Peter Mendelsund questions whether design has a “late style”, whether older designers can and do produce their best work in the later years of their life (like Matisse’s cut paper, Shakespeare’s The Winter Tale, or Beethoven’s opus 132):
There are many older designers in the public eye. There are many experienced designers garnering their fair share of attention from the design community. But it seems that, as designers age, they tend to evolve into statesmen rather than as master designers; much like ball players who become coaches and play-by-play announcers. (Of course, with athletes, physical limitations mark a necessary end to their careers. Which is to say: why do designers go to pasture so early? eye-strain??) There is a common assumption that older designers give talks, teach, and write books whilst younger designers create the groundbreaking design work. We have “Young Guns” awards, and, at the other end of the spectrum, medals for lifetime achievement.
Be sure to read his entire piece, it’s really, really good. This is something I think about a lot. I’ve always admired those people who continuing pursuing their craft well past retirement age, but few of them are designers. The ones who are, fit in Peter’s argument that they are known more for their achievement, their writing, their statesmanship. Are we talking about new design work from Vignelli? From Glaser?
Is design really for the young?
I’ve always seen my career as evolving—designer, art director, educator. Is it possible for one to evolve while staying true to their design roots? I’m not sure. I hope so. I hope I’m still designing when I’m 80. Oh boy, do I hope so.
For two hours every morning and every evening, I take a bus into New York City to work. I’ve been doing this for three months now so what started as an uncomfortable four hours has become routine. I barely notice the ride anymore. I had sat on the same side of the bus each day until one day two weeks ago all the seats on my usual side were filled. I found myself sitting on the opposite side of what I was familiar with. Looking out the window that ride home felt like a whole new ride.
Familiarity leads to unfamiliarity.
They say artists see the world differently, but I’d argue that artists see what’s really there. I saw John Maeda speak last month and he said artists are like kites; the wind is always there, but kites helps us see it. Maybe artists simply show us what’s already here.
I’ve been thinking about music a lot lately. I’ve been digging through my iTunes listening to some older music, albums I’ve either forgotten about or simply just haven’t listened to in a while. Listening to them, I’m amazed at the memories that have been coming back to me.
In this video, Rob Bell talks about this ideas as well. Music reaches something deep inside of us, something rational thinking can’t touch. Music connects to us and it connects us to each other.
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” —Aldous Huxley
I think this is the inherent power of art. I’ve been thinking about art and its purpose and I started thinking about the pedestal we tend to place it on. Why do even build museums and galleries? How’d we decide that art deserved this significance? I think it’s for this very reason: art connects. Look around an art gallery and you’ll see people from every demographic. Art attracts everyone, it binds us together. Like music, art taps into something inside us and takes us somewhere else.
If while wandering around the inside of an art museum I come across a door that’s solidly locked shut, what do I do? Well, if I’m emotionally immature, I might wrestle with the door’s handle, or maybe fall to the floor and try to peer beneath it. I might throw a tantrum because I can’t get into that locked room. I might squat beside the door, fold my arms, and determinedly try to imagine everything inside the room. There are all times of ways I might waste my time outside that door.
But if mature, I will simply assume that those in charge of the museum know what they’re doing, and for whatever reason don’t want people going in that room. And that would be good enough for me. So I would turn away from the door, forget about the room, and go back out into the museum where all that wonderful art was waiting to enlighten and inspire me.
Why worry about the future, what’s next, our five-year-plans and what’s behind all those locked doors when there is so much here, now, that is wanting to inspire and enlighten us? That door is locked and I’m learning to be okay with that.
I’m currently working my way through the terrific book Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Things One Sees, a biography and series of interview with the artist Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler. I’m finding myself marking it up all over and finding lot of passages resonate with me and my approach to design.
So, how do we stay present? The first thing to recognize is that, try as we might, we really can only do one thing at a time, so we ought to do that thing wholeheartedly. Most of our time is spent in the past or the future, rather than the present moment. What we end up doing is passing through that moment on the way to somewhere else and, in doing so, we miss the moment. That’s how life ends up passing us by - we do it to ourselves.
Rehearsing - and that’s all we’re doing is rehearsing — the past is problematic because it’s something that can’t be changed. It’s done, set in stone, immutable and immovable. Certainly we can change our relationship to the past, but staying there is simply ruminative and, for some of us, baldly destructive.
Anticipating the future is also problematic - even futile — because, no matter how much we’d like to convince ourselves otherwise, we can’t really control the direction in which things will go. We can set an intention, true, but, in the end, the universe has a way of deciding.
Being present, being here, being available has a been a sort of mantra of mine for 2011. It’s way too easy for me to get consumed by what still needs to be done and things coming up in the future that I miss out on right now. It’s a daily quest. It’s something I have to work on. It’s something I need to remind myself daily.
I’m doing it for myself but I also want to be present for those I surround myself with. I don’t want to miss something—a special moment with a good friend. I think being present with those you love is a giving yourself to them in that moment. Forgetting you exist to be fully present with someone else. It’s a gift.
“I just keep on writing and thinking and drawing, which I continued even after I stopped painting. I don’t know whether this is true for other people, but it is certainly true for me, that after years and years of drawing it does become a little easier. Unlike writing, which remains as difficult as ever. So while I’m at the stage of a new writing project where I am vaguely hearing, rather deafly, the demands of a new train of thought, the drawing goes on every day. It is that rare thing that gives you a chance of a very close identification with something, or somebody, who is not you. So maybe it is not so different from storytelling after all.”
I like his writing a lot and I like the philosophy of his approach to art and attempt to discover the deeper meanings behind it. Ways of Seeing had a profound impact on aesthetics and for me personally, changed the way I come to a piece of art.
Since the 1950s, advertising people have turned to psychology for guidance in how to drill messages into the human psyche. Today, however, there is widespread resistance to the hard sell, and commercial subterfuges are easily spotted. Philosophy, on the other hand, with its focus on truth and ethics, seems more in tune with the contemporary zeitgeist. When this is coupled with the newfound willingness of philosophers to deal with questions that were once considered beneath the subject’s lofty aims, philosophy becomes an important aid for anyone interested in addressing “real world” problems.
I’ve been reading a lot more philosophy this year and have discovered a new depth to my work because of it. Because I approach philosophy through the lens of design, I’ve always felt a connection between the two even if I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly that connection was.
Shaughnessy goes on to recommend listening to the Philosophy Bites, a podcast I’ve also been listening to quite a bit this year. Philosophy can very quickly go over my head but this podcast presents some heavy topics and easily digestible doses making it something anyone can jump into and understand.
I couldn’t tell you anything particular about that day. It was late May and the weather outside was similar to the weather today—sunny and warm. A spring day that makes you long for the summer. It was my junior year of high school and I was in Mrs. Zelinski’s English class. I sat second to the back in the second row from the wall next to the large window that looked out over the courtyard where the seniors ate their lunch. I’d get to eat out there next year. Mrs. Zelinski had an array of plants sitting in the window sill on little plant stands and hanging from the drop ceiling. All high schools seem to have those drop ceilings.
The window was opened and there was a breeze blowing in from the courtyard with the sounds of the seniors eating their lunch making Mrs. Zelinski’s plant arrangements rustle and sway. I sat there in the second to the back seat in the second to last row and a feeling of nostalgia came over me, blowing in from the courtyard. I don’t know what it was. It wasn’t a particular memory but it reminded me of what it was like being a kid. Mrs. Zelinski was talking about Ernest Hemingway but I was thinking about something else.
Where had my childhood gone? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was playing in sandboxes and drawing cities on my driveway?
Lots of projects are finishing up this week! This is a small booklet I’ve been working on to showcase and share my manifesto. The manifesto is central to how I approach design and I wanted a printed version of it to compliment the web version.
The book features a tabbed design with each principle getting a little longer and following the same colors from the website. The first page starts with a square and as you progress through, a side is added to the shape until you get to the last page, where the circle has been replaced with a world. It’s a visual metaphor of sorts for the main ideas of the manifesto which boil down to the idea of building a better world. Notable quotes are highlighted and called out to make for an easier read if you desire.
(And, if you are interested, the manifesto is still available in poster form from the shop. I think it would look really nice in that empty area above your desk. Just sayin’…)
I’m very curious about the didactic approach that Christianity takes towards art. I love the way it builds museums and churches not to put pretty things in front of us, but to use pretty things to change us.
I can’t say I agree with the entire article (I find museums to be very inspiring), though I do like his idea of arranging museums not by style or period, but by the feelings they emote. As I’ve written about many times before, the best art is the art that changes us. The best art is created as gifts because gifts change us.
Perhaps art shouldn’t be “for art’s sake”, one of the most unambitious of all slogans. Why couldn’t art be - as it was in religious eras - more explicitly for something? And what if it was for making us kinder and better, more thoughtful and more generous?
I’ve been a fan of Bangle for a few years now ever sense seeing Objectified but I seriously was not expecting a lecture like this. While the lecture was called “Good Cars Are Art,” I think an equally appropriate title would have been “Design is Love” as he dives into some philosophies of love and design through a story of where he learned about both.
I scribbled down quite a few quotes from this one and will probably return to it frequently.
“Apple reaches for greatness without apology. Market share and profitability are important only as outcomes. They are not its purpose, which is to achieve the “insanely great.” It is as if they are on an ongoing Grail quest. (As Professor Henry Jones said to Indiana: “The search for the Grail is the search for the Divine in all of us.”)”
I love this. Money should never be the goal. The goal should be to do “insanely great” work, whatever that may be for you. I think doing good work is a lot easier than simply trying to get money. If you can do good work, money will follow. Reminds me of one of my favorite Walt Disney quotes: “We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.”