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?
This past week, I’ve found myself involved in multiple conversations about keeping and organizing inspiration folders. I have a fairly elaborate, yet strangely simple system that I’ve been using for a few years that some people seem to be interested in. I think all designers keep a folder like this to some extent so thought it might be helpful to break down my system here for those that are interested.
This is a different kind of post than usually appears on the blog, but I think it fits into the overall arc I’ve established here as it can be a factor in doing your best creative work. And let’s face it, we’re all nerds here. We love peeking under the hood to see how something works and finding better taxonomies and systems. If posts about technology, organization, taxonomy, general nerdity aren’t your thing, you can stop right here. But, if you are into that sort of thing or are simply looking for a better way to organize your inspiration folder, then hop on in. It could be a long ride. Ready? Let’s go!
The Olduvai handaxe is largely believed to be the first great invention. A stone handaxe is like a prehistoric Swiss Army knife—an essential tool with multiple uses like drilling, cutting trees and meat or scraping bark. What’s most interesting about the handaxe, however, is that it is obvious there was a thoughtfulness and care put into it’s construction. It was intentional.
Maybe you could put it this way: the handaxe is the first glimpse in history of conceptual thought. Humans and animals have used found tools since the dawn of time, but with this axe, someone had to imagine something useful within a rough stone. And then craft it.
Looking at a handaxe, Sir James Dyson of Dyson vacuum cleaner fame observes:
What interests me about this is that it’s not really very practical. It’s double-sided, it has a sharp edge both sides, and it’s symmetrical. It’s almost as though it’s an object of beauty rather than a practical object. So I wonder actually if it’s a decorative thing, or even something like a ceremonial sword to make you look brave, powerful, and maybe to pull women.
The handaxe, of course, does have a practical use and has been found all over the world from Africa to Europe to East Asia to the Middle East. The handaxe shows human’s ability to see potential in the world around us but it also shows a desire for beauty, for decoration, for aesthetics. The handaxe is the first great invention and maybe, just maybe, the beginning of art.
See Also: The BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects episode on the Olduvai Handaxe.
Semi-related to the previous post, Frank Chimero on the pencil:
The pencil is general, yet specific. Ideas can be hashed out with ease to gauge their potential. The marks can be vague enough so one doesn’t judge the execution, but instead judges the potential of the idea. This is why I can’t come up with ideas on computers. Computers are too specific; they have too many degrees of separation between my mind and the canvas. With a pencil, it starts from my brain, moves down my arm, straight out my hand to the paper. Atoms transfer from the tip of the pencil to the surface of the paper. I can see the sheet fill up. With the computer, I have to turn on the computer, grab the mouse, launch the software, select the tool I wish to use, think about how to use that tool, and then worry about the mark that it makes. The beauty of a pencil is you don’t need to think about how to use it. It’s instinctive. A five-year-old knows how to use a pencil just as well as a sixty-year-old. The pencil is the great equalizer.
I had a few thoughts saved in Simplenote that I had hoped to turn into a post that honored the pencil. Frank said everything I wanted to say and more in a much more eloquent way. Thanks, Frank.
And maybe that’s why I prefer the pencil. It forgives me for my mistakes: there’s an eraser there, after all. It accepts me for who I am: I can use it however I wish, and I don’t have to learn any special means to operate it like you might on a computer. There are no “rules.” And the pencil will always be cheap and available to anyone. I like what that represents: everyone has what they need to make something incredible.
It’s all you need and and it’s always there; waiting for you to pick it up and start making.