“Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything - it might come in handy later.”
Milton Glaser, when asked if he designs out of necessity or habit:
Well I’m 83 and I realized that when I wake up in the morning the thought of not having someplace to go to work is the thing I dread most, that if I didn’t get up, get dressed, and come here, I would go nuts. And what is most significant to me is that I might do something that I haven’t done before and I might learn something I didn’t know before. Because my work is very different than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or five years and I feel at the brink of a different kind of knowledge that I never had. So I don’t know what to call that; is it necessity? i think it’s necessity, I really think I’d go nuts if I didn’t have it to do…part of it is the realization that there is a purpose to my life.
I hope when I’m 83, I’ll retain that same sense of wonder, that feeling like there is still something new to do, discover, create, and learn.
Tynan’s The Hustler MBA reads like a curriculum on how to be interesting. Whether you agree with his thesis on college’s value or not, his nine suggestions for a good education seem like things everyone can benefit from to be a more well-rounded person:
- Learn Poker
- Travel a lot
- Read every single day for at least an hour
- Write every single day
- Learn to program, even if you don’t want to be a programmer
- Do something social
- Eat healthy
- Follow curiousity and spend money on it when necessary
- Start a business after two years
A poem by Jorge Luis-Borges, whose birthday would have been today:
After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,
And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong
And you really do have worth…
And you learn and learn…
With every good-bye you learn.
Robin Sloan points to this great interview with Francis Ford Coppola from The Rumpus. I was drawn to this segment where he speaks about coping with the success of The Godfather and his attempt to get back to his roots:
I wanted a clean slate so I decided to embark on a series of “student films” for myself to begin anew. I thought, “How do you be like a student?” Easy, you have no money. If you have no money to pay for everything, that’s when things get interesting. The films I make now have to be inexpensive enough that I can finance them myself. This was how I made a new beginning for myself. There’s a scene in a Kurosawa movie where they get this guy, and they practically kill him, and he’s in a box. He just has this knife, and these leaves are blowing, and he throws the knife and tries to get the knife to go through a leaf, and that’s how he builds himself up. I had to do that: be broken in a box and have a second life. To do that I needed to be a student. I thought I should try to make movies with nothing. No money, just whatever I have.
I remember in school when we’d pile in the art store after a new assignment trying to figure out what we could afford and what we could use to make due with what we already had. The student does have all the resources she needs so she has to create new ways of doing things. The student doesn’t know the “proper” way to do it so they make it up as they go along. I admire Coppola for returning to that spirit after being wildly successful. I hope I can forever be the student.
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part III: The Future
This is part three of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 (You are here.)
Are we really afraid? Are we afraid that we’ll be out of jobs or are we afraid the design can’t solve all the problems we think it can? Do we think opening up our toolkit1 — improvising, frameworks, storytelling, and delight — will ruin our field? Or is it possible that these are skills that can help push the world forward, shining light into the darkness?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part II: The Tools
This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 (You are here.) / Part 3
“The liberal arts have always been changing just as much as we have.” —The New Liberal Arts 1
The liberal arts are those subjects that were considered essential for students to study. They provide the student with the tools they need to learn and a framework in which to navigate through the world. Somewhere along the way, we decided writing was something every student should learn. Public Speaking is a required course in most university programs. Could graphic design sit along side these liberal arts?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part I: The Curious
This is part one of a three-part series. Part 1(You are here) / Part 2 / Part 3
“The teaching of art is the teaching of all things.” —John Ruskin
The graphic design field is awash with contradictions. It sits in the awkward cross-section between service and craft. It’s at once a service given to others and a craft we hone for ourselves. It can be both invisible and influential, sometimes showing a point of view and other times remaining apathetic to its content.
“The teacher’s job, really, is to fascinate the student. Fascination is the key to learning. Then help the student put the fascination into action.”
From an article he wrote for The New York Times in 1951:
- Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
- Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
- Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
- When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
- Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
- Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
- Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
- Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
- Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.
“Most grad schools look for people who have worked for a couple years after graduating from college. On the surface, this may seem like a search for “accomplishments”. But it really isn’t. If you read between the lines, what it’s really asking for is enough experience in the outside world to be frustrated by something. I think this frustration is incredibly helpful in having a strong point of view about the world, or about your place in it. It doesn’t matter what that experience was, whether it was years as an Art Director at some agency or years working at Starbucks.”
The Atlantic has a great history of furniture manufacturer Herman Miller, known for producing the Eames’s work, and how they’ve focused on creating furniture for the education market:
Today—and for the past 40 years—many of the chairs, desks, and tables designed by Herman Miller are released through the company’s education division, which unites research with manufacturing to produce unique products that are meant to enhance the learning experience. This division grew out of Robert Propst’s Herman Miller Research Corporation, which was focused on the way people worked in the office in the early 1970s. “Consulting with behavioral psychologists, architects, mathematicians, and anthropologists, [Probst] quickly discovered the problem was larger and more exciting than the design of furniture,” according to a background document products by Herman Miller for a design show held earlier this year. “Probst’s research led him to the exploration of how students lived and learned on campus.”
I can’t tell you how many hours I sat in chairs like that in high school and college. Looking at those photos got me all nostalgic for those school days.
“Some of the most talented and prolific people I know have dozens of interests and hobbies. When I ask them about this, the response is usually something like “I love to learn.” I think the new discoveries and joys of learning are the crux of this beginner thing I’ve been thinking about. Sure, when you’ve mastered something it’s valuable, but then part of your journey is over — you’ve arrived, and the trick is to find something you’ll always have a sense of wonder about.”
A few weeks ago my friend Rory and I were emailing back and forth about what our lives have been like since graduating in May and we both remarked that we missed the process of working on school projects. Obviously both of us have continued in design since graduation but we have since realized that those class design projects provided a unique set of challenges we don’t always get in the professional world.
In short, a class design project provides three things: (1.) a set goal and planned finished product, whether that be a logo system or a poster series, starting the project you know what you are working towards; (2.) chosen content, whether that be content and/or topics chosen up front or those assigned by the professor; and (3.) an open environment and forum for experimentation, growth, and exploration. The first two happen in the professional world, but the third is what makes the project more interesting. We realized you are essentially presented a project much like you would working in a studio but are given complete free reign in style, aesthetics, techniques, and approach and we missed that and wondered if it was possible to work in that process to continue our own personal growth and development as designers.
“The teaching of art is the teaching of all things.”
I’ve been going back and listening to some old episodes of BBC’s wonder In Our Time podcast. I really enjoyed this one on the famous Victorian art critic John Ruskin and this quote from Ruskin’s writing stopped me dead in my tracks.
I took four art history courses in school (two general art, and two design-specific) and found that the best art history courses always teach you more than expected. I think learning about art also teaches you about cultures and people and religion and politics. I’ve found the more I learn about art, the more I want to learn about everything surrounding it.
One of my favorite professors in school was my first design history professor and the reason he was my favorite was because I found the most interesting things I was learning were not the things inside my design text book. He had an uncanny ability to make connections between cultures and images making for a more holistic history course that guided by design movements. Think James Burke or John Berger. Learning about art is learning about the world.