Can you make your life a work of art?

posted on November 16th, 2008 ·

If you agree that the definition of art rests primarily upon it’s capacity to excite a response…How can this definition help you as a graphic designer?

As a graphic designer, I sometimes feel detached from my work. I have a hard time “connecting” to a menu or an ad for a product. I am not creating fine art with a unique personal message. I am creating a product with a particular business purpose in mind. And the business and the purpose is not mine. It’s my client’s.

That being said, I sometimes wonder if the detachment actually hinders my creativity and, ultimately, the final result of each project. Do I turn on auto-pilot and just produce without really thinking about what I am doing? Do I spend my time working on a layout without really brainstorming about my clients goals? Do I just give them what they want without discussing the concepts of design with them? What does that make me? Does that limit me as a designer? Does that limit me as an artist? Am I an artist at all?

Frankly, I find it hard to describe myself as an artist. I have been trying to “find” the “artist within” for months now. And during my search, I came across this quote by Michael Foucault: “What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is only related to objects, and not to individuals, or to life… But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art? Why should the lamp or the house be an art object, but not your life?”

I know,  I know, the interpretation of this quote can go in a lot of different directions. But when I limited it to the field of graphic design…it got me thinking. How can I stop thinking of graphic design as a product and start thinking of the process? Or at least think about why I am creating the product rather than just turning on autopilot and “popping out” a brochure.

It’s a tough sell. But I think it is important to start accessing the part of us that made the choice to be in a creative field. So you tell me, how can the “capacity to excite a response” help you as a graphic designer?And more importantly, how can you find the artist within and make your life (or at least your professional life) become a work of art?

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Can Design Be Objective?

posted on October 26th, 2008 ·

If we define objective as not being influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice and base design on the facts of the message intended to be communicated…I think the answer to this question is clear. It has to be. 

 As a graphic designer, pieces are created for clients that benefit their business—that advertise their products so that they can make money. It doesn’t have anything to do with me or my opinion. Does that mean I don’t strive to make the best layout possible? No. Does that mean that I don’t put feelings, or express opinions when selling my idea to a client? No. Nor does it mean that quality or imagination is neglected or not used in the things I create. It just means that I use everything in me as a designer to address my clients needs. I am not creating fine art with a unique personal message. I am creating with a particular business purpose in mind. And the business and the purpose is not mine. It’s my client’s purpose. So being objective and learning what my client needs is necessary to achieve the best solution. 

Would my answer change if the business purpose changed? Would my subjectivity come into play more where accomplishing goals is not only about pragmatism but also to create a spirit of an organization? Or an idea or cause? Well…that is interesting. And I don’t know the answer. Being a pragmatist…it is hard for me to separate the business of design with the art of design. But I still think it has to be about the communication of an intended message. What do you think? Do you think design should be objective? Do you think the answer changes with the client and/or product you are creating? Why?


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What is your definition of art?

posted on October 12th, 2008 ·

What do you think about this quote? “In any period, the definition of art must rest primarily upon its capacity to excite a response.” (Battcock 35) This quote opened up a new way for me to see art.  This particular article was about pop-art but I think it applies to all of art. 

Do you think that anything can be considered art as long as it has the capacity to excite a response? What kind of response? Does this quote change your definition of art? It did for me. It made me less judgemental when it came to looking at art. Art is not just something to hang on your wall. Art doesn’t have to be representational to be considered beautiful.  Art is something to talk about, something that explores different aspects of light, color, line, balance, contrast, design, etc. It something that can starts conversations and creates an environment of learning about new cultures and new ideas. I stopped thinking of art only in terms of a painting or a product and started to think of it as a conduit to a new way of thinking. 

Artists can become creators of new ideas.  History is full of  examples of artists starting new movements because they wanted to go in a new directions (cubism) or they wanted to explore color (fauvism) or they wanted to challenge traditional views of art (Vienna Secession) or they wanted to mock traditional art forms (dada). Do these artists have to create ideas that are generally acceptable to the art world? If the response they get from their art is negative does that change it? 

Well  let’s consider some examples. Are Marcel Duchamp’s “fountain” and Kasimir Malevich’s “Black Square” there was quite an uproar about the fountain (Make sure you view the interactive feature [Making Sense of Modern Art] on this site . And I can imagine what critics were saying about the black square. “Um….its a black square.”

So…are they art? Well both pieces definitely have the capacity to excite a response. Yup…art. Does the response have to be positive? Nope…still art. I really think it is that simple

I for one loved reading about Marcel Ducamp and his “rebellion” against traditional ideas of art. He wanted to let go of preconceived categories of taste, beauty and function. Good for him. And good for me and you. Can you imagine our world if taste, beauty and function were dictated to us in books or by those in the position to dictate?  

 The SFMoma website says it perfectly “Whether or not  his fountain is art remains an open question. What can’t be denied is the powerful effect it has had on art in the last half of the twentieth century.” hmmm….to me? Art. 

So, what do you think? What is your definition of art? Does it have to be representational? Does it have to be beautiful? Does this quote change any ideas you had about art? 


Works Cited:

Battcock, Gregory. ”New Look at the New Art”  Art Education, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Feb., 1965), pp. 31-36 Published by: National Art Education Association <>

“Cubism” <>

“dada” <>

“Marcel Duchamp” San Francisco Modern Museum of Art <>

“Vienna Secession” <>

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What clothes does a font wear?

posted on September 22nd, 2008 ·

Answer this question truthfully: When you choose the font for your project, do you think about the personality of that font? Does it match your intended message and is it appropriate for the target audience? Does this question get asked during your brainstorming in the beginning of your project planning? Or is choosing your type face a “fly by the seat of your pants” decision?

Well, if you are flying by the seat of your pants, I want you to consider a statement by Beatrice Warde, American typographer, writer and scholar. “People who love ideas must have a love of words, and that means, given a chance, they will take a vivid interest in the clothes which words wear.”  Fonts are like people, they can have different faces, wear different outfits and different personalities. According to the thesaurus, personality is the combination of emotional, intellectual, and moral qualities that distinguishes you as an individual. Don’t you think the clothes you wear also contribute to the portrayal of that personality? 

Certainly, placing our font in the correct historical classification can help us to answer this question. The historical context of a font  together with the specific characteristics for each classification can assist us in determining whether a font fits a specific feeling or message. Sometimes, however, this exercise may not be sufficient to determine an emotional response. First and foremost, some fonts don’t always fit neatly in one category and may even appear to belong in two classifications. 

The next step? Determine what clothes your font is wearing. And by wear, I mean in terms of clothing, accessories or even emotions. How?

Well, how many outfits do you have in your closet? Do you have an outfit that makes you feel like a rockstar? Do you have a business suit that you wear for interviews? Don’t you have clothes that make you feel more like a grownup than others? Do you have “play clothes”? Clothes that you were out for a date? When you wear any of these outfits, does it affect your disposition? That is, does wearing a particular outfit, make you feel more confident? More powerful? More playful? etc. 

Well, I believe it is no different with the fonts you choose. Different fonts have personalities that distinguish them from each other and can contribute to the emotional, intellectual or moral statements of any project you are working on. There are some that portray a particular feeling better than others. It all depends on what you want to say. At TypeCon 2008  Shelley Gruendler who runs a Type Camp program, quoted Beatrice Warde and said, “A lot of people say, ‘Fonts are the clothes that words wear,’ and that’s true,” she said. But added, “type is more than just making thinks look pretty on a page. It’s about making it so the meaning of the word comes through.”

You want to reach your audience, and your choice of fonts will help you with that end. So when you are choosing the fonts, think about the different associations a word and the font may contain just by its appearance. It may be elegant, playful, modern, corporate, trendy, dignified, or youthful.  Sometimes these associations are not academic but are “gut” reaction. In order to tap into that initial response, free associate with fonts and see what they say to you. Think about your first impression of that font. Most times, first impressions are created from outward appearance, gut feeling and personal experience. It is through these associations that help graphic designers imagine and produce campaigns that create lasting impressions on people.  If you want to reach people (namely your target audience), you have to connect to them and what your fonts “wear” can help you achieve that end. So…what is your font wearing?


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Milton Resnick

posted on September 12th, 2008 ·

For our lesson about the design process we watched a video about Milton Resnick. There have been some questions about him and his art. In response, I am sharing this essay with you that was written in July, 2008 about one particular piece he created in 1961…

Milton Resnick is a first-generation abstract expressionist known for his mystical and abstract paintings (wikipedia). Swan (1961), an immense painting (9.73’ X 22.8’) located at the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York City, is part of a series he developed and refined between 1959 and 1963 (Frost). These thickly impastoed near-monochrome paintings, represent a crucial, transitional phase in Resnick’s development as a painter and are a “frenetic prelude to the contained energies of his later work” (Cohen).

Milton Resnick

Upon first glance, Swan is a flurry of brushstrokes. But on closer inspection, black squiggles intermingle with yellow-green smudges, black blots, gray drips, deep blue dashes and gray spatters. These marks expand like smoke over the white canvas (Micchelli). Ultimately, the materiality of paint—its loosely defined, overlapping swipes of color that blur into each other—is the dominant influence of the piece (Macmillan). The focus is on the relationship between the physical matter of paint itself rather than form (Art news). In fact, Resnick stated, “you paint what it [the paint] is telling you to do” (Sayre esc qtd Resnick). And often, imagery interrupts the creative process. “You can do anything without it…you don’t have to think about where the figure is or what it is doing” (Sayre esc qtd Resnick). Resnick works with no plan, no sketch, no diagram, and no composition. He looks at a blank canvas and thinks about what to do. He makes a brush mark and then reflects on what he is creating. He makes another brush mark and it starts to become something (Sayre esc). It appears that each brush mark comes from a visceral impulse. His art appears to be entirely imaginative, and not derived from anything visually observed by him (Barrett 108).

When first viewing Swan, I desperately tried to find the bird on the canvas. But this piece is not figurative—it doesn’t represent an actual swan. As with most abstract expressionist pieces, “the elements, organization, and treatment are entirely personalized and cannot be associated by the observer with any previously perceived natural objects” (Barrett 108). This piece may depict the feeling of flight of a swan. It could be the feeling Resnick experienced while painting. Maybe the colors reminded him of a swan. Swans are often a symbol of fidelity due to their long-lasting monogamous relationships, so it could be a reflection of his life with his wife and lifelong companion Pat Passlof.  But really, it doesn’t have to mean anything.

Abstract expressionism is a style characterized by “rendering expressive content by nonobjective means” (Sayre 532). In fact, the movement included artists dedicated to their own individual expressive capabilities (Sayre 517). The interpretation of a piece is not dependent on subject matter but emotion, self-expression and individual style. Swan is about painting. (Genocchio) “Painting is meant to retain what the mind keeps thinking exists but doesn’t see” (Dorfman qtd Resnick). It is not the canvas upon which you focus. It is the new place, the new world that is created by what is on the canvas (Art news).  This is the world of Swan and of Milton Resnick. It’s about authentic discovery during the painting process. “Paint is the master. I work with it to see what I can do” (Gomez qtd Resnick).

So what do you think? What do you think about Milton Resnick? About Abstract Expressionism? What about his creative process? Have your thought about your creative process? Did the quick-fire reveal anything to you? Are you thinking about trying a new approach?

Works cited:

Barrett, Terry.  Interpreting Art, Reflecting, Wondering, Responding. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, New York, NY. (2003).

Cohen, David.  Milton Resnick Was an Ab-Ex Pioneer” NY Sun. May 29, 2008, Arts+ section <>

Dorfman, Geoffrey “Out Of the Picture: Milton Resnick and the New York School.” Excepts of Interviews <>

Frost, Tracy. “Milton Resnick (1917–2004) at Cheim & Reid Gallery 1 May - 7 Jun” < new_york_art_news/new-york/featured-galleries/milton-resnick1917-2004-at-che.php>

Genocchio, Benjamin. “The Brushwork Is the Message; [Review]”New York Times. New York, N.Y.: Nov 5, 2006. pg. 14LI.12 <http://library­.esc­.edu/loginurl=http://proquest­.umi­.com­.library­.esc­.edu/pqdweb­?did=1156730661­&sid=3­&Fmt=3­&clientId=63430­&RQT=309­&VName=PQD>

Gomez, Edward. “End of an Era”< -4971-43aa-ab5facea79011ac5%40sessionmgr3&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3Q tbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=13043886>

Macmillan. Kyle. “Exhibit affirms abstract expressionism’s relevance”. Denver Post. Denver, Colo.: Oct 25, 2002. pg. FF.20 <http://library­.esc­.edu/loginurl=http://proquest­.umi­.com­.library­.esc­.edu/pqdwebdid=

Micchelli, Thomas “Milton Resnick: A Question of Seeing” <>

Milton Resnick”<>

Sayre, Henry M. A World of Art. 5th ed. Pearson Education, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ. (2007)

Sayre, Henry M. ESC Course Materials, “Milton Resnick”

World of Art DVD Video. Program 7. Produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting in association with Oregon State University. 1997.

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Word or Image

posted on September 7th, 2008 ·

Which is more powerful…word or image. My first reaction was image, Of course! We have all heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, haven’t we?  A photograph allows an observer to become part of the action. It creates a way for the viewer to experience and see what is happening at a moment of time. “No other kind of relic or text from the past can offer such direct testimony about the world which surrounded other people at other times. In this respect images are more precise and richer than literature” (Berger 514). Not only do you get to see what is happening at a moment in time, through images you can experience emotionally what is happening at that time.

Sharbat GulaThe photograph that comes to my mind is the Afghan Girl from National Geographic. Just looking at the haunting eyes of Sharbat Gula makes you realize there is a story to be told, a life lived. This photo was taking in 1984 in an Afghan refugee camp. There are  enormous number of associations tied to this photograph. Can you see it in her eyes? Can you live what she has experienced? This image is not just of the horror of war or suffering…it is about human emotion and life. This photograph may be seen in terms which are simultaneously personal, political, economic, dramatic, everyday and historic. And this is not only limited to photographs, although that is where a lot of our imagery is found these days, any image can give you the same experience. 

However, I think that choosing image is also the obvious answer. When viewing any image, it is  important to be aware of all the underlying influences affecting it. There are still so many variables in Photography—in terms of camera angles, use of light and dark, texture and focus—even with informal candid snapshots, that we must recognize that a picture is always an interpretation of reality, not reality itself. “A dozen photographers taking pictures of the same scene would come up with a dozen different views of it” (Berger 64).  It all  depends “on what is created, when it is created, how it was created, the intention of the creator and the anticipated role of the creation, perhaps how commissioned it and certainly the response to the viewer–both at the historical time it was created and in the present” (Stokstad xliii). This is especially true given the changes in technology. As a result of developments in computer imaging, photographs can now be manipulated in remarkable ways, and changes made to them cannot be detected by the human eye. Clearly, when viewing photographs, the observer must not take it as fact. As with any information, whether that comes from the television media, the internet, or print media, the viewer must not absorb same at face value. A picture is not worth a thousand words these days. 

I also don’t want to take away the power of word. According to Meggs’ the invention of typography ranked near the creation of writing as one of the most important advances in civilization. “Writing gave humanity a  means for storing, retrieving and documenting knowledge and information that transcended time and place…knowledge spread rapidly and literacy increased.” (Meggs’ 64) I think words have the power to motivate and to inspire. This kind of inspiration can’t be captured the same way in an image. Think about the last book you read. Was it made into a movie? Did you see the movie? Was it all that you imagined when you read it or was it disappointing?  I am always disappointed with movies made from books I have read. I believe our imaginations can cook up better visuals than movies in todays technology ever could. 

So which is more powerful?  I think it depends on what medium you are discussing. An ad with one image and one word, which is more powerful. The image?  Maybe, but what is the word? Is it “Inspire”. Is it “Buy”? Is it “Rape”? All these words also have enormous number of associations tied to it. But “buy” isn’t going to have much power over you. The other two might. So my answer? Which is more powerful…word or image? It depends on the medium, the message and the content.

Work Cited:

1. Berger, Arthur Asa. Seeing is Believing; An Introduction to Visual Communication California, Mayfield Publishing Company. 1989.

2. Berger, John. “Ways of seeing”, pp 512-525 in Ways of Seeing New York: Pantheon. 1972.

3. Meggs, Philip B., and Alston W. Purvis, Meggs History of Graphic Design, 4th Ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey. 2006

4. Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History, Volume 2. Berkeley. University of California Press. 2005.

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How would you answer this question?

posted on June 9th, 2008 ·

What is graphic design?

Most of us take the term graphic design for granted. We hear it tossed around in conversation to describe jobs as diverse as creating logos, creating maps and/or charts, creating websites, creating ads for different media. So, what IS graphic design? One google search yields 50,400,000  results. I also looked in some books on my bookshelf. Here are some of the results:

  • Book designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic design’ in 1922 to “describe his activities as an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications.” —Meggs  
  • Visual problem solving using text and/or graphical elements. Your aim is to create something that is pleasing to the eye, and gets the attention of the viewer —Digital Dreamer
  • “Graphic Design is thinking made visual” —Saul Bass (if you don’t know who Saul Bass is…look him up for our next class!)
  • Graphic design is the most universal of all the arts. It is all around us, explaining, decorating, identifying; imposing meaning on the world… Without graphic design’s process and ingredients - structure and organization, word and image, differentiation—we would have to receive all our information by the spoken word. We would enter another Dark Ages, a thousand years of ignorance, prejudice, superstition and very short lifespans. “ —Quentin Newark 
  • Graphic Design’s primary purpose is to organize, plan and arrange page content into art that will influence or market to an audience.  The key ingredient to graphic art is composition which is the organization, placement, and visual appeal encompassing the ideas you want your viewers to act upon.  Graphic Design is the thread you will see throughout advertising, whether it is your logo, business card, website, commercials, etc. —Gloria Farmer  
  •  “Graphic design is the most ubiquitous of all the arts. It responds to needs at once personal and public, embraces concerns both economic and ergonomic, and is informed by many disciplines, including art and architecture, philosophy and ethics, literature and language, science and politics and performance.” ….”Simply put, it is the art of visualizing ideas” —AIGA  
  •  “Everything we wear, touch, read in traditional or interactive media, ride in, or live in has been created by a designer. Our newspapers, magazines and books; our activities on the internet; e-commerce, research, entertainment; our household appliances and automobiles; the packages that cover every object imaginable and entice us to buy; the graphic images, logotypes, and signs in stores and restaurants, as well as their identity, menus, and sometimes, even their names; the computers, cell phones, PDAs, and their interface screens, the amusement parks we take our children to; the famous cartoon characters we become attached to, and the licensed product we buy with their logos or images, the shapes of cosmetic jars, bottles, lipsticks, and the packaging; the gift wrap and cards for presents; the incalculable numbers of brochures, annual reports, and corporate literature—all have been developed or designed by graphic designers.” —Roz Goldfarb
  •  Here are some posters from a contest with interesting definitions: (Poster Contest)
  • And here is a youtube video defining it Youtube Video

What is the best definition of graphic design? I don’t know that there is one. But one thing that is readily clear to me is that graphic design encompasses—Everything.  While graphic design is visual problem solving and placing elements on a page, it is more than the mechanics of layout. It is found on everything.  It greets us when we wake up, reminds us throughout the day that someone or something is trying to communicate a message to us, and retires with us when we go to sleep. Information is saturating our lives and a good graphic designer will not only bring us something we haven’t seen before or something we have in a new and innovative way, but he/she will also organize it in a way that will make what is important, interesting, or creative, stand out. But then, some of these definitions explore the result rather than the creative process?

So what do you think??  What is graphic design to you? Are some of these answers limiting? In what way? What does Saul Bass’s definition say that Roz Goldfarb neglects to say?


Work Cited:

Farmer, Gloria. “What is Graphic Design?” <>

Goldfarb, Roz. Careers by Design: A Business Guide for Graphic Designers. Allworth Press, Inc., New York, NY, 2001.

Meggs, Philip B. and Alston W. Purvis. Megg’s History of Graphic Design, 4th Ed. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey 2006.

 Newark, Quentin. “What Is Graphic Design? Rotovision, East Sussex, England 2002 <>

“What is Graphic Design” AIGA Website <>

“What is Graphic Design?”<>




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