Book review: Spilleregler og Spillerom. Tradisjonens Estetikk (Rules and Leeway: The Aesthetics of Tradition).

  • Siri Homlong


Mikkel B. Tin is interested in the aesthetic dimensions of art in general and of folk art in particular. In the book Rules and Leeway: The Aesthetics of Tradition, he highlights the creative processes that are driven by individual relations to aesthetics and craftsmanship in traditional crafts and design. His goal is to examine tradition and art at their meeting point, a meeting point he names the ‘tradition of aesthetics’. As signalled in the book’s title, there are in this context some limits to deal with—rules, but also a personal freedom we all expect that arts need, i.e., the expression of self.

The book provides many empirical examples of how various practitioners relate to traditions. Tin present  studies of the Czech artist Tomas Smetana’s drawings, embroidered collars from East Telemark in Norway, the carved pattern on the wooden porches of Romania, towels from Ukraine, and wireworks from Slovakia. Finally, he also offers rules and scope for spray graffiti, again from an international perspective. The book contains a wealth of pictorial material, descriptions of variations in pattern, colour and materials used in various works, as well as local and international comparative analyses of these works.

I find the book interesting because Tin turns the discussion away from the view of traditional craftsmanship as copying and not contributing to the development of individual creative abilities. He discusses how, from the traditional expressions of different materials, we can both learn something and also develop our own expressions. Tin’s message is that taking up a tradition does not mean to copy it, but to play along with others within a certain scope where the individual’s own experiences influence the aesthetic result. I enjoyed the associations with card or board games that proceed from a set of rules. What moves you make or what cards you put on the table depend on the situation and the other players, but also the experience gained from other times you have participated in the game. Tin’s choices of empirical material also include examples where, for instance, certain fabrics are part of a ceremony, when the scope is also a play!

Finally, I would like to highlight the grid Tin put on his empirical studies when he quotes Kant, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer and Husserl. With the help of the latter three, Tin points out that tradition, which means transmission, is not a given—it is always up to us to carry it on. In the book’s spirit, I interpret that it is up to us to decide what game we want to play.

The book Rules and Leeway: The Aesthetics of Tradition is all about tradition, aesthetics and bodily experiences of craftsmanship. The book is an interesting source for concrete and philosophical discussions about tradition as inspiration. 

Tin, Mikkel B. (2011). Spilleregler og spillerom. Tradisjonens estetikk (Rules and leeway: the aesthetics of tradition). Oslo, Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning: Novus Forlag.

How to Cite
Homlong, S. (2013). Book review: Spilleregler og Spillerom. Tradisjonens Estetikk (Rules and Leeway: The Aesthetics of Tradition). FormAkademisk - Research Journal of Design and Design Education, 5(2).