to forget their responsibility. Rietveld claimed that he did not want to make it so cosy that people sleep and spill their drinks (Romeo, n.d). Therefore, the creation discourages self-serving activities and calls for reflective thinking among the human race. Such an awakening is appreciated by society. Most importantly, it condemns laziness and encourages active leisure as opposed to the passive form. 

Aside from that, it can be said to represent humility and creativity. The complexity of the design encourages inventiveness among other designers. The simple manner in which Rietveld made this artefact reveals that there is an ability to create a unique product without having to exaggerate the details of the item. Additionally, it encourages other artists to be humble. The chair does not reflect the creator’s ego. Instead, it was created to show the beauty of the universe. Consequently, upcoming designers are encouraged to use their talents to help others connect with their surroundings rather than to boast of their abilities.

The chair is painted using only colours that were accepted by the De Stijl movement. Rietveld belonged to this association. The creation shows his loyalty to the group. It encourages other designers to be faithful to the teams that help them achieve their objectives. Whereas the colours may be pure, he creates design that still stands out. Therefore, it shows society that one’s hard work and determination can help turn an ordinary situation into a momentous one.

In conclusion, the red and blue armchair is an artefact that can be considered to be on the side of good. The seat has a straightforward and educative design that addresses the need to rest. It also teaches its users to avoid complacency and adopt composure. It promotes a reflective mood as opposed to a lazy relaxation. Additionally, it has not used as a tool to advertise its designer. Instead, it focusses towards addressing the needs of its owners. The chair also magnifies the beauty of the universe. Therefore, it is ethically correct, making Rietveld to be recognized as a successful and morally conscious artist. Art is known to shape the lives of those who interact with it. As such, it is important that creators follow the advice provided by Papanek. The individuals should be conscious of their products and the effect that they have on the rest of the world. In fact, they should strive to inspire morality in the universe through their talents. The above can be achieved if these designers follow in the footpath of persons like Gerrit Thomas Rietveld.

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  1. Dettingmeijer, R, Rietveld, G, Van Thoor, M and Van Zijl, I 2011, Rietveld’s Universe. 1st ed. NAi Uitgevers / Publishers Stichting.
  2. Jen 2008, De Stijl Movement: Theo van Doesburg & Gerrit Rietveld. Designhistorymashup
  3. Lu 2014, Red and blue chair. Slidesharet
  4. Máčel, O, Wijk, C and Woertman, S 2010, Chairs. 1st ed. Rotterdam: 010 Publ.
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  6. “Moral Issues in Design and Technology” 2017, Notesandsketches
  7. Overy, P 1990, Rietveld furniture and the Schröder house. 1st ed. London: South Bank Centre.
  8. Papanek, V 2010, Do it yourself murder: The social and moral responsibility of the designer, from designer for the real world. In: G. Lees-Maffei and R. Houze, ed., 1st ed. New York: Berg Oxford, pp.32-40.
  9. Papanek, V 2012, Design for the real world. 1st ed. [Chicago]: Academy Chicago Publishers.
  10. Rawsthorn, A 2010, Design’s Odd Man Out Gets Moment in the Sun. [online] Nytimes
  11. Righini, P 2001, Thinking architecturally. 1st ed. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.
  12. Romeo, A n.d, Gerrit Rietveld’s red and blue chair & what I learned about rest and motion in myself. Terrain Gallery
  13. Shangsong 2012, Design for the real world: Human ecology and social change (1971) by Victor Papanek (1923-1998). Design Thinking @ Haas.
  14.  Smyth, K 2013, Design classic: The red-blue chair by Gerrit Rietveld. Ft
  15. The Museum of Modern Art 2017. Gerrit Rietveld red blue chair. c. 1923. MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. 
  16. V&A Collection 2017, The red blue chair-Rietveld, Gerrit Thomas. V&A Search the Collections
  17. Vanonck, A 2004, Signs in the red blue chair by Rietveld. Andriesvanonck
  18. Verbeek, P 2008, Morality in design: Design ethics and the morality of technological artifacts. Philosophy and Design, pp.91-103. 
  19. Wolf, J 2017, De Stijl movement overview and analysis. The Art Story
  20. Yu, H 2015, Archive: Red-and-blue chair. Designblog.
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