Week 1 – Brief Introductions
Maxim Gorky's quote at the beginning of Bruno Munari's Book 'Design As Art' (1971 translation)

Week 1 – Brief Introductions

Carrying on from Contemporary Practice’s expressive typography, I am interested in adapting the text of a book in different ways, and finding a theme of which texts or stories to adapt – a why.

Using work undertaken in both modules one and three, I am interested in re-purposing old or ephemeral elements of graphic design, such as letterpress blocks, maps, newspapers, magazines, books, single-use bags, etc.

A survey of Los Angeles’s typographic vernacular that speaks to drivers and adapting it to/for viewers or readers who are not in motion.

Looking at the intersection of (graphic) design and art. Can work sit in both areas? When does one become the other, is that even possible? What happens when we push design close to the boundary of art? Does it just become meaningless decoration?

After posting on the ideas wall and the tutorials, and thinking and reading some more about art and design, I have decided to tweak it slightly and attempt to incorporate all four in some form.

‘An artist is a man who digests his own subjective impressions and knows how to find a general objective meaning in them, and how to express them in a convincing form.’  Maxim Gorky

This quote – found via Bruno Munari and taken completely out of context – as well as both Thom Andersen’s Los Angles Plays Itself, a movie that documents Los Angeles through cinema, and City of Gold, another film that looks at the city’s diverse cultures and inhabitants through food, influenced me to somewhat combine the four aforementioned areas to create a graphic documentation of Los Angeles and a response to it. 

This could include both its past and current vernacular, signage influenced by the car, shifting demographics and neighbourhoods, as well as the city’s fictional portrayal in all media.

I aim to document Los Angeles in an expressively graphic  – and shamelessly personal – way. That is the simple version.

It is a little early to be clear or too specific on what the outputs could be, but I would like to look further into pushing design and art closer together as a strategy or technique in this project, rather than the theme of the project itself. Currently, I would imagine the project to involves prints and perhaps an accompanying book. A book would allow explanatory text or essays, but that seems beyond the scope of a four-week project.

Brief overview.

Jennifer Walsh’s advice is good, but it is either vague or specific to her. Surely, the key to a self-initiated project is that it comes from the individual initiating it. I might even argue that it doesn’t need an overt problem to begin with. For professionals engaging in problem-solving, target audience, and the why-behind-the-why-behind-the-why processes, a self-initiated project could be used as a palate cleanser or a piece of practical research that during the approach, process, execution can be unpicked to reveal latent or subconscious interests or even problems. Of course, there is a danger of it being self-centred navel-gazing, and I am a bit concerned about that in the current iteration of my brief.

I am still deeply interested in the boundaries of art and design, and why as designers and artists we respectively, and at time ferociously – seek to defend our discipline or realm. I am not saying there is no value to that, but I am also not clear on what that value is. I am not convinced that design or art is solely defined by the practitioner or the viewer. However, for this four-week project – and let’s face it, it’s actually just three weeks really – it borders on hubris to attempt any sort of resolution of that question. That does not mean that using some boundary-shift art vs design exercises could or indeed should not be part of the project. As I mention, I am hoping to use it as a tool, a technique, a strategy, an experiment – whatever, one might call it, to gain a little more purchase on the subject.

As for the redundant pieces of design and culture, I am not really talking about a McLuhan-esque, new-technology-brings-old-technology-with-it-and-makes-it-art kind of idea (though certainly interesting for the former paragraph’s thoughts), not in the People really want to use Letterpress for high-end projects, or there is a real devotion to maps and niche positioning of everything and probably a magazine for people who still fax typewritten letters, there is still some guy using a Nokia and boring everyone about its superiority to contemporary phones. I am interested in the detritus of design and production technology, and want to use – where appropriate or applicable – in a changed context, scale, meaning, purpose.

As for my personal interest in Los Angeles’s, I am not entirely sure, except that it is frequently considered a flat, ugly, repetitive city, except for some beautiful places and sunsets, whereas I see it almost in reverse. Its merciless, dynamic destruction, repurposing, and renewal its profit-driven, uncontrolled graphics and typography, the diversity of cultures and languages to be seen everywhere, the concrete ribbons of freeways – there is an authenticity in these things, and there are nuggets or pearls within all of this, both graphically and physically.

‘We know that only the technical means of artistic achievement can be taught, not art itself. The function of art has in the past been given a formal importance which has severed it from our daily life; but art is always present when a people lives sincerely and healthily. – Walter Gropius in the Bauhaus Manifesto (according to Munari)

The first line of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays on Thomas Bros. pages.






Munari, B. (1971). Design As Art. 1st ed. London: Penguin.

Leave a Reply