Sunday, July 10, 2011

Form & Light, Inform & Delight

by Drew Martin

The film Helvetica is a must-see for any graphic designer. A movie about a font may sound painful to sit through but it is captivating. This weekend I saw another film, which I think is even more important for young designers to watch: Milton Glaser, To Inform & Delight.

The title of the film comes from the 1st Century Roman Poet Horace's statement that the purpose of art is to inform and delight. The opening credits introduce the words form and light before changing into the Horatian title: the play on words is perfect for what follows.

If you are not familiar with Milton Glaser, you just do not know it. He is the artist who came up with the logo for the I Love New York slogan.

As Glaser explains, the project was conceived during a time in the mid 1970s when New York City was going downhill, fast. The new, upbeat saying contributed to the reverse of the decline of morale. The success of the logo, he offers, is because it is a visual puzzle, which makes the person viewing it remember it better than being told directly. Simple as it is, the combination of text and the symbol has to be figured out.

Glaser was one of the first designers to part with the Swiss-informed commercial art world. His post-modern sensibilities embraced previous styles and made them relevant again. He helped found New York magazine and was also behind Gloria Steinem's Ms. magazine. His approach to the press was that of service journalism.

As a designer, his first love is drawing, which he explains, is a way of understanding the world and of thinking. He speaks about the balance between solitary creation and collaborative work, the latter having a dancing partner. I especially liked one moment when he was talking about a poster he did for the School of Visual Arts. He tossed together a bunch of stickers he did for the school. The edges curled and because he liked the effect, he had them photographed this way. He explained that he could have reached a similar effect on the computer but he would not have stumbled upon it as a physical act.

It is a comment that seems appropriate for other interests he enjoys as much as creating graphic art. He loves music and feels that his visual nods to music and musicians can evoke the response that music does. Likewise, he loves food and compares preparing meals to having the same kind of joy as drawing.

A well known graphic artist referred to him as the total artist. A friend explained that Glaser's hands have no resistance and his drawing is automatic, immediate, complete, unmediated and instantaneous. Glaser is just as well known and admired for his articulation. He speaks about the role of artists and design as a way to interact with people just as certain cultures participated in gift giving in order to pacify each other. Similarly, as with the presents, the absence of the gifts of art results in conflict and "people killing each other."

It makes sense that Glaser created the I Heart New York logo because he is perhaps one of the greatest and most authentic New Yorkers. He was educated at the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts as well as Cooper Union. While he reminisces about what a great education he received he is also quick to point out that New York City is one of the best places to be educated simply as a citizen because of all the free events and lectures and the wealth of the museums.