Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Noble But Futile Gesture of Paul Rand

As part of our passive aggressive effort here at Global Wahrman to educate youth, we feature today one of the greatest American graphic designers, Paul Rand (1914-1996). You have seen his work all your life.

In 1992, Paul Rand, resigned from the faculty of Yale University as part of a protest against postmodernist theory. Exactly what good his resignation could possibly accomplish is a mystery to me, but no doubt it was a noble gesture.   When he resigned, he wrote an essay, "Chaos and Confusion: The Seduction of Comtemporary Graphic Design". (See http://www.paul-rand.com/foundation/thoughts_confusionChaos/#.UO0TS-Sw-Gk)

Complaining about postmodern criticism, which is truly worst case academic drivel, is like complaining that we live in a shallow society: of course we do.   In the case of postmodern criticism we just have that manifestation of shallowness that comes from a self-entitled community of elitist shallow people in contrast to the other types.  And this particular type of shallow people have the career imperative to publish, and furthermore to publish in journals that encourage that kind of shallowness.  Its a positive feedback loop, some would argue, the arts criticism equivalent of the peacocks tail feathers leading to preferential selection by sex-crazed peahens leading to an even more flamboyant set of tail feathers in the next generation.   One day it may disappear in a puff of smoke and itself become the topic of PhD thesis trying to explain the phenomenon.

Since we at Global Wahrman wish to honor the noble and futile sacrifice of one's career in order to make an ethical stand, here is a paragraph or two from this essay.

The deluge of design that colors our lives, our print, and video screens is synchronous with the spirit of our time. No less than drugs and pollution, and all the fads and -isms that have plagued our communities, the big brush of graffiti for example, has been blanketing our cities from Basel to Brooklyn. Much of graphic design today is a grim reminder of this overwhelming presence. The qualities which evoke this bevy of depressing images are a collage of confusion and chaos, swaying between high tech and low art, and wrapped in a cloak of arrogance: squiggles, pixels, doodles, dingbats, ziggurats; boudoir colors: turquoise, peach, pea green, and lavender; corny woodcuts on moody browns and russets; Art Deco rip-offs, high gloss finishes, sleazy textures; tiny color photos surrounded by acres of white space; indecipherable, zany typography with miles of leading; text in all caps (despite indisputable proof that lowercase letters are more readable); omnipresent, decorative letterspaced caps; visually annotated typography and revivalist caps and small caps; pseudo-Dada and Futurist collages; and whatever ‘special effects’ a computer makes possible. (emphasis added) These inspirational decorations are, apparently, convenient stand-ins for real ideas and genuine skills. And all this is a reflection, less of the substance, than of the spirit of graffiti - less of the style, than of the quality.
That these cliches are used repeatedly, irrespective of needs, is what defines trendiness. The ‘Memphis’ fad was also based on cliches and on outrageous, kitschy notions. (Occasionally, however, some potentially useful ideas seeped through — only proving that it takes talent to make something out of nothing.) The huge investments involved in the manufacture and storage of Memphis products have probably helped speed its demise. Trendy printed ephemera, on the other hand, which involves less capital, may take a bit longer.
Of course such gestures are pointless and have no effect as the vast majority of the biped mammals will just mindlessly do whatever is currently trendy in a desperate desire to fit in, and could not have an original thought if you put a gun to their head. Any dramatic and noble gestures in order to get people to think about what they are doing are doomed to failure but may make the person who does it feel better about themselves.

One may as well tilt at windmills for all the good it will do you or anyone else. Nevertheless we want to celebrate futile gestures here at Global Wahrman.  So, thank you, Paul Rand. 

Paul Rand

No comments:

Post a Comment