Judith Gura teaches design history and theory at NYSID and is the area coordinator of the Design History Program. She teaches Historical Styles, Design Theory, and a number of courses covering such topics as art deco, great women designers, and avant-garde design. Gura is the author of a number of books on interior design, including New York Interior Design, 1935-1985; Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture: Designs for the 21st Century; and most recently Design After Modernism: Furniture and Interiors, 1970-2010.
Please talk about the Historical Styles course you teach.
Historical Styles is an introduction to the history of furniture, interior design, and architecture. It’s very intense, and covers a long time frame. Historical Styles I runs from the ancient world through the early 19th century and Historical Styles II focuses on the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a lot for students to take in.
I love teaching Historical Styles I because I face the challenge of getting students interested in the subject to begin with. It’s so satisfying to see the students get excited about design history, and interested in certain styles. Every so often someone comes up to me in the street or some public place and says, ‘You may not remember me, but I took Historical Styles with you, and I just want you to know how much I learned and how helpful it’s been.’ That’s probably the most rewarding part of the job.
Why is it important to learn about the history of design?
You can’t be a good designer if you don’t know what came before you. Everything the students are going to create has a precedent. Everything from classical architecture onward is going to feed into their creativity.
What’s special about the History of Decorative Arts program?
It’s unusual to have a program like this at the undergraduate level. There are lots of undergraduate art history programs, but the decorative arts are usually a very small part of the curriculum. There is a real need for a program like this, and graduates will definitely be in a better position to work in the field, especially at a museum, gallery, auction house, design magazine—even a book publisher. And, of course, the program is great preparation for graduate study.
The program caters to people who are interested in interior design but don’t necessarily want to be designers. It’s really a comprehensive introduction to design history. In addition to taking history courses, there are studio classes and required courses such as Art and Society, Color for Interiors, and Textiles and Finishes. It’s a nice balance of general education, studio work, and design history and theory.