You don’t just stand there and say “Okay…I’ll join it”

I’m all about quotes. The ones that slap you in the face and shift your thinking. The ones that capture ideas you’ve had floating in your head for quite some time but you were never able to eloquently capture them in a neatly tied package in the form of a sentence. The Hillman Curtis Artist Series videos were full of them. Here are some of my favorites:

You find some way to go over it [culture]…or under it…or around it…you don’t just stand there and say “okay…I’ll join it.” – Lawrence Weiner

My interpretation? Designers shouldn’t just assimilate. They should push limits and be the creators of culture. Design in a way that helps others to determine their place in society and to figure out what they want to do. We have access to people’s minds and the ability to transfer ideas. Take that power and own it…inspire change.

Social political stuff…the cultural stuff..that is what graphic design is for…that is it used at its best. Not to sell socks. Graphic design is a big, fucking club with spikes in it and I wanna wield it….in its pure, in its strongest, in its fullest potential. – James Victore

Give people a reason to gather and help them find the common ground that we all stand on, even if we don’t always recognize it (thank you Lewis Hyde). Find ways to elicit emotion and get the crowd going.

At the end of the day, the only thing that’s really important is “is this somehow emotionally engaging people?” and that at a certain point if you’re at all wise…you go “nothing matters but that.” – Mark Romanek

While you may be charged with many tasks in design, it is important to always remain true to yourself:

You gotta be who you are, no matter how dangerous it is. – Lawrence Weiner

As the world gets more computerized, this may be harder and harder to do so. But as David Carson points out, it is increasingly important to make our work more subjective and personal. You should let your personality come through in your work – really pull through who you are as a person and put that into everything you do. Stefan Sagmeister echoes the same idea:

Everything I do always comes back to me.

It does take courage to put so much of yourself into your art and design, but if we’re all at least a little but like Sagmeister, this will work out for us:

Having guts always works out for me.

We should strive to be different and do things that are unexpected. David Byrne puts it this way:

Adding little bits or sort of changing your expectations is what keeps music really interesting because when you’re listening to music, you can kind of generally tell what’s coming. But when you get surprised by what actually does come, then it’s kind of pleasurable.

Although he’s talking about music, and not visual design, it can be easily applied across disciplines. If we shatter people’s expectations of “what happens next,” we can captivate them and keep them interested. Don’t always do what’s expected. That’s boring. It’s limiting:

– Stefan Sagmeister

And don’t worry if it doesn’t always make sense. Half the fun is the journey and the possibility of learning along the way:

None of us has really the ability to understand our path until it’s over. – Milton Glaser

And if we’re truly lucky…our path to understanding will never cease to astonish us:

If you can sustain your interest in what you’re doing, you’re an extremely fortunate person. What you see very frequently in people’s professional lives, and perhaps in their emotional life as well, is that they lose interest in the third act. You sort of get tired, and indifferent, and, sometimes, defensive. And you kind of lose your capacity for astonishment — and that’s a great loss, because the world is a very astonishing place.

What I feel fortunate about is that I’m still astonished, that things still amaze me. And I think that that’s the great benefit of being in the arts, where the possibility for learning never disappears, where you basically have to admit you never learn it. – Milton Glaser


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