[Based on the content I would place this as early 90s. I can’t recall my original intent, perhaps I meant it for PRINT, but it was never published and I believe would have predated my first published article for them. It’s funny to see myself reacting to those new kids on the block, Emigre and David Carson. While the me of today has some quibbles with the my younger self, including my somewhat pedantic voice, there’s still much here I stand by.]
In the course of human events, graphic design plays a significant but largely misunderstood role. Certainly in day to day international events, it seems to play no part at all, except to occasionally augment and interrupt our horror during newscasts. But if you look to our higher selves, and to the arts as the zeitgeist of our collective souls, it is there in force, and increasingly so within the last 100 hundred years. Still, it is relegated to the corner as a secondary art, lagging behind its more revered sibling, art for arts sake. However, this is a temporary condition, that with the passage of time will prove meaningless. What today is revered as “fine” was indeed commissioned by the likes of the Medici, rich patrons, and Government Grants. How often is it stated that Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, belying the irony of a master’s commercial failure. Just as Irving Penn’s and Man Ray’s work now have their place in museums sans the context in which the work was done, graphic design will too be looked back at with value, and not only in the context of commerce. Since it has greater power to influence than any of the other art forms, with the possible exception of the popular song, in will be viewed in terms of that influence, which more often than not is informational rather than commercial in nature.
With that said I feel compelled to state that design has become its own worst enemy in that it has become increasingly about style versus content. Taken on its own merits, design has become “designerly” with nary a thought involved. The problem here is that it cannot rise above its secondary role as it remains a decorative art in the truest sense of the word. I do not believe this is simply the result of technology, but rather vanquished conceptual thinking, that seems to plague our society as a whole. In this post-literate time when we appear to be on a treadmill of recycled forms, concept has become the rarity rather than the norm. In fact new forms are reviled, and polarized, due mainly to their discordant nature. Although rap music has been embraced by many of the young, it remains for most an unpleasant experience, and the same could be said for the Emigre/Raygun school of design. And while these are indeed new forms that are an outgrowth of technology and share much in common (aggression, distortion filters, primitiveness), they also share a street wise lack of formality, a knowingly “un-literate” world view, or an affront to the world view, if you will.
But as much of this “new” music descends into braggadocio, much new design remains mired in style. Whether it remains the emperors new clothes is yet to be seen. Certainly, as in all trends, vital parts will remain, and will become part of the design lexicon, that we continue to hand down to posterity. Whether that posterity will continue to be part of human endeavor, or simply an ossified art form that is viewed in history books it is too early to tell. The only thing for certain is that if design is simply about how it looks, and not about what it has to say, then it will most assuredly be classified as decorative.
Not so for the general history of the form. Concept is the center that design grows out from. It is the soul, the heart and the head. Now one may wonder why a conceptual conceived poster or book cover has any greater significance then one that looks aggressively interesting, and indeed objectively to the uninitiated the two may be virtually indistinguishable. The later engages the viewers’ eyes only, and weary ones at that, while the former encompasses the whole being. Now this may seem like broad overstatement, but here in lays the truth: When the viewer is engaged in a concept and extracts its meaning, he/she receives a gift. This gift is not simply from designer to viewer. It is the gift of humanity, evidence that we have indeed crawled out of the muck and mire and are capable of a higher self, of inventiveness and cleverness, of humor and analytical reasoning. That we are not simply the nightly news, the brutality of the beast, but that we strive to be much more. And while graphic design remains one of the cooler art forms, more intellectual than heart felt, less emotive than painting, dance, song, film, it is an art form nonetheless, evidence that we have evolved, that things can improve, that there is hope for us after all.