Why so low-brow? That is the question of the day, or was a few weeks ago. As I’m plugging ahead with my visual projects, I thought I’d take some time to reflect and share some of the thesis writing process with you fine people. Ever wonder what comments on the first draft of a thesis paper might look like? Well you’re in for a treat! I’m going to share some of the greatest hits I received from one of my advisers, who shall remain nameless …
First up, why so low-brow, Jonathan Adler edition. For those of you who don’t know, I am writing my thesis on the subject of joy, specifically joy in design, where it can be found, how it can be used for the creation of new work, and its importance in the creative process. In my paper, I listed precedents and antecedents, or artists/designers/projects that have inspired or informed my work. I divided these artists/designers/projects into three groups: Joy in Art & Design, Commerce, and Application.
In the paper I talk about Jonathan Adler as an example of Joy in Commerce. JA has a pottery background and created an extremely successful business centered around his joy and passion, pottery and interior design. He’s created a brand, uniquely his own, that frankly doesn’t take itself too seriously. JA talks a lot about happiness and joy in his books and this is referenced in many places within the product line. The playful use of color, pattern, and design appears everywhere. Since I’ve worked at JA for 10 weeks now, I’ve noticed this first hand. For anyone who doesn’t think good design plays a role at JA is out of their mind, I know personally because I’m the one spending hours designing some of his “low-brow” products.
My adviser went to a lecture some years ago with Jonathan Adler and Eva Zeisel, another antecedent in my paper. Both are potters by trade so I assume the that’s why they were paired together. One would notice in my paper, Adler and Zeisel appear in different categories, Zeisel is listed in the Artist/Design category and JA in Commerce. They were intentionally separated since they have distinctly different interests and opinions on design. They are also from different generations and have opposing ideas on the role of design in society. WHICH I THINK IS GREAT! A lot of what makes the world go round is different opinions, goals, and applications for design. How great is it that we’re in a field called design and we can do so many things? I love it.
My adviser has a strong dislike for JA due to his commercial leanings. She finds him shallow, superficial, and apparently low-brow. While I’m not defending his personal character anywhere in my paper, the fact remains he went from selling his first order of pots to creating a rapidly expanding brand with close to 15 stores in the US. So Jonathan’s success in design is bad because he’s become wealthy from his business and continues to find ways to do so? It’s the American dream, and why should he be so lambasted for it? It’s like the whole design and selling out thing.
I never want to be a starving artist. Period. Or a starving designer. I love brands, I love branding, I buy things, I want people to buy things I make and design. And I’m not going to hell for wanting to do so! I want to take what I’m passionate about, what I enjoy, what I love, what BRINGS ME JOY, and find ways to share and market those things. I took this picture a few weeks ago on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus. How appropriate right? I came from a family where I was never given much. I always had what I needed, but beyond that I had to provide my own opportunities. When I wanted a car, I got a job that I walked to every day so I could buy my first car. I got myself through high school while working over 30+ hours a week, still making straight As. I worked through college, and I’m even working close to 30 hours a week while being a full time graduate student, at a school I’m paying for MYSELF.
Why should that matter? I know we’re not supposed to talk about money, but money matters. I’m driven by money and I do want to be successful. And is that a sin, no? I’m not saying I want to be rich at the expense of others and never give back. I believe quite the opposite. I decided to go to Pratt, and make a significant investment in my future to better myself, and I’m determined to see it pay off, in one way or another.
I feel like I’m continually coming against this wall in my program between designing for academics/design for other designers, and designing for the real world. Obviously, I have little interest in design in an academic sense. I’d love to teach one day, but I’m more interested in how design can change the world, create opportunities, and enhance business, than talk theory, concept, and ideology.
The other week a student mentioned, “In the MFA program, there were a lot of projects that weren’t successful visually/design-wise, but were conceptually strong, therefore they were successful.” I thought we were “Communication Designers” and the majority of our communication methods were visual? (Granted, some solutions are verbal or audio, but they still COMMUNICATE). I’m sorry, if you have an idea, and you can’t make it, and it doesn’t work, perhaps it’s not successful. You can’t talk ideas and concepts until you’re blue in the face … that’s not how things work in the real world. And I want to be in the real world.
The picture of Jay-Z is from an issue of Oprah magazine (another low-bow source of information) I was reading over Christmas break. It really struck a cord with me. I think this idea is one the greatest things one can learn from Graduate School. The whole purpose in the end is to define who you really are, as a designer or artist, and then create a market, job, or area of interest for you. I’m never going to truly be a success if I try to become something I’m not. So maybe I’m low-brow and uninterested in academics for academics sake. There are others who can do that ten millions times better than me, more thoughtfully and passionately that I ever can. And they should do that! And they will find joy and success in that. I want to be successful as myself, imperfect and glossy, unacademic, shallow, low-brow, and whatever else they may call it. But I’d rather be true to myself, than change my joy and passion, especially in design, for anyone else.