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The power of art and design, when we take imagination seriously

As a graphic designer here at The Yardstick Agency, my path has not always been quite that linear. Before completing a master’s degree in graphic design, I went down the not-so-conventional route of studying fine art – years as a student that I will always be grateful for.

Art is a world where you are encouraged to challenge your critical thinking beyond the norm, to analyse your own answers, and to push the limits of everything you do. This experience in art prepared me with an alternate perspective on the world of design, naturally influencing my creative thinking to this day.

By learning to understand people’s emotional reactions and how it affects choice, we can better tailor experiences to evoke the response we are looking for.

Though art and design both require immense creativity and the ability to tell a story visually, design requires function and is results-driven. Without this same constraint, art is a creative playground, with the power to be purposefully provocative and intentionally emotive to generate a connection with the viewer that is not always predictable.

Pushing boundaries in this way has the potential to inherently influence the world and can be utilised by designers with more focus.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is an artist who has done just that. Having been lucky enough to follow her work over the years, I recently visited her largest ever immersive exhibition You, Me, and the Balloons in Manchester.

Exploring this environment allowed me to dive into her abnormal world, understanding what lessons many designers can and have learnt from her eight-decade long career:

Following a difficult childhood growing up in a conservative family during wartime Japan, she pursued art as a form of healing. It was a path her family disproved of, failed to understand, and did not support.

Despite this, in the 1950s Kusama plunged herself into a western-centric and male-dominated art world. Her provocative performances gained attention and her paintings filled with repetitive polka dots and loops were striking.

Her mark on the Pop Art movement influenced artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, who went on to massively drive the development of art and graphic design in their own right. Her groundbreaking ideas inherently helped to shape the progression of the art and design world, begging the question – what would it look like today without her ambition and unwillingness to conform?

Create strong networks

Following encouragement from fellow artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Kusama moved to New York from Japan in 1958, a city bursting with creative talent. She was quickly able to establish herself within the avant-garde art scene and connect with fellow artists Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd. The prominence of her time in New York is evident throughout her art practice and shows the importance of making connections in your industry.

The power of authenticity

Kusama has spoken about how, as a child, she began hearing dogs, pumpkins and flowers talking to her. Eventually, in 1977, she voluntarily moved into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo due to schizophrenic tendencies.

Instead of allowing this to suppress her life in a negative way, the artist has been resilient and embraced these hallucinatory experiences, allowing them to inspire her art practice. As a result, the capabilities of her mind have been transformed into a curious world – a world of captivating artworks which has influenced art, design, and turned her into the global phenomenon she is today.

Have your own style, but always push boundaries

As Kusama continues to gain popularity, her uniqueness has become her best quality.

Her iconic polka dots make both her and her work instantly recognisable – she describes them as “infinity networks” and they share a clear connection with her interest in the universe and eternity.

Though her identity is clear, she has continued to push the boundaries of art throughout her career – exploring art, sculpture, film, fashion, and performance. This enthusiasm to step outside her comfort zone has led to an array of innovative creative outcomes which have transformed her practice and gone on to capture the hearts of so many.

Think outside the box

Kusama was a pioneer of installation artwork, a space which allows viewers to not only see a piece of art, but to be immersed within it. This includes the recent sensation of her Infinity Mirror Rooms.

You better be savvy if you want the chance to step inside one of these rooms, with a year’s worth of tickets to the current Tate exhibit selling out almost instantly, and people queuing over an hour to share just one minute with the work in Los Angeles.

A combination of lights, mirrors, and water creates an experience where, in the short time you can be a part of this installation, the boundaries of the room seem like a limitless universe. Though the illusion appears so vast, it is also an intimate experience between the viewer, and this isolated reality – a few silent moments to spend how you wish away was the bustle of the outer world.

Her influence on the world

Still not convinced that some lights in a box can be inspiring? In 2016 Adele chose to film within Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, situated at the Broad in LA.

Adele explained: “I decided that I wanted this to be a part of my ‘When We Were Young’ performance at the BRIT Awards in the UK because you kind of see different versions of yourself from every angle… I definitely felt like standing in that room for an hour, I saw things in myself and of myself that I haven’t noticed before.”

Yayoi Kusama has also recently inspired Louis Vuitton, by joining the array for major artists who have previously collaborated with the designer and helped shape the fashion industry. This playful fusion of Kusama’s art with the striking fashion line is said to have been inspired by sincerity and iconoclasm.

Inspire others

Kusama’s main goal has always been to inspire joy and happiness, which is certainly apparent through the mass following that her work has achieved both in galleries around the world and on social media.

Whether you wish to feel immersed in the freedom her work provides or to simply capture an iconic selfie in its environment, her influential artwork can ultimately be enjoyed by anyone in the way they desire.

Her work is abstract, surreal, and expressive. This distinctive world of Yayoi Kusama may never have been achieved or appreciated by so many without her willingness to experiment and take risk – sometimes the best creative decisions happen that way. When creatives like Kusama take such radical decisions with their work, the audiences experience is authentic, and one that designers can learn from and utilise.

Get in touch

You might not need a room filled with polka dots or a giant pumpkin in your office, but we can think of a creative way to transform your branding.

If you’d like to find out how, get in touch with a member of our team by email at or call at 0115 8965 300.

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