Lesson 1: Irony
Having taught graphic design (typography and senior portfolio) at The School of Visual Arts in New York for 23 continuous years, I will, for the first time, take a year off from teaching. The first official act of my sabbatical is to write this essay on education.
Use what you have. Use the moment; use the technology; or ignore the technology; use the pencil; use the paper; use your brain.I am currently less than inspired about my role as a teacher and I am attempting to write something optimistic and inspired, maybe even brilliant about teaching and all I have is a stubby pencil.My students often get hung up on the media. Think first, the medium will follow.
Don’t wait for inspiration and the perfect moment. Make work. Solve problems. Be true to the idea of ideas. Jump in and learn to think on your feet. I started teaching (in my early 30s) not only because I thought I would be a good teacher, but because I wanted to play a part in seeing that students truly understood their role and responsibility as designers; I wanted to help retain the integrity of the profession; I wanted to create a utopian environment for design where I could define the limits (or the lack of limits). I thought it would be fun.
The critical process keeps me on my toes intellectually and forces me to ‘practise what I preach’ within my own work.And this includes not only the formal or conceptual virtues of design but also the social, moral, cultural, humanistic responsibility of design. Do the right thing.I have become addicted to the discourse and to the critiques and to the high I get from seeing a student succeed.Teaching keeps me honest.
If you can’t describe the idea, there is a good chance you don’t have one.My classes are never studio classes. The students are given an assignment and are expected to present tight sketches a week later to the class. They hang their work on the wall and we all talk about each student’s work individually.The question I often start with is: ‘What do you see? Pretend you are four years old and literally tell me what you see.’ If they can tell me what is actually there, I know I can break them of the insidious habit of imagining symbolic meanings that aren’t actually there in the design. I often say: ‘Tell me what you really see, not what you hope you see.’ I want my students to understand that they must verbally articulate their ideas. I suggest they actually talk to themselves through the entire design process. I want them to learn to listen and to be hyper-aware of their intentions and nuance, while always welcoming unconscious, intuitive impulses and ‘happy accidents’ to become part of their experience.
Helping others see their work clearly is a way of helping you see your own work.
Enthusiasm counts. Design has to multitask to succeed.Students in my class are not allowed to critique their own work but only the work of their classmates. They must learn to be invested in all of the work in the classroom and not just their own. They are required to sit tightly together and very close to the work on the wall. No one is allowed to take a passive seat in the back. We pack those precious three hours with unbroken concentration. Engagement, adrenaline, and inspiration are contagious.How can we make it work, make it better? Don’t be lazy. I torment them with the dreaded question ‘Why?’ when they describe their ideas. What are they after? How do you ‘keep all the plates spinning’ on the ends of those wooden dowels like a circus performer?
Design is responsibility. Drive carefully.I want my students to care about what they do and to take responsibility. I tell students that they are behind the wheel and in control; whether it is a subtle turn (e.g. kerning) or a broad unexpected swerve. Designers have the privilege to be messengers, inventors, soothsayers, poets, provocateurs, comedians, scholars and fools. Your message has integrity when you believe it.
If it isn’t right, don’t do it. If it is right, don’t stop.I stopped teaching for a year, not because I was bored with my students but because I was probably bored with myself.Stopping is a way of restarting:I need to hear myself think again, more quietly. I need a year to be selfish, un-nurturing. I need a year to learn to see for myself again.
Make it beautiful.
Carin Goldberg, New York, 2006
Essay taken from 'AGI: Graphic Design Since 1950' by Ben & Elly Bos