The Circle of Life Part II

As it’s Election Day, and almost every man in my family line was a politician, I’m posting about someone who went down another path. Chester Alan “Gavin” Arthur III was President Chester Alan Arthur’s grandson. His grandmother, Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur is one of the family members who looks exactly like my mother. After President Arthur died, his son, Chester Alan Arthur II withdrew from Columbia Law School and sailed for Europe. He then spent his life mingling with the social elite of Europe and America. He was interested in horses, women, and fine cuisine. He owned a 250,000-acre ranch in Colorado, but never dirtied his hands with actual work. Oddly, I’ve found this to be a pattern with a large portion of family members.

Conversely, his son, Chester Alan Arthur III rejected the elegant living and embraced political and social issues. In his 20s, he joined the Irish Republican Movement. In 1930, he founded the magazine, Dune Forum, which promoted communication between the masses and intellectual elite. He was a member of the Utopian Society of America with John Updike. In the 1950s he taught at San Quentin State Prison.

By the late 1950s, Arthur moved to San Francisco and was part of the Beat Movement, devoting his time to astrology. In 1966, he wrote The Circle of Sex, a book about gay, bisexual, and gender issues in astrology. His life intersects mine in 1967. He used an astrological chart to determine the date for the Human-Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I was there. At the end of his life, in 1972, he was a leader in the gay movement, and had been married to three women.

This seems to be the pattern in the family:

Generation 1: Someone works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

Generation 2: Uses the money from the previous generation and enjoys the high life.

Generation 3: Goes counterculture

Generation 4: Works hard, does well, and is engaged politically.

And it starts again.

If I could do it again, I’d rather be in Generation 2, than 4. Its sounds like so much more fun to spend life worried about first class tickets on the Queen Mary, than going to meetings and meeting deadlines.

President Chester Alan Arthur I

The Shape of Air

There are not too many things in life that make me angry. I like to think I am fairly even. Those of you close to me can stop snickering. But, there are a couple of things that make me furious. I want to slug someone when I’m doing a lecture at school, and he or she is texting or working on the computer. I know they aren’t taking notes; they’re shopping or chatting with friends.  I hate people who drive with the seat so far forward that they are two inches from the steering wheel, and think 15 mph is too fast. And I really get mad when I suggest that a student takes time to look at the work of someone, and they don’t, and their project still sucks the next week.

When anyone is having trouble with shapes, I send them to look at A.M. Cassandre’s work. When I was in school, Lou Danziger did the same for me. I did take time to look and it was one of those epiphanic moments in life. A.M.Cassandre worked in Paris from the early 1920s until his death in 1968. His work took elements of Cubism, Futurism, Art Deco, and Bauhaus Modernism and molded them into a unique form. The posters look effortless and fluid, but they are held together with rigor and structure. He had a remarkable sense of scale. The small flock of birds at the waterline on the Normandie poster creates a heroic scale. His Dole Pineapple posters are as sensual as a Georgia O’Keefe painting. It is his sense of shape that is genius. Liquid and solid, effortless and exact, the shapes create harmony and balance. So, if I suggest looking at Cassandre, the subtext is “Your shapes are awful.”

Images from the Louis Danziger Collection

Der Unzulänglichkeit Menschlichen Strebens

I have a complicated relationship with Herbert Bayer. He was a remarkable designer who shaped Modernism, the Bauhaus, and modern design. And he worked for the National Socialist party. It is difficult to talk about Bayer without addressing his complicity with the Nazis. Here is the issue: we can look at Bayer’s other work, such as Das Wunder Des Lebens and find a remarkable sense of scale, montage, three dimensional space, and typography. But, like the filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, who claimed she didn’t realize she was making Nazi propaganda, Bayer’s complicity shadows the work. Another booklet by Bayer, Deutschland Ausstellung was created for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The client was the National Socialist Party. This piece deserves a post to itself, but I cannot discuss Bayer and whitewash the context.

Bayer raises questions that are not easy to answer. Who do we work for? Are they good? What are the levels of wrongdoing we will tolerate if we are lauded and rewarded for our work? In a 1940s black and white movie, these answers would be clear and simple. The hero decides to bypass fame and fortune for the good of family, or society. But, unfortunately, we are complex and contradictory.

I was judging a competition several years ago, and one of the entries was for a client that used hate-based propaganda. I didn’t vote for it, but one of the other judges felt I should ignore the content and base my choice on design and communication alone. If we are responsible as communicators, then the content of the work we do is the heart of every project. I’ve used the hypothetical situation of judging an incredible piece for the Nazis as an example. Is it in, or out?

images from the Louis Danziger Collection