Tag beauty

Milton Glaser: You Can’t Take Anything at Face Value, You Have to Go Beyond the Superficiality of Existing Belief …*

“I saw a Cézanne that I had never seen, a pencil and watercolor of a landscape, and I was transformed. By looking at it, my world was enlarged. At this ancient age, I am still capable of astonishment, of feeling, “My god, I never had this experience before.” And that is what the arts provide, this sense of enlargement and the sense that you haven’t come to the end of your understanding—either of yourself or of other things.” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking to infuse your day with a hefty dose of inspiration, I suggest this interview, which iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser gave for Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project. The conversation is full of insights into Milton’s creative process and his understanding of the human experience. I highly recommend finding the time to watch the video in full, but in the meantime, I have transcribed below my three favorite insights from the conversation.

make the ordinary unknown & rethink …*

Milton Glaser: Certainty Is A Closing of the Mind via The Good Life Project

{ To Make Something Is Miraculous & the Creation of Beauty, At Its Core, Is About Empathy }

After a while you begin to realize, a. how little you know about everything and, two, how vast the brain is and how it encompasses everything you can imagine, but more than that, everything you can’t imagine. What is perhaps central to this is the impulse to make things, which seems to me to be a primary characteristic of human beings—the desire to make things–whatever they turn out to be. And then, supplementary to that is the desire to create beauty which is a different, but analogous activity. So the urge to make things, probably, is a survival device, the urge to create beauty is something else, but only apparently something else, because as you know, there are no unrelated events in the human experience. So beauty, and the creation of it, is a survival mechanism. There is something about making things beautiful, and we sometimes call that art, that has something to do with creating a commonality between human beings so that they don’t kill each other. And whatever that impulse is and wherever it comes from, it certainly is contained within every human being I’ve ever met. Sometime the opportunity to articulate it occurs, sometimes it remains dormant for a lifetime, you just don’t get the shot at it.
But I’ve been very lucky, I’ve imagined myself as a maker of things since the age of five. I realized that to make something was miraculous and I never stopped. I just kept making things all my life.
*

{ Learning to See is A LifeLong Endeavor; Drawing Helps }

The great benefits of drawing is that when you look at something you see it for the first time.
You have to constantly be attentive to what you deflect in life and what you don’t pay attention to and all the things that you can’t see, and all the preconceptions that you do have about everything. Those preconceptions basically blur your vision. It’s very hard to see what’s in front of you.
*

{ Be Suspicious of Defining the “Good Life,” Don’t take anything at face value & go beyond the superficiality of existing belief }

I’m very suspicious of some words like that and also what they link to. I guess I feel now that you can’t take anything at face value, you have to go beyond the superficiality of existing belief. My favorite quote is, “Certainty is a closing of the mind”. And so, I don’t know what a good life is. A good life for me, certainly, has been the things that I think are important–friendships that I have; people that I love; certainly, a marriage that has endured and continues to endure; teaching, which I’ve been doing for well over half a century, and feeling that whatever you know has a possibility of being transmitted and shared—outside of that I wouldn’t know how to define a good life. And as you know some people seem to be heroes to some and villains to others.
*

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing…*

 

Paddy Harrington on Starting with Desire, Designing the Experience & Thinking by Doing...* | rethinked.org

Slide from Paddy Harrington’s Creative Morning Talk

 

“For me, if we talk about art and technology, I think that those are the two parts of design but the design is in fact the technology of art. And so what do we mean by that?  I personally think that this is the definition, it’s a working definition, it’s a fluid definition because in fact we are designers, we like to live in a fluid world, but this is really the synthesis of the definition of art and the definition of technology with a little thing added at the end: “Design is the application of scientific knowledge, creative skill, and imagination for practical purposes”, and the piece that I’ve added is, “in service of better outcomes”.  And so, for me, there’s sort of the technical side of this which is how we think, how we operate, how we produce things that we make as designers but the exciting part is when we focus it on something, when we actually give it a purpose. Because you can design anything but if you do it with purpose, then that’s when I think we start to get into something really interesting and that’s when we start to see a solution to all the questions and the challenges that we face today.”

Enjoy this insightful Creative Morning talk by Paddy Harrington, Executive Creative Director at Bruce Mau Design. Harrington highlights the cultural gap between art and technology, briefly outlining the history of the split and its effects on contemporary wicked problems. He then offers design as a critical factor for bridging the gap between art and technology to bring the two into a harmonious whole that contributes to more sustainable and human systems and experiences.

“To me, what design can offer, in the end, is this idea of holistic thinking. We don’t think in columns and rows. We think about first of all the entire spreadsheet, but also what’s beyond the edges of the spreadsheet and so for me, that’s the kind of key thing for us to focus on, is try to encourage more holistic thinking because when you do that you start to understand how things are interconnected and when we start to think about things in interconnected ways we realize that every action that we take has an impact somewhere else and we can start to consider the whole system.”

Harrington puts forth three big principles that we should focus on in attempting to apply the potential of design as a bridge for more holistic thinking and living:

START WITH DESIRE ~ I think this is a key dimension of design. Most processes, if you’re following a more logical, linear process—Where’s the insight? What’s the audience? What’s the key performance indicator? What’s all that sort of stuff—especially when you get in the business world, into sort of MBA educated process, it’s a very linear structured process that doesn’t have a whole lot of room for things like beauty, intuition, magic. What I think design should do is actually kind of bridge that gap and the first thing to do in that process is to start with the desire. So don’t start with the sort of local immediate thing around you, start with the vision of where you want to go. And that, I think, is most likely to get you to a better outcome because it sets the ambition at the outset and lets you build to that place in a way that gets rid of things like feasibility and viability—Will it work? Can we afford it?—those things, frankly, are sidetracks when you’re that early in the process and so the idea is to start with desire.” 

DESIGN THE EXPERIENCE ~ “I think that design often gets tripped up by thinking very locally about what is the physical object—what does it look like? What’s the shape? What’s the material?—all those sorts of things. When it gets really exciting is when we start to think about what’s the kind of start to finish and go further upstream and further downstream. And so, for example, working on a stadium we did in NY, we talked about the street to seat experience, so what is everything that the user, or the human being, experiences from the moment they are standing on the street with their ticket to the minute they’re sitting in their seat. And that’s a different way of thinking, it’s not a conventional way of thinking but it really leads you to different places because you’re actually considering all the facets.”

THINK BY DOING ~ “What this means really is that again, if we follow the linear model– we put strategy and then we go into some research and then we do design and design has kind of a point downstream—that’s a way of doing things and it’s not that it’s invalid; I’m not here to say that Microsoft Excel does not have a place, because it absolutely has a critical place, it keeps us organized. But what I’m saying is there’s an alternative way of thinking about things that’s a little more integrated. Thinking by doing means that you can actually develop strategy by producing design. And so by making tangible things, you’re actually able to accelerate the thinking and so when you sit down and design a logo or a building, a space, a website, anything, we, naturally as designers, tend to produce things to think through them and that’s a skill that we don’t recognize as being quite valuable. It’s actually a very rare thing in business for people to think that way. They tend to think in words first, try to get to a point where it makes sense and then build it out when we all know that you cannot build some things out with words, you have to draw it and that’s a really critical part of the process for us.”

{2012 / 06 Paddy Harrington from CreativeMornings/Toronto on Vimeo.}

Friday Link Fest…*

 

READ

7 Design Principles, Inspired By Zen Wisdom ~  Primer outlining the main tenets of Zen Design. via FastCo.Design, published April 12, 2013.

Bruce Nussbaum: Creative Innovation Through Meaningful Design ~ Setting up design in terms of the existential takes you to a different set of concepts, like aura and engagement. via PSFK, published April 12, 2013.

The Next Big UI Idea: Gadgets That Adapt To Your Skill ~ How designers can use the fundamentals of video games and the psychological principles of flow to design enhanced user experiences. via FastCo.Design, published March 26, 2013.

Black Men’s College Success Depends on Grit, Not Just Grades, Study Finds ~ via Education Week, published April 12, 2013.

Your Phone vs. Your Heart ~ When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health. via New York Times, published March 23, 2013.

Go Ahead, Take a Failure Bow ~ via Harvard Business Review, published April 17, 2013.

The Joke’s on Louis C.K. ~ via New York Times, published April 4, 2013.

How to Be a Citizen Placemaker: Think Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper ~ via Project for Public Spaces, published April 7, 2013.

How Reframing A Problem Unlocks Innovation ~ Taking a different perspective can lead to stunning breakthroughs in any industry, writes Tina Seelig in inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity. via FastCo.Design, published April 19, 2013.

What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art ~ via New York Times, published April 12, 2013.

Why We Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow ~ Embodied cognition or how we make sense of abstract ideas by matching them to physical sensations and things our body knows. via Business Week, published April 17, 2013.

Transforming Education According to the Needs of the Human Soul ~ The most interesting questions do not happen under the rubric of literature, or indeed, of history.  It’s time to rearrange departments and academic teaching according to the issues that they are dealing with. via Big Think, published April 11, 2013.

Creativity in Schools: What Countries Do (Or Could Do) ~ via Education Week, published April 11, 2013.

WATCH

How to Create a Workplace People Never Want to Leave, by Google’s Christopher Coleman via Business Week, published April 11, 2013.

 

LOOK

Designer Creates The Idea Alphabet, An Idea In An Alphabet ~ via Design Taxi, published April 14, 2013.

The Imagination of Playgrounds ~ via Design Observer, published April 14, 2013.

Document Deep Dive: What Was on the First SAT? ~ via Smithsonian Magazine, published April 12, 2013.

Forensic Artist Proves Women Literally Don’t Know Their Own Beauty ~ via FastCo.Create, published April 16, 2013.

On Poetry & Business: Integrative Thinking, Creativity & Empathy

 

Not that I need an excuse to read poetry, but an article published yesterday in the Harvard Business Review, entitled The Benefits of Poetry for Professionals by John Coleman provides a welcome reminder of how ‘useful’ and beneficial reading and writing poems can be. Coleman highlights four virtues related to engaging with poetry:

-poetry teaches us to wrestle with and simplify complexity.

-Poetry can also help users develop a more acute sense of empathy.

-Reading and writing poetry also develops creativity.

-poetry can teach us to infuse life with beauty and meaning

Coleman concludes that “to those open to it, reading and writing poetry can be a valuable component of leadership development”. So without further ado, get your fix of empathy, creativity, beauty and meaning with this glorious poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

CONSTANTLY RISKING ABSURDITY (1958) via PoetryFoundation.org

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

 

       For he’s the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

 

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

 

On Delight: The Comfort of Small, Wondrous Objects

I have spent the past three days in a haze of wheezing, mouth breathing and achy bones so for today’s Rethinked…* Daily, I thought I would highlight the object that has given me the most comfort through my cold: my white Umbra House Tissue Box designed by Mauricio Affonso.

Of his process Affonso writes,

“Traditional tissue boxes are not exactly fun. Since my design mantra is to eliminate ugly, I wanted to transform this everyday household item into an object of play–bright colors, a cute silhouette and paper that pulls through the chimney so that with each fresh tissue you can spontaneously transform its shape.”

Mission accomplished–with flying colors might I add. The simple and minimalist design of this oversized Monopoly-like house, with its billowing clouds of tissue paper, provokes childhood-like feelings of wonder, delight and playfulness. After three days of burning achy skin under my nose and feeling as though I might cough up a lung at any moment, my crankiness factor has gone way up while my inclination for seeking delight in the ordinary has all but vanished. Yet this small object, so simple, beautiful and full of wonder, has rekindled my spirits and continues to make me feel physically much better. (How’s that for psychosomatic?!)

The design of the Umbra House Tissue Box reminds me of the five qualities that John Berger observes in the traditional wooden birds crafted in France’s Haute Savoie region; qualities which, “when undifferentiated and perceived as a whole, provoke at least a momentary sense of being before a mystery.”

First there is a figurative representation–one is looking at a bird, more precisely a dove, apparently hanging in mid-air. Thus, there is a reference to the surrounding world of nature.

Secondly, the choice of subject (a flying bird) and the context in which it is placed (indoors where live birds are unlikely) render the object symbolic. This primary symbolism then joins a more general, cultural one. Birds, and doves in particular, have been credited with symbolic meanings in a very wide variety of cultures.

Thirdly, there is a respect for the material used. The wood has been fashioned according to its own qualities of lightness, pliability and texture. Looking at it, one is surprised by how well wood becomes bird.

Fourthly, there is a formal unity and economy. Despite the object’s apparent complexity, the grammar of its making is simple, even austere. Its richness is the result of repetitions which are also variations.

Fifthly, this man-made object provokes a kind of astonishment: how on earth was it made? I have given rough indications above, but anyone unfamiliar with the technique wants to take the dove in his hands and examine it closely to discover the secret which lies behind its making.

The Umbra House Tissue Box may seem frivolous to some, but by so thoroughly and seamlessly blending attention to function as well as (and in equal parts to) human affect, this object fits Daniel Pink’s description of design’s central role in the creation of objects that satisfy and stimulate both of our brains’ hemispheres; an object fit for our contemporary Conceptual Age.

Your kitchen offers further evidence of the new premium on design. We see it, of course, in those high-end kitchens with gleaming Sub-Zero refrigerators and gargantuan Viking ranges. But the phenomenon is most evident in the smaller, less expensive goods that populate the cabinets and countertops of the United States and Europe. Take the popularity of “cutensils”—kitchen utensils that have been given personality implants. Open the drawer in an American or European home and you’ll likely find a bottle opener that looks like a smiling cat, a spaghetti spoon that grins at you and the pasta, or a vegetable brush with googly eyes and spindly legs. Or just go shopping for a toaster. You’ll have a hard time finding a plain old model, because most of the choices these days are stylized, funky, fanciful, sleek, or some other adjective not commonly associated with small appliances.

Some pundits might write off these developments as mass manipulation by wily marketers or further proof that well-off Westerners are mesmerized by style over substance. But that view misreads economic reality and human aspiration. Ponder that humble toaster. The typical person uses a toaster at most 15 minutes per day. The remaining 1, 425 minutes of the day the toaster is on display. In other words, 1 percent of the toaster’s time is devoted to utility, while 99 percent is devoted to significance. Why shouldn’t it be beautiful, especially when you can buy a good looking one for less than forty bucks? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you built a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to your door. But in an age of abundance, nobody will come knocking unless your better mousetrap also appeals to the right side of the brain.” –Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future

Henri Cartier-Bresson on his friend Alberto Giacometti

Portrait of Alberto Giacometti taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1961 (via magnumphotos.com)

For Alberto Giacometti – Essay by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The expression hardly changes on that craggy face; the mask surprises you: you’re never quite sure whether he has heard you. But his responses! Always right on the mark, profound, and personal, on the most varied subjects.

Giacometti is one of the most intelligent and lucid men I know, honest with himself and harsh with his own work, digging right in where things are most difficult. In Paris, he gets up at about three o’clock in the afternoon, goes to the corner cafe, works, rambles over to Montparnasse, and goes to bed at daylight. Annette is his wife.

Giacometti’s fingernails are always black; but he isn’t sloppy or in the least bit affected. He hardly ever speaks about sculpture with other sculptors, unless it’s with Pierre Josse, one of his childhood friends, a banker and sculptor, or with Diego, his own brother. I was overjoyed to learn that Alberto had the same three passions that I have: Cezanne, Van Eyck, and Uccello. He has said things that are so right about photography and the attitude one needs to have, and also about color photography.

Of Cézanne and the other two, he once said admiringly: “They are monsters.” His face has the look of a sculpture–not one of his own–except for that furrow of wrinkles. His gait, the way he moves, is very distinct: one heel set far ahead–perhaps he’s had some accident, I don’t know. But the movement of his thinking is even more particular: his answer goes far beyond what you have said; he draws a line, adds everything up and starts another equation altogether. Such vibrancy of spirit: the least conventional, the most honest.

In the town of Stampa, in the Swiss Graubünden canton, three or four kilometers from Italy, is his mother’s house; she is ninety years old, alive and intelligent, and she knows how to make her son stop working on a painting she likes, if she feels it’s finished. His father’s studio is an old barn. Alberto works there in the summertime; in the winter he shuts himself up in the dining room. Either he or his brother Diego calls their mother every day from Paris. Diego is extremely modest, and very reserved. Alberto greatly admires his brother’s talent as a sculptor; Diego makes beautiful furniture and casts Alberto’s sculptures. More than once, Alberto has said to me: “The real sculptor isn’t me, it’s Diego.”

The house where his father was born is now the village inn–it belongs to his cousin; the grocery store is owned by another cousin. When he asks the price of the apples he is buying to paint them, she says: “Well, that depends on how much you’ll get on your painting!” Alberto has told me that he used to get bored, and would try to do too much at one time–apples, landscapes, portraits–and that he had to concentrate on just two subjects. It’s marvelous, such a sense of economy, which is the measure of taste.

The openings for his exhibitions are grand events, but for him they are a sore subject. He says: “I should just bring out everything I have at a given date and show it, and say, ‘This is where I am right now.'” Again, such honesty. But no matter what he says, his work comes off as being hand-in-glove with beauty itself.

For Alberto, intellect is an instrument at the service of sensitivity. In certain areas, however, his sensitivity takes odd forms; for example, his deep scorn for all emotional sloppiness.

But enough: he’s my friend.

Source Cartier-Bresson, Henri. The Mind’s Eye: Writings on photography and photographers. New York: Aperture, 1999. Print.

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