Good to know

A friend posted these rules on her Facebook and I thought it was neat.  Written by Milton Glaser.

Ten Things I Have Learned
Part of AIGA Talk in London
November 22, 2001

This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realised that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.
One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognised the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.

This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.
Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.

Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’
I think this idea first occurred to me when I was looking at a marvellous etching of a bull by Picasso. It was an illustration for a story by Balzac called The Hidden Masterpiece. I am sure that you all know it. It is a bull that is expressed in 12 different styles going from very naturalistic version of a bull to an absolutely reductive single line abstraction and everything else along the way. What is clear just from looking at this single print is that style is irrelevant. In every one of these cases, from extreme abstraction to acute naturalism they are extraordinary regardless of the style. It’s absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty. I must say that for old design professionals it is a problem because the field is driven by economic consideration more than anything else. Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often. So every ten years or so there is a stylistic shift and things are made to look different. Typefaces go in and out of style and the visual system shifts a little bit. If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. I mean, after all, you have developed a vocabulary, a form that is your own. It is one of the ways that you distinguish yourself from your peers, and establish your identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. The question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult. We have all seen the work of illustrious practitioners that suddenly look old-fashioned or, more precisely, belonging to another moment in time. And there are sad stories such as the one about Cassandre, arguably the greatest graphic designer of the twentieth century, who couldn’t make a living at the end of his life and committed suicide.
But the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how – that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty.
Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you.
Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ‘ Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine.

Last year someone gave me a charming book by Roger Rosenblatt called ‘Ageing Gracefully’ I got it on my birthday. I did not appreciate the title at the time but it contains a series of rules for ageing gracefully. The first rule is the best. Rule number one is that ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ‘It doesn’t matter that what you think. Follow this rule and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late or early, if you are here or there, if you said it or didn’t say it, if you are clever or if you were stupid. If you were having a bad hair day or a no hair day or if your boss looks at you cockeyed or your boyfriend or girlfriend looks at you cockeyed, if you are cockeyed. If you don’t get that promotion or prize or house or if you do – it doesn’t matter.’ Wisdom at last. Then I heard a marvellous joke that seemed related to rule number 10. A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired ‘Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said ‘This is a meat market – we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says ‘You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says ‘Listen you little rodent I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said ‘Got any nails?’ The butcher said ‘No.’ The rabbit said ‘Ok. Got any cabbage?’

The rabbit joke is relevant because it occurred to me that looking for a cabbage in a butcher’s shop might be like looking for ethics in the design field. It may not be the most obvious place to find either. It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behaviour towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. We expect a butcher to sell us eatable meat and that he doesn’t misrepresent his wares. I remember reading that during the Stalin years in Russia that everything labelled veal was actually chicken. I can’t imagine what everything labelled chicken was. We can accept certain kinds of misrepresentation, such as fudging about the amount of fat in his hamburger but once a butcher knowingly sells us spoiled meat we go elsewhere. As a designer, do we have less responsibility to our public than a butcher? Everyone interested in licensing our field might note that the reason licensing has been invented is to protect the public not designers or clients. ‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.

I should update more :x

Why would anyone want to follow me if I never updated?  -Sigh- I only wished I had a lot to update.  I haven’t been sent out at all for auditions, so either my agent forgot about me or my headshot is in need of an update.  I think it’s both.  😡 I will update my headshots soon, before the year ends. And they’ll be bomb ass and he’ll remember to submit me.  And I guess it’s ok that I’m not being sent out cuz then it’ll give me time to concentrate on my classes.  Taking 12 hours a week of classes, I’m constantly thinking about the craft.  Taking improv classes at groundlings by day and method acting at playhouse west by night, I’m still trying to find the style that would best garner the emotions out of me.  Both styles are so different but in so many ways are sooo similar.  It really fascinates me, but maybe that’s just me missing the life of a student.

The more I delve myself into acting and get to know her, the stronger I feel that I AM made to do this.  I can do this, and I can do it well!  I’ve been doing some reading on method acting, specifically from the book “Sanford Meisner on acting”.  I guess the main lesson I’ve learned from this book is to “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances”.  This tells me that if you’re gullible, you’re gonna be a bomb ass actor, and doode! I’M GULLIBLE!  Super gullible, to the point that it angers me when I find out that people were just “joking”.  (Hah, joking as in lying! – I’m over it though).  Anyways, this form of acting is very internal and emotional.  Right now I’m in beginners, just learning the basics.  We don’t do real scenes with text. We do a bunch of two person “scenes”.  These scenes consist of a person doing an activity (an activity that requires your full attention and concentration), while another person comes to the door, and if you’re in it, you improv it out based on each other’s behaviors.  The first person must get the activity done, but how do you do it when someone else in the room wants your attention as well?  Person that comes to the door has an objective, whether it is to get a bag of sugar or something more meaningful.  Anyways, this is the set up and you just have to be able to pick up on EVERYTHING from your partner and yourself.  Whether he/she is sad, mad, annoyed, and how they affect you.  How does it make you feel? Live every little nuances moment to moment, picking up small impulses, and only do something when your gut tells you to.  Don’t think, don’t act, just feel. It’s like a gym for your emotions where you take everything personally, express it fully, and let it ALL out.

I find it interesting because society has conditioned us to keep our emotions in check.  Nobody wants to see everyone crying their sob story on the bus every frigging day right? So it’s challenging that with acting I have to unconditioned myself from that.  When I was young, I was such a crybaby.  I took everything up the butt! What makes it even more challenging is that to learn control of my emotions, I have to be able to lose control first and that’s what this class allows me to do. The book totally reaffirms the whole emotional part relative to who I am and my journey to be an actor:

“Any of the negative experiences that life has to offer have impacts of varying degrees … this feeling that you’re being mistreated, that you’re no good, which is a holdover from way back when you were almost an infant, can be a potent force in your acting.  But the confidence that permits you to say ‘I am somebody’ takes a long time to become secure in you.  The problem arises when that feeling of worthlessness is juxtaposed with something that is part and parcel of this business – namely, that you can’t learn to act unless you’re criticized.”

So how am I doing in this class?  I think I’m pretty good with picking up things from my partner. Can I get emotional?  Definitely, but I feel like I really need to be pushed there by my partner.  I’m only as good as my partner.

What about improv at groundlings?  Now where method acting is inward-out, improv is more outward-in.  BIG EMOTIONS, exaggerated to the point that it’s comical.  We do two people scenes where the audience gives a location, i.e. the gym. The two actors in the scene must set it up with the three fundamentals: who, what, and where.  Who the characters are and their relationship to each other, what they are doing in the scene, and where they are.  Since it’s improv, anything goes.  We do a lot of space work to indicate the present action within the scene (i.e. using the elliptical). We make up on the spot the relationship, “oh! You’re the best gym instructor I’ve ever had”.  And with improv, everybody is right.  Never deny, if my partner says I’m the best gym instructor, then damn right, I am the best instructor.

Improv with groundlings is not about feeling it truthfully and projecting it to your partner.  It’s more about making shit up, and justifying it later.  For me, this style works too.  Because the more I justify it, the more I can fool myself into thinking it’s true and then logically act it out truthfully.  It’s kinda like when I auditioned to take classes for groundlings.  The instructor told us to be sad.  I didn’t think back to kids bullying me back when, I just crinkled up my face and sobbed loudly, and surprisingly that got me really emotional where tears came out.  Outward in.

How am I doing in this class?  I dunno! We play a lot of games and I’m having fun.  It really allows me to think out of the box and then justify it later.  It really allows me to think and be creative, to kinda build upon my repertoire of weird ideas and imagination.

Both styles of acting: improv and method are similar too where working with your partner is extremely important.  That’s really my biggest gripe with my agent. If acting is a communal thing, reacting to your partner, listening to your partner, how can he judge my acting capabilities on a monologue?  -_- Well whatevers, I’m going to excel in these classes and hopefully show my agent that I’m made to do this. That I can be really good at this someday one day.