Glaser (b.1929) is the most celebrated graphic designer in the United States. A founder, with Seymour Chwast, of the Push Pin Studio, he is best known for his poster designs. Glaser trained with the painter, Giorgio Morandi, and is an articulate spokesman for the value of ‘commercial art.’ Q: What is the commercial/artistic/social role of the poster? A: If we mean by ‘role’ a pre-existing, intrinsic function, the poster’s role is to convey information from a source to an audience, in order to move that audience to an amplification or change of perception that produces an awareness or an action. When a poster has a commercial intention it obviously intends to convince an audience to buy goods and services. The artistic role of any poster is more difficult to ascertain. Depending on your definition, posters do not have to be ‘artistic’ to be effective. (i.e. be successful in its ‘roles’). It is far more important for posters to be effective than artistic. The aesthetic part of poster making has more to do with the objectives of its maker than the requirements of form. Because of the poster’s historical relationship to the world of painting, and by virtue of its physical size, the poster seems to offer more opportunities for the designer to do artistic or imaginative work than many of the other areas of in which he may be working. In addition to the significant function of informing and motivating a public, the question of the poster’s social role is a more subtle one. Does society benefit from experiencing works that have ‘artistic’ merit and which are well made? Without beginning to define those evasive terms I would have to say yes, although I would be hard pressed to prove a case. To add to the ambiguity, it should be noted that a well-made object does not have to be well made. Q: What do you think of the old-fashioned term ‘commercial art’ (vis a vis ‘graphic design’)? A: Design seems to occupy a place between fine art ad craft, between aesthetics and commerce, beauty and persuasion, novelty and familiarity and so on. Obviously, the emphasis between the polarities changes in response to the specific problem, and the intention and talent of the designer. The term ‘commercial art’ is a simplification and seems to eliminate the inherent conflict. For this reason I prefer the more ambiguous phrase ‘graphic design.’ Q: Is money a corrupting influence in poster design? A: Perhaps in one sense: when financial risks are greatest, clients tend to be most conservative. The fear of losing a significant amount of money can have a chilling effect on one’s sense of adventure and imagination. Q: What is your view of the poster and its relation to ‘high art?’ A: When does ‘high art’ meet ‘low art?’ At this encounter is everything above the line ‘art’ and everything below ‘non-art’? What shall we call the material below the line craft, applied art, commercial art, decoration? Who invented this question? Who is served by the distinction? Does it matter? The search for ‘high art’ is a theological issue, like the search for the true cross. The culture priests attempt to protect the world from false religion or faith, a never-ending task. I have a modest proposal; why don’t we discard the word ‘art’ and replace it with the word ‘work?’ Those objects made with care and extraordinary talent we can call ‘great work’, those deserving special attention, but not breathtaking, we call ‘good work’. Honest, appropriately made objects without special distinction we name ‘work’ alone. And what remains deserves the title ‘bad work’. One simple fact encourages me in this proposal; we value a good rug, a beautiful book, or a good poster over any bad painting. Q: Does mass reproduction diminish the value of posters (i.e. does the value in matters of the visual depend on the uniqueness of masterpieces)? A: I seem to be getting terribly Talmudic, but it depends on one’s definition of value; the most significant value of any work or design is in its effect on the world. Mass reproduction is one way for these words to be seen and experienced. Of course, this has nothing to do with the selling price of scarce objects. In the first case we are talking about the value of art in a cultural and historical sense, in the second we’re talking about the manipulations and illusions of the market place.
As one of the founders of Pushpin Studios in 1954, Milton Glaser helped revive illustration in the 1960's when photography was thought to have swept the field. After studying at the High School of Music & Art, then Cooper Union in New York, Glaser studied etching in Bologna with the painter Giorgio Morandi. In a speech in 1998, he cited two opposites–Morandi and Picasso as his "artistic models." Artists who are driven by opposing passions often come to grief. But those who succeed in harnessing them often give off light. More often celebrated for his design, Milton's drawings have become increasingly personal and spiritual. The integrity he brings to his work has made him a touchstone for many artists, including me.
BRAD HOLLAND: You've previously mentioned Morandi and Picasso as your two models. I think anyone could understand Picasso's influence on you. His work is so protean, as your's is. But the influence of Morandi is less obvious. What does he mean to you?
MILTON GLASER: For me, Picasso and Morandi represent the full range of human artistic possibilities. Morandi was parochial and narrow. He went to Paris once, didn't like it, and never went again. He lived modestly. He was an academic beaurocrat. He taught at the academy three times a week. He never married. He didn't seem to be interested in money, fame, or women. He painted about three portraits of people. The rest are landscapes. They're not familiar, but they're the same kind of painting as his still lifes. He would make the slightest change. Move a passage of gray a quarter of an inch. If you wanted to buy a painting from him, he would write your name and address on the back; then, years later, after he had finished the painting, he'd send it to you. He was selling paintings then for $200.
Picasso, on the other hand, was the most egocentric, narcissistic man in human history. For him, there was no world except Picasso. People were just instruments to be used, like subjects of a painting. He wanted all the money, all the fame, all the accomplishment. He sucked all the air out a room. I can't image two more opposite manifestations of human potential, and I think I am equally affected by both. Morandi's dedication, his simplicity, his desire for nothing except the work, his modesty. And this raging lunatic who wanted to devour the world.
BH: You studied with Morandi. Do you believe you'd have been as influenced by his work if you hadn't met him?
MG: I knew his etchings before I went to study with him. He taught hard ground etching, where you have to draw with a needle and make a very precise line. There is no tint or anything else to confuse the issue. Either you draw it right or you go elsewhere. But I became more interested in what he did, as I became more acquainted with his drawings, which are very different than the etching, and then of course the paintings.
BH: Morandi's work is so ascetic. It lacks all of the things you normally use to make a picture interesting. There something almost monastic about that kind of renunciation.
MG: He had that quality in his personality as well as his work. He was very austere, very reserved, very proper in every way. Very sweet. You couldn't imagine him getting excited. He was well composed with a profound innocent decency.
When I say that I'm kind of between Picasso and Morandi, the thing that I love about Morandi is his clarity of vision. The fact that everything is so rational and unencumbered by emotionalism, although you have an emotional response to that. The paintings are small, undramatic, with no narrative. There's no brilliant painting. So you have to ask the fundamental question of what makes a work of art meaningful. All the attributes you might use to dramatize your work are not there. So there's a sense of modesty. But it becomes monumental and you can't figure out why.
BH: There seems to be a similar ascetic quality to some of your recent pictures. The Flowers of Evil drawings and the monoprints for Purgatory. A lot of your stylistic flair has been sacrificed to directness.
MG: When you are in the field of illustration, you are always trying to persuade people to respond in a certain way. The work has to be assertive to establish its place. You have to make a strong statement in a short length of time. This is unlike painting, where you can look at a picture over a period of ten years and still find it unfolding. It's like the difference between journalism and poetry. You require a different time interval to appreciate the difference.
BH: How did the Purgatory pictures come about? Were you commissioned to do a book?
MG: Yes. I have a gallery dealer in Italy, who gave me Purgatory to do. I thought it was a great opportunity to move towards a more complex work. I decided to do prints. I took a monotype course in Woodstock. In monotype, you can't control the work. It depends on how much moisture there is in the air, how damp the paper is, the viscosity of the ink. So when you do a print, you don't know what the results are going to be. For me, that was good. When you develop a lot of skill, you end up rendering an idea. That's different from letting the picture push you. So I was forced to accommodate the process of making the prints, and it pushed me elsewhere. I had to be more resourceful and react to what I was producing.
BH: Do you know Isiah Berlin's essay, The Hedgehog & The Fox?
MG: I do. I quote it often.
BH: His theme is that everybody can be classified as either a fox or a hedgehog. A fox with many ideas. A hedgehog with one big idea. You've always seemed like a fox to me, with influences coming from everywhere. How much of a hedgehog are you?
MG: I'm interested in all the things that have happened in the visual world. And probably like yourself, my influences are more outside the profession than inside it. I never use the profession as a guide for what I aspire to. I've always believed that you could do everything. Not that this is necessarily desirable. If you're a fox, you don't want to act like a hedgehog and vice versa. There's no ultimate value in doing many things or doing one thing. These seeming contradictions are really part of the same universe. People want to think of them as opposites, but they're made of the same cloth.
BH: I've always thought that people who draw tend to be rational, and painters emotional. Of course, great artists tend to be both. And since opposites attract, a lot of the best artists seem to come from families where one parent was very rational and the other very emotional. Were your parents opposites?
MG: They were very different. It would be hard to characterize them. My mother was very courageous, a sort of outgoing woman who didn't care about the opinion of the world. My father was a modest, more conformist personality.
BH: We all grow up with parental influences and as we go out into the world, we look for bigger influences who will extend those parental ones. So in my experience, people who are always trying to harmonize opposites in their lives tend to come from homes where their parents were opposites.
MG: My mother was enormously supportive without qualification. She convinced me I could do anything. My father was more resistant. He represented the resistance of the world. My secret realization was that I could use my mother to overthrow my father. But I realized not long ago what I had not been willing to admit in my life, and that was a presence of my father in myself. It's a complicated issue when your identification with your mother is so complete.
BH: When you started doing this, did you think of being a painter?
MG: When you start, you don't know about the distinction. All you know is that you like to make things. I had already realized that a painter's life was not my life. I couldn't imagine painting pictures, selling them in a gallery, and having people put them on a wall in their house. It didn't make sense. I wanted to do something else. At first, it was comic strips. When I was in Music & Art High School, I realized there were other alternatives. When I got to Cooper Union, I was pretty well on my path to the applied arts. I liked the idea of being public and useful and solving problems. I like storytelling.
BH: How conscious were you of all this when you started Pushpin? Or was it a couple of guys sitting around in a bar saying, "Let's rent space together?"
MG: I think it was that. We were all in school studying design. We wanted to continue the feeling of being in school. We had no idea what the consequence was. We had never worked professionally. I had worked in a package design studio between high school and college, but outside of that, we didn't know what a studio was or how you ran one. We started after I had come back from Italy in ‘53/'54, so I was very interested in the difference between Modernism and the history of the Renaissance and the Baroque. I realized there was another way of thinking about art and imagery. Also, I never felt part of the history of illustration. I felt no continuity with the Saturday Evening Post and the Westport School. That kind of illustration had lost it's passion, it's ability to look fresh. We took advantage of a change that was going on with artists like Tom Allen and Robert Weaver.
BH: Yet you brought a unique sensibility to illustration. Your model was more Reubens running a studio than, say, Van Gogh. And that was at a time when Van Gogh and the whole melodrama of his life had become kind of a dysfunctional model for 20th century artists.
MG: Yes, and unfortunately it's a very egocentric model. It says, Do your work and you will be convincing. They'll change their opinion of you, love you, pay you a lot of money and make you famous. All you've got to do is stick to it. This a total delusion about what really happens in the world. Unfortunately, this idea of self-expression has infected the schools as well, telling students that all you have to do is reveal your talent and the world will kneel at your feet. It's such a total, miserable lie. It's perpetuated by frustrated painters who encourage the innocent to think it's true so they have the strength to go on themselves. In fact, the opposite is true. It produces a generation of bitter people who can't figure out why they can't make a living. There is something fundamentally wrong with that expectation of talent in society.
At Pushpin, all we were trying to do was make a living. We didn't know exactly what that meant. We started the studio. We looked for work. We got jobs. We inspired each other. Then, at a certain point, we realized we were doing something different.
BH: Ok. We've discussed Morandi. But what about Picasso? He was the poster-boy for self-expression. The original gangster with genius. Frankly, I always thought he was less original than Matisse, who in some ways he pursued as if he were Captain Ahab trying to catch Moby Dick.
MG: Well, it's interesting what you say about Picasso. Picasso was constantly referring back to Matisse. He was considered Matisse's great adversary, but he had tremendous admiration for Matisse. When Matisse died, he said, "Now I will have to paint for both of us." What I like about Picasso–and you could say this about Matisse as well–was his willingness to take chances. He abandoned one thing after another: Surrealism, Synthetic Cubism, whatever. He was always willing to give it up. Artistic courage is usually over emphasized. But it's the ability to leave something behind and try something else when you don't know where you're going. I think that's admirable and I love that quality in Picasso. You never lose the fear that you're going to f__k up and your whole reputation will be ruined, but he was fearless about what he did. There have been very few figures like that in history, willing to abandon their success in favor of possibility.
BH: Did you ever think that you'd get out of commercial art and do something else?
MG: No, I had no other ambitions. But I never thought there was a distinction between being a painter or an applied artist. Admittedly, you often have to deal with criteria that make it hard to create work of emotional or aesthetic significance. But once in a while, you do a book jacket, an album cover, an illustration that isn't compromised by having to do it for a purpose or for a client. Some people use commercial considerations as an excuse not to do extraordinary work. They say "well, we're not really free." But as you know, that's rarely true. Meaningful work presses through regardless of the constraints. In fact, for many people, constraints make good work possible. I've never believed I was being compromised as an applied artist.
BH: Were you influenced by figures like William Morris?
MG: Yes. I was very influenced by him and the Arts & Crafts movement and by other social movements that linked aesthetics and society through the idea that a well-made object produces good effects. I've always believed that if you do something well, it will have meaning. In recent years, I've been interested in African sculpture. There, the intent is totally unrelated to what we call art. It's the desire to produce an effect, to change people. Who cares about whether its art or not. Even though the intent of a vase is to hold water, somebody says, "look at that again; it's art." Ultimately, it's the work you do. Do it at the highest level and let other people worry about whether its art or not.
BH: I had mentioned earlier that I tend to think of people who draw as logical and rational. Your work is basically drawing.
MG: Yes. I'm a graphic artist in that sense. In recent years, I've moved from pen and ink and water color to crayons and softer materials. I think that's moved me away from the linear a little, but I still think in terms of form and edges rather than in tonality. I guess that's the difference: Painters see tonality. My strength has always been in shapes: Forms, edges and line.
BH: Those Wizard drawings you've done of Clarence Barron for Barron's magazine seem to embody the essence of your style. They're similar to the linear style I first saw of yours in the ‘60's, but the style is cleaner now. It describes more with less.
MG: I must say, I like those drawings. My early drawings in that style were not as good. They were more decorative. More about pattern than drawing. I was learning on the job. These are much better. I'm more sure of the form.
BH: They distill all the elements of your past work.
MG: I think the work has become clearer as I've become older. It wasn't so much the intent to distill things as it was to make things clearer. Stuff drops away.
BH: They're like your pictures for the Flowers of Evil, where you seem to have renounced style. Yet, in the Purgatory prints, it seems as if you had renounced everything but style. There are no descriptive elements, but they encompass a whole range of emotion.
MG: It is interesting that you say that. There were two things that were happening. One was that they weren't drawn. They were cut out. So, whatever facility I have at drawing had to be transformed into physically cutting something out, and I cut as well as an average person. Then there's the fact that the work itself was not predictable or controllable. I had to respond to whatever was occurring and get out of the way. I guess, to some degree, it's a way of avoiding premeditated style because the work comes from yielding to the circumstances. That is a very different idea than imposing your will on your work. The best drawings come when you look at something with reverence and yield to its uniquenes.
BH: It's this renunciation of control by someone who has spent his entire career in control that's interested me. That's why I began by asking you about Morandi. We live in a terribly prosaic age, and most poetry has become self-conscious and cliché and melodramatized. But there's poetry in your work and that's necessarily what you'd expect to find in a business-minded designer.
MG: It's certainly an aspiration. Work is not simply functional. Whatever it is that makes art worth looking at doesn't come out of your intention, but from what you are.
Copyright Milton Glaser and Brad Holland
Milton Glaser does not like the computer. On some level, it's understandable for Glaser to feel this way, since he did most of his work before the digital revolution was even a science fiction fantasy.
So what if he doesn't like the computer? Why should designers care about what Milton Glaser thinks?
Because Milton Glaser's name should be as familiar to graphic designers as Norman Mailer's is to writers. The scope and breadth of Glaser's work is still very much a starting point for most modern commercial and graphic design today. As one of the founders of the famous Pushpin Studio, the man who defined a generation of graphic design with the famous 1966 Bob Dylan poster, and the inventor of "I (Heart) New York," Milton Glaser's design sense and accomplishments make him someone whom designers cannot ignore.
Glaser is known not only for his intelligent design but also for his illustration and drawing technique. His combination of graphical elements with well-informed and well-schooled illustration talents are evident in a majority of the work on display in his new book Art Is Work. An excellent 272-page overview of a large part of Milton Glaser's talent, the $70 book is comprehensive, with Glaser's own annotations on each project.
Macworld spoke with Milton Glaser recently, covering everything from his time as a Fulbright scholar studying with Bolognese painter Giorgio Morandi to his design work. But the main topic was Glaser's apparent disdain for technology. "Technophobia is deeply engrained into my personality," he says.
Glaser disapproves of the computer as a primary design tool. This stems from his view that current college curricula lack any required art history or drawing programs. "The idea of drawing as a discipline that is necessary for the practice of design has just about vanished," he says.
Glaser has taught many designers over the years. But the decade of digital dominance has changed the environment of design -- and it's changed teaching, as well.
"In teaching [today], I've found that students have absolutely no idea, or any ability of any kind to represent their ideas through drawing . . . the imperative to draw has vanished," Glaser says.
The Milton Glaser Studio is not, however, an isolated relic from the predigital past. The New York-based studio has computers. The handful of designers he currently has in the studio use Macs "because they're the standard of the industry," Glaser says.
But Glaser himself doesn't use computers. He draws, with a pen, brush, and paper. The students and designers Glaser regards highly "develop ideas before they go to the computer, and then they go to the computer at a point which the idea has been tested."
Lack of Fuzziness
"Nothing bothers me about the computer," says Glaser, who finds digital tools "a very useful part of what I do after I work through ideas."
But Glaser believes digital design suffers from what he calls a "lack of fuzziness."
"The difference between the brain and the computer has to do with the way the brain works by maintaining its fuzziness," Glaser says. "You do a sketch -- which is why, incidentally, I think that drawing is essential -- and the brain examines the sketch and modifies it. The brain then thinks of another idea. And then you do another sketch, which is still fuzzy, and there's a response on the part of the brain, and you move in a series of steps toward clarification. The maintenance of ambiguity is a central part of how the brain works."
Some designers would disagree. While it's true that digital tools allow virtually limitless repetitions and speed, the ambiguity Glaser believes has vanished is more a matter of knowing what to see and what to look at on the monitor. It's the same as when you work with pencil in hand. Some could argue that drawing is 70 percent looking and 30 percent drawing. The same applies to working on the computer; the ideas come from the same place, and the ambiguity on the screen is still there. It's just a matter of knowing the tools better.
Weak Ideas, Well-Developed
Glaser disagrees. "The problem with the computer is that when you go on the computer, everything has to be made clear too quickly," he says. "And so the essential part of the developmental dialectic disappears. The greatest liability to the computer is that a lot of weak ideas are very well developed. The computer clarifies things too quickly."
Still, Glaser concedes that this may be a generational thing -- that he doesn't understand the tools the digital generation has grown up with. After all, any time someone comes up with a new tool -- a sharper brush, a better application -- anyone entrenched in their ways will scoff. Change may be an essential part of our makeup, but it's not always welcome.
You might like to argue with Glaser, try to coerce him to pick up a Wacom tablet and explore Painter 6. Maybe teach an old dog new tricks. But if you spend time going through Art Is Work, you'll quickly realize that it would be in vain because Milton Glaser's personal feelings about technology are really an aside. His body of work sustains itself in its own truth and, in some cases, even belies his arguments. Art is Work features several examples from a competition to design the newspaper of the future. Glaser's innovative graphic layout attempted to "do the entire day's news on two sides of a single sheet of paper" -- a vision that he notes was "made irrelevant" by the Internet. But Glaser's attempts at an analog paper bear a striking resemblance to the Internet-based news sites that exist today.
What has replaced drawing "is this idea of assembling material, a collage sensibility," Glaser says. But his work is partially responsible for the collagist's popularity and domination of design. Milton Glaser's work laid the foundation for the current direction of graphic design, not to say that there is only one particular direction, because there isn't.
Designers now have an ever-widening expanse of choices and tools to help them. Sometimes there are too many choices and too many tools. Designers can get caught up in the power and speed of the software, rather than slowing down and concentrating on the particular design problem at hand.
In this way, having too many choices and tools can sometimes be positive or negative for designers. Glaser's argument seems to be that the single good, well-thought-out idea and design is worth a thousand slick but shallow ones.
Although Glaser could not foresee the vast changes that have occurred in the industry over the past decade, some of the work depicted in his book made attempts at achieving the multiplicity and multitasking that we now enjoy. Still, Glaser's not happy about it.
"Culture is defined as much by what is prohibited as [by] what is accepted. But the Internet prohibits nothing," he says.
"We're all either victims or participants in our times," he adds. Within those parameters, his disavowal of the digital design methodology may just make him a voluntary victim. But what Glaser may not realize is that in this environment of assemblage and collage, even being a victim can be participatory. What was a piece of flotsam at one time is often an intrinsic part of new and good composition later on and vice versa.
Designers are by definition both victims and participants, defining and being defined by their times. Milton Glaser reminds us that even the newest ideas must have a basis in the threads of history and sustain themselves in the continuity of truth. After all, the tools you use should only be recognized as extensions of talent and insight -- not as replacements.
Milton Glaser has spent the better part of his long and illustrious design career teaching. He began 42 years ago and has seen student attitudes, styles, and tools change significantly since then. Through it all, though, Glaser's moral and ethical standards have remained unchanged. He continues to teach at the School of Visual Arts, in New York, where his keen cultural insights continue to inspire new generations of designers.
On students today:
"Earlier generations were more concerned about beauty and aesthetics, about accomplishing extraordinary things. Around twenty years ago a change occurred when the concern shifted to a vocational line. Everybody was thinking about how to make more money. Now, in the face of a struggling economy, there's been a return to beauty and excellence. But professional life doesn't seem enough for them. The prospect of building a business, making a good living, and having your work in the art director's show still leaves them with a sense of vacancy. They want to feel that what they're doing has a larger purpose. We all have to make a living, all want to be esteemed by our colleagues. But at a certain point you want it to add up to something bigger. Young people now are searching for something."
On artists and educators:
"There's a wonderful book called The Gift, where an anthropologist talks about a custom in one society where gifts are exchanged, but they cannot be kept. They have to be passed on. The idea behind it is that everyone involved in that process--either receiving the gift or passing it on--becomes engaged in a relationship. If you give something to someone, they have a relationship to you. They pass it onto someone else, and that person also has a relationship to you. For me, artists and educators perform this function in society, creating what I would call a receptiveness to community."
On the lost art of drawing:
"It seems to be coming back. Why? From a visual point of view, drawing is the most fundamental way of understanding the world in front of you. There is nothing more direct. It is the way you understand what you're looking at. I always tell students that when I look at someone and think, 'I have to draw that person,' I'm seeing them for the first time. The physiological act of drawing makes you conscious of the visual world. And in pragmatic terms, when you want to show something--How about this idea?--if you can't draw, then you're always using pre-existing material. This is a kind of built-in difficulty. You're always looking for stuff that already exists to demonstrate what it is you want to do. Clearly that's not the best way to start anything."
On "isms" and doctrines:
"In terms of beauty, I never understood why designers felt they had to believe in anything. Because one lesson of history is, even the most contradictory movements turn out to be beautiful. You can't trust style. It's only a device for encoding material in a certain form, so why develop a sense of allegiance? It's a kind of design fundamentalism. I mean, the old slogan 'Less is more' was bullshit. What does that mean? Sometimes less is more; sometimes less is less. A Persian rug is not less beautiful than a solid-color rug."
Martin Pedersen: You talked about how students today are searching for meaning, calling it "a return to beauty and excellence." That's a significant cultural shift, which touches on that constant struggle between design and business, art and business. How do you teach that mediation?
Milton Glaser: I try not to be overly ideological about teaching, but I believe that thinking about the consequences of your work-the issue of ethics-is essential. Since we're specifically involved in the transmission of cultural ideas-ideas about value-then we have to examine the meaning of what we're proposing to our students. So I try to suggest that a designer's role is one in which we have to be at least conscious of the consequences of what we transmit to others.
MP: How do you do that in a class setting?
MG:I do it by raising the question-what is ethics in design?-and then opening up the conversation. I try to keep the discussion Socratic, so everybody has to question. I did this piece for AIGA on the "12 Steps to Hell" that was an articulation of something I had been thinking about for a long time. In class I ask: Where would you draw the line? What would you be willing to do? The issue is not about telling people what they should be doing, but rather trying to make people conscious of what they're doing. There's a difference. And what you hope will happen is that a consciousness develops which relates what you do to the society around you. It's a very old-fashioned idea: what you do has an effect on the world you live in. And if you're concerned about the state of the world, there is no escape from the fact that you're participating in it.
MP: Are students receptive to that?
MG:Very much so. I'm always surprised by the degree of acceptance. On the other hand, I'm also surprised that there are some students who when you ask them if they would knowingly participate in an activity or an advertising that might cause someone's death they say, yes, they would be willing to do it. That is a shocking thing, but often professional life has this kind of outline to it, where you don't question the consequences of things. You simply do your job. And doing your job means following directions. If you have a cigarette account, you work on the cigarette account.
MP: Right, but most projects and products fall into a much grayer zone.
MG:Of course. The reason that questions of ethics are difficult to deal with is because they're often ambiguous. There's no great, clear answer to these things. So much of it is simply a matter of individual consciousness, a perception of your own role in life.
MP: How does that transmit itself to questions of form? Or are these issues separate from form?
MG:Over the last 15 or 20 years I've been collecting African art, and I'm very interested in African culture. One of the great things that the Africans observe is that although they may not have a word for art, they have a word for beauty. The word for beauty is often the word for good; the idea of the good and the idea of the beautiful are linked together by the language. And I've always believed that the idea of beauty and the idea of aesthetics are very much linked to a social benefit. That the species couldn't survive without art, because art is a kind of mediating device in human culture. People need it to survive.
MP: Why do you teach?
MG:I enjoy teaching. I love the act of being in front of a class. It makes me feel good. I have no other reason to teach. If I didn't look forward to it, I wouldn't do it anymore. But I find it gives me a lot of energy and makes me feel useful. For a large part of my life, feeling useful has been a dominate characteristic of what rewards me, whether it's teaching or making things or being socially active.
MP: Let's talk about drawing. You've always been somebody whose brain is wired to your hand. There's now been a whole generation, and even a second generation, who have been much less wedded to that. Are you sensing a return to the hand?
MG:I think so. There is no greater instrument for understanding the visual world than the hand and a pencil, because the idea of creating or recreating form produces a different neurological pattern than using a computer to find things. To understand the meaning of form-what a shape is, what an edge is, what space is-there's nothing more instructive than the act of drawing. Why has it been abandoned? Partially it's been given up because it's so difficult-and also the advent of modernism introduced a whole new set of values that were not necessarily useful (some of them were, some of them were not). But like every set of principles you had to pick your way through them. Still the physiological act of trying to represent the world through drawing is enormously instructive.
MP: Can drawing be taught?
MG:You can teach anyone to draw in a representational way. You cannot teach anyone to draw expressively. But you can set the stage for it. There are different kinds of drawing. Drawing for understanding is different than the drawing for demonstration. People also confuse drawing with illustration. Or think that the only people that have to learn to draw in this era are people who want to illustrate.
MP: If you could change one fundamental thing about the way design is taught, what would it be?
MG:I would change the perception of the purpose of design that is deeply imbedded in design education. Because it's linked to art, design is often taught as a means as expressing yourself. So you see with students, particularly young people, they come out with no idea that there is an audience. The first thing I try to teach them in class is you start with the audience. If you don't know who you're talking to, you can't talk to anybody.
MP: So how is an audience different from a client?
MG:There are usually three participants: a client, a designer, and an audience. Each of them has different needs. What you hope to achieve is an integration of all those needs. The client needs to sell more of his biscuits; the designer wants to do something fresh and original that also sells his biscuits; and the audience wants to feel that what you tell them about the biscuits is significant and will move them to action. So they're three legs of the stool. What you try to do is get a little bit for everybody. To some degree the reconciliation of ethics, beauty and purpose is just one thing. The game is how you reconcile what some may see as contradictory impulses and make that all come together in a singular response to the problem.
MP: You've talked a lot about clients and how your best work has always been with people you actually like. Is this still true for you?
MG:Yes. In continuing relationships with clients the only way that you can accomplish anything is by a sense of affection, by having a client like and trust you, and vice versa. Otherwise you beat your way up hill each time. You have to respect your client, your client has to respect you. But beyond respect, what you want to feel is that you can go out to lunch with somebody and have a nice time without thinking about your business.
MP: Is that the sort of invisible glue that holds it together even when you're not working on the project?
MG:I think it is. It's very chemical. People just like each other. I can't do good work with people I don't like. And now, increasingly, I get very unhappy if I have to work with people I don't like, even if I'm professionally interested in solving their problem. I just find I'm not working on all cylinders.
MP: How do you answer the student who says, "That's easy for you to do, you're Milton Glaser"?
MG:I've done it all my life. And it is easier for me to say. I don't know if I'd say it if I was totally desperate, out on the street, and had a child to send to school. I don't know what I would do, because that's not the life I lead. But it is pretty much what I've always done. Incidentally, even though some people feel like they don't have choices about it, designers usually have more choices about projects than they think. I think you'll find a lot of very good practitioners who live their life that way.
MP: We've all been trying to figure out where we are in graphic design now. It was clearer in the early '90s when David Carson was making all the text unreadable that we were in that moment. I don't know what moment we're in now. You see a lot of student work that copies what's out there. What are you seeing at the moment?
MG:There's a lot of stuff going on. I'm not sure there's a mainstream in design, because we have access to all of history. There is a tremendous awareness of how to do things that didn't exist in the beginning of the field. The field has become closer to-post-modern isn't the word I want to use-to the idea that you can be more eclectic. You don't have to be completely ideological.
MP: A lot of modernism was quite ideological.
MG:Very much so, but that was also a misunderstanding of modernism. The ideology was one manifestation of modernism. After all, modernism started with art nouveau. The modernist movement had nothing to do with geometry or Swiss grids or anything else. But one of the things about it was, speaking educationally, it was easy to teach. All forms that can be codified and simplified and made academic are easy to teach. So everyone picked up on that, and it was very hip for a while to be speaking this new language. But it turned out to be not always true.
MP: You're allowed a public role as a designer, but then you can still draw as an artist.
MG:I'm doing a wall for the Rubin Museum in SoHo. It has something to do with drawing, but it's far removed from drawing. It has something to do with graphic design, but it's a step away from graphic design.
MP: Students today seem drawn to that kind of multi-disciplinary approach.
MG:I think they like the idea, but one cannot overstate the difficulty involved in it. The nature of professional life is to keep you limited in what you do-for you to specialize. That's the way you develop a reputation. It's the professional path. You get to be the best within the category. You get known for something. It's very hard to switch around, because people don't like to be confused about what it is you do. The professional criteria does not encourage you to broaden your practice. So while a lot of people call themselves generalists, what they really mean is they're in marketing. So it's not easy. Also, people are not necessarily disposed to doing more than one thing. Some people do one thing, some do a lot of things. It's the old hedgehog and fox argument. The only thing you have to watch out for is that you're not a hedgehog working as a fox, or a fox working as a hedgehog.