“These two seemingly disparate fields become something new, more than the sum of their parts, a delicious undertaking. Alison is adept at working with both sides of her brain and I compliment her on that achievement”.
Ah, youth. When I went to Art College in the 1960s, I left behind a proper four-year college education halfway through and my father’s expectation that I would ever amount to anything.
A ‘simple country boy’, as I am fond of describing myself in retrospect, I went to the big city and encountered what was initially quite an overwhelming experience. Fellow art students seemed more talented and sophisticated than me. The other boys had locks that certainly were longer than mine. That became my first trial then: to grow my hair.
The second challenge was to choose a ‘major’ for my studies. I had arrived with a passion for theatre set design, but there was no major in that. I chose ‘three-dimensional design’ because I thought that was a close second.
It turns out it wasn’t.
Three-D was in fact about Industrial Design: engineering and building models and stuff. I spent the majority of my time making spidery mock-ups of bridges and such out of balsa wood strips, which would somehow always get crushed in the journey from my apartment to class. Sniffing the air-plane glue used to assemble them turned out to be the only unexpected pleasure of this new experience. At other times, perspective drawings were required that needed to be India inked with Rapidograph pens. Always a few steps from completion, the pen would tit squirt a huge blob of black ink all over the drawing and ruin it.
There were other possibilities in choosing a major at Art College, of course. Painting was one, but those students all seemed a bit too talented and determined. Illustration was another, but those with an interest in that seemed already to have all the skills necessary (and I certainly didn’t). There was Ceramics, but I generally made a muddy mess at the potter’s wheel at the required introductory lessons. In fear of no future job prospects otherwise, I stuck to Industrial Design. No, I was not brave enough to take a more adventurous gamble on ‘art for art’s sake’.
He (and they) were quite scary to me.
Now I say scary, but we must remember that we are talking about a country boy in the big city who was just learning about the possibilities of other ways of doing, living, being. An example: an ‘older’ student in our class (who had served in the Navy) invited us to his place one night to listen to some music. It turns out that he smoked ‘weed’ and had us listening to some strange folk singer, Bob Dylan. It was too weird for me and I left quickly.
This is ironic because only two years later I would be listening to Buffy Saint Marie records whilst doing lines of speed purchased from a go-go dancer. In the final analysis, Madame Bovary had nothing on me in terms of ruination in the big city!
So this brings us to talk about Typography more soberly and page design more generally. Eventually, I did learn something about two-dimensional design from Lenore Chorney, a wonderful teacher of Fashion Illustration who became my mentor for several years. I embraced the excitement that she brought to the page in her talks about Dada artists, Suprematism and Constructivism from Moscow, Bauhaus design from Germany, Futurism from Italy, and De Stijl from Holland.
In spite of (or because of) my visual orientation, I have returned to the concept of text and the page frequently in my work in Performative Social Science (See Popularizing Research), particularly in my considerations of ‘audience’ and specifically, the primary importance of the reader when our outputs are textural. How do we engage the reader in a dialogue? How do we encourage our readers to invest their own experiences in their interface with our text?
An early (Jones, 2004) attempt was made at both audience engagement and alternative use of textural production in the published results of my interview with social psychologist, Mary Gergen (”Thoroughly Post-Modern Mary”), where I used a variety of typography and illustrations within a unique page design to represent that biography in an academic journal.
Four years later, Sally Berridge (2008) produced a stunning effort in a graphic design of her entire thesis, represented in the FQS article,“What Does It Take? Auto/biography as Performative PhD Thesis”.
Now we have ‘Stuff’ by Alison Barnes (2010) or ‘Typography as a language of performance’. ‘Stuff’ is a slim, beautifully crafted volume that provides unique and personal answers to the query, ‘What makes your house a home?’ Items such as photographs, travel souvenirs and childhood toys become autobiographical objects and form a spatial representation of identity in the book. The reader truly becomes engaged in a process of interaction. The readers’ experiences are embellished by their own personal reflections and memories, redefining yet again, the on-going social construction of the meaning of home.
‘Stuff’ is important to me and to Performative Social Science because it is a successful example of the fusion of art and social science in a single project. The levels of both design and social science compete with each other for praise. These two seemingly disparate fields become something new, more than the sum of their parts, a delicious undertaking. Alison is adept at working with both sides of her brain and I compliment her on that achievement.
I never did complete Art College. Life happened as we like to say and I moved on with it. Several years later I did cobble together my credits from the initial college along with those from the Art College and fashion them into an undergrad degree of sorts by taking a few more academic credits at a local University.
I fondly recall an Anthropology course at that University for which I produced a final project—a game in the shape of a three-dimensional model of a haunted house. It came with little plastic babies that were the game pieces. You dropped them down the house’s chimney to play. The professor was taken aback, but he did give me an ‘A’ for my efforts.
I had been to Art College, after all.
For the time-being, you can read about Alison Barnes’ journey with ‘Stuff’ (and see some examples) on her blog.
This blog is produced using Georgia typeface. I thought that providing this information would be an ironic touch.