Beginnings: Making Friends

Making Friends. The Jaguar. Strong climber and swimmer found in the Amazon. Deforestation is threatening the survival of these great cats.

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Making friends with animals in trouble. This project about endangered species begins benignly enough, with detailed drawings of creatures for coloring. However, each is on the path to vanishing as a species entirely.

We cannot journey far before facing the forces driving their coming extinction. The tale turns to conflict, and the deeper one delves, the darker the story gets. With this vision, the project has a powerful proposition — the potential to scale.

An attentiveness occurs in the coloring process. Curiosity and awareness can be awakened. Familiarity with these creatures opens the heart.

To color an animal is to fall in love.

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Here And Now

I am working on a book. Making friends like these — a marine iguana, on the endangered species list. All the animals are in critical danger of disappearing. They will appear in black line suitable for coloring. Paying attention.

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Vision Up Vision Down

 

Two summers ago I walked into a plate-glass window in midtown Manhattan. The glass was so clear and clean, I thought it was a door, and tried to barrel through. The impact was like hitting a black marble wall. I was knocked to my knees. Blood began to run into my right eye. I shouldn’t walk so fast.

After two weeks something weird began to happen. Manhattan provides a forest of vertical lines and each building, sign post, or stainless hand-pole on bus and subway appeared wavy, as if reflected in a pool of moving water. I saw my cornea surgeon who immediately called in a retina specialist.  An optical scan clearly showed the inside of the retina required a vitrectomy, microscopic surgery where membrane is peeled from the inner surface of the back of the eye.

Oddly, to me, the condition appears to have had nothing to do with the collision with the window.

Making artwork became an obsession almost in an instant when, at age thirteen, I lay on the floor in a tall dark hotel room in Zurich, my nose pressed to a huge sheet of paper, a thick stub of charcoal blackening my fingers. Ten percent vision was enough to distinguish black on white, but that wasn’t the thrill. The action was getting immediate feedback from drawing on paper.

After six months of waiting, my left eye was ready for a corneal transplant.

Over the forty years that were to follow, I excelled at art school and have enjoyed a winding career. My eyes have needed multiple surgeries—five corneal transplants, cataract removal, and most recently, peeling of the retina. Life is vision up, vision down. I’m habituated to shape and color. The boundaries blur but then, life is porous.

It’s been said that luck plays a part but nothing is an accident. I was lucky. I lay on a carpet with a sheet of paper and my life opened on to that canvas. Some of that is here to see.

Below — Pattern Design using magnolias for a dinner plate. This, and the tens of thousands of images and designs I have made draw on my experiences with vision problems and moving past them into clarity, developing a visual language in which images appear new.

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Intention In Attention

I am surrounded every day by a reminder of my own personality, scraps of history, and marks that may appear in my future. I am surrounded by a reflection of my labor and where it has brought me. I am surrounded by my own failure and the uncertainty of how it is solved. And in it, some contract I have with myself,  — my will to fight. To become more deeply engaged and focused. To turn away, or turn toward; and hope I am making the right choice. Saying yes to one, is saying no to another.

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Windows, in Reflection

First, one needs hundreds of acres of stone and steel and glass. Why so much? Because in this case more is better. A city outshines a village. Then one needs a high state of attention, a very central kind of focus. Or the magic will be missed. This is an accidental show, a theater of light, interiors, and exteriors. The interiors tend to be in a state of stillness, even with energetic, disruptive displays. On the outside, where I stand or walk, there is continual motion, and the windows speak back, as if to say, Look at this, this altered world, thin as a pane of plate glass, fragile, spotlessly clean and clear. Watch the windows.

New York is wicked with reflected layers of life. New York is human-made, vibrating, as one moves through it. From this raw material my images are complete or they will begin.

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Humanity Needs Identity

Language is new again. Words and images are deconstructed, transformed and uploaded into something radically different. The process creates curiosity, bends opinions  and steers new behavior. It requires science and art. This is what I do. My intent is collaboration in Art, Media, and Technology. To work with teams creating images of interface and interface of imagery. 20121203-IMG_2372   20090205L1029451   20091204-2009IMG_5558-2

Ferran Adrià—El Bulli

‘Taking a dish that is well known and transforming all its ingredients, or part of them; then modifying the dish’s texture, form and/or its temperature. Deconstructed, such a dish will preserve its essence… but its appearance will be radically different from the original’s.’ —Ferran Adrià – El Bulli 1994-1997

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Shouts and Whispers II

 

“‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.” — Charles Dickens

The task is not to breed generalists. It is to enable the specialist to make himself and his specialty effective. — Peter Drucker

Patterns are graphics in a very pure form. They are made, then wait for further employment. They ask for your imagination. If there is a thread that runs through my work, it is that it is not easy; it does not offer quick and simple solutions. 

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The text above was designed to cover an entire store window, a story-as-graphic. One could look through a few words and see what the store has on display behind the glass. Stand further back and see what appear to be sentences, which will combine with reflections from the outdoors. In our rushing about, these graphics make one pause and consider.

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 Above: Cursevex 50-1 — Very large pattern with a host of feasible technical solutions.

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Above: BSQ 1041b

 

Minor Games

Surprise + Clarity = Delight

Design can have a myriad of purposes: to inform, persuade, sell, or delight. To delight means to present something with a different point of view, while retaining clarity. It makes others see the world in new and different ways. We are taught a set of skills important for our growth and survival: communication, arithmetic, wellness, and many others. But no one teaches us how to perceive the world. Perhaps this is a job for delight: to delight someone is to give a small lesson in how to see the world as something good. ~ Frank Chimero

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Art and Democracy

What’s still lacking is the interface. We have more information than we have skills to turn it into useful knowledge. It’s a human problem, not for lack of the technology. We are still using computers that require a ton of babysitting and human guidance to get much done with them. We need more background, policy-driven computing. The real goal of the vision is a deep extension of our senses—more knowledge and more control of our world. We want to know more about people, more about the places we’re in and where we are going, and more about the things we have and might acquire. — Mark Rolston Chief Creative Officer, frogdesign

I have in mind patterns I have created for years, forming a tissue framework that works in reverse: rather than information design content as a starting point, the idea is to begin with an abstract framework and see how the surface of it, the architectural tissue might better guide an effective interface.

Design for twenty tiles:

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The Fox and The Hedgehog

Why are so many experts so wrong, yet people keep listening to them? Who really is worth listening to about the future? Philip Tetlock, the author of Expert Political Judgement builds on Isaiah Berlin’s characterization of judgment modes into Hedgehogs (who know one big thing) and Foxes (who know many things). Hedgehogs don’t notice and don’t care when they’re wrong; that’s why they’re so compelling. Foxes learn.

Hedgehogs believe in Big Ideas – in governing principles about the world that behave as though they were physical laws and undergird virtually every interaction in society. Foxes, on the other hand, are scrappy creatures who believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking a multitude of approaches toward a problem. Hedgehogs are more easily seduced by clear narratives. Foxes are more data-driven, less willing to stake out strong positions.

Hedgehogs: “relate everything to a single central vision …in terms of which all that they say has significance.” They over simplify, don’t use diverse data sources.

Foxes: “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory….entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal;…..without seeking to fit them into, or exclude them from, any one all-embracing inner vision.”

One should be able to consider two sides of the argument, think in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, and be able to hold conflicting thoughts.

Foxes believe in a plethora of little ideas and in taking multitude of approaches toward a problem. They tend to be more tolerant of nuance, uncertainty, complexity, and dissenting opinion. Most innovations and new ideas are found in tiny places where others fail to look. Ignoring the hedgehogs and generally accepted thinking will afford opportunities to see familiar problems in new ways. ~ Nate Silver

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Shooting Cataracts

I’m ten days out of my second cataract surgery. My eye scratches, wells with tears.

 “Oh, don’t worry, “ said the non-medical world I encountered. ‘My sister was at the movies the same afternoon.” “My uncle went out for lunch straight from the hospital.”

Not me

Eight months before we were satisfied the left eye had settled, the cataract was removed from the right I’ve had a life of eyes.  

I want to talk about photography and design, taking photographs daily,

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Art is Not About Communication

Art is not about communication.  Art is not a way of conveying information. It’s a way of understanding information. That is, creating a work of art is a means we have of making sense of the world, focusing to make it clearer, not a way of communicating some understanding of the world that we already hold.’  — James Kochalka

 

 

A Word On Templates and Custom Design

I HAD THE OCCASION TO SEE SOME WEB DESIGN WORK clients of mine had commissioned by another designer. The clients appeared quite proud of the work delivered. Until I pointed out that web design templates had been used, that these templates were widely available on the web for free, and that there were thousands from which to choose, using a simple two-word Google search.
This revelation caused some dismay and distress. The clients were certain the work done was original,  created from the ground up. I felt quite badly for them paying for custom work in good faith, but they were clearly getting ripped off and I felt a responsibility to provide some insight into what I saw. Why did I not just let it go? Because such improper practice by designers damages the design profession. Templates require simple modifications. Some added content, changes to text style and colors. It’s working with a kit of parts. Custom work, by contrast, takes time, some depth of humanistic thought, as well as technical expertise. A high bar.

Custom design works hard to be compelling, to solve problems — templates do not care. Original custom design can be reconfigured to offer new solutions — templates have no such ambition. Templates have no intention. Custom design marries itself to brand positioning—templates choke the branding program before it draws first breath.  It’s like branding behind bars. This is  problematic on several fronts. It undermines professional standards designers like myself must maintain, and as importantly, I don’t like seeing people getting ripped off by professionals in any field, whether by lawyers, mechanics, dentists, or designers. We put our trust in a mechanic, that the replaced part has not already done fifty thousand miles in two cars. The free template website is one of those parts. You might be able to drive it for a while, but pretty soon something breaks down. Will your designer be able to make seamless additions building parts indistinguishable from the template? If so, why not build from the beginning? Because one can skip over the hard part and miraculously present something born fully formed. That’s your clue as a client: The first iterations are too polished. There is no evidence of early stylistic struggle, the blind alleys, the rough starts. The best designers have all of these.

Template sites will show their weakness when new content must be added, or a change is needed in function. A part is needed and it is missing from the kit. Our designer is now stuck. He actually has to make a part that fits. He makes an element out of spit and glue and what usually happens is it just doesn’t match perfectly with the template.  Should the client find the fix unacceptable,  the cost or logistics of replacement could be prohibitive. When you employ a designer, I urge you to ask whether the work you will receive will be original work, if that is what has been promised. Original work means someone is not, at this very moment, looking at a version of it on a screen somewhere. Ask whether it can scale, be flexible enough to serve the changes companies inevitably encounter? Modified templates do not mean the work is now an original design. Templates mean your “custom” work is actually all over the web. If you are OK with that, ask yourself why.

 

Live in Mystery

WE NOW KNOW ENOUGH to know that we will never know everything. This is why we need art:
it teaches us how to live with mystery. Only the artist can explore the ineffable without offering us an answer, for sometimes there is no answer. John Keats called this romantic impulse ‘negative capability.’ He said that certain poets, like Shakespeare, had ‘the ability to remain in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ Keats realized that just because something can’t be solved, or reduced into the laws of physics, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. When we venture beyond the edge of our knowledge, all we have is art.

But before we can get a fourth culture, our two existing cultures must modify their habits. First of all, the humanities must sincerely engage with the sciences. Henry James defined the writer as someone on whom nothing is lost; artists must heed his call and not ignore science’s inspiring descriptions of reality. Every humanist should read Nature.

At the same time, the sciences must recognize that their truths are not the only truths. No knowledge has a monopoly on knowledge. That simple idea will be the starting premise of any fourth culture. As Karl Popper, an eminent defender of science, wrote, ‘It is imperative that we give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it is beyond our reach. There is no authority beyond the reach of criticism.”Jonah Lehrer via Maria Popova

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Stay Eager

DO STUFF. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ― Susan Sontag

STARE. IT’S THE WAY TO EDUCATE YOUR EYES. Pry, Listen, Eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. —Walker Evans

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