On Bad Decisions

For many years, I have warned others that using that uber-mondo-groovy typeface may impress others at first, but then will become an embarrassment, like a bad high school haircut. I used this reasoning with a certain authority, often described as “smugness” by others. I had large hair in high school, but it was basically a bigger version of my hair today.

Then I found a series of episodes of American Bandstand on YouTube that included me. These make the bad type choice seem laughable. Not only did I choose excessively trendy clothes; I wore them on national television. I’m sure at the time, I thought my yellow Ton Sur Ton shirt from Paris and red Vans were so totally on track. I added my paint splattered Swatch watch to show that I was creative. It was a train-wreck of 1980s Southern California style. Fortunately, it was a detour. As evidenced below, a photograph from my pre-school on Russian Hill in San Francisco. Far left, I am wearing close to my current everyday clothes.

Sean, far left: in madras, khakis, and Converse sneakers

Sean, far left: in madras, khakis, and Converse sneakers

The choice to be on American Bandstand may seem odd. It started with an idea my best friend Erica and I had to go on a local dance show aired on public access in the Valley. We thought it would be fun and Ironic (remember, in Art School, one thinks this way). Erica’s dad suggested we think bigger and do Bandstand. Why not? It was even more ironic. Erica, her cousin Tina, my friend Peter and I sent photos and a note explaining why we wanted to be on Bandstand to Dick Clark Productions. A couple of weeks later, we received letters asking us to join the next taping of six episodes.

It began as an ironic conceptual art project, but quickly became a serious issue once we realized that we needed six different outfits. I could pull off one or two groovy looks, but six was excessive. Somehow we managed, although some of the choices were far more disturbing as seen by the examples posted below.

The lesson here:

  1. Don’t use trendy typefaces

  2. Stay away from groovy clothing choices

  3. Get a haircut if your hair is giant

  4. Don’t go on a dance program and dance in a listless and “art school I don’t care about anything” way.


For those young people who have no idea what American bandstand is:

American Bandstand is an iconic audio-visual time capsule encompassing four decades worth of dances, performances, fashions and fads in popular music. The show, hosted by Dick Clark from 1956 to 1989, introduced new musical acts to generations of Americans. (https://www.dickclark.com/shows/american-bandstand)

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Nude Nude Girls

This week in my Communication Design 1 class, we talked about audience and allusion. I use the example of Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and the application of this painting to other projects. Whenever I try to explain this I’m sure they are staring at me and thinking, “I have no idea what he is saying. I think he’s lost his mind.” But, that’s fine because I’m not sure about my mind lately.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe was a scandal when it was exhibited in 1863. It was rejected by the Salon, and then shown at Salon de Refusés. Today it seems rather innocuous. Yes, there is a nude woman, but so what? Haven’t nude women existed in art for millennia? Yes, but in 1863, it was only appropriate when the woman appeared in a religious or mythological context. It was one thing to have a nude sculpture of the goddess Diana, but entirely different to have an ordinary woman nude. And having a picnic. With men. Shocking.

Jump ahead 120 years and the band Bow Wow Wow appropriates the image for their album cover. This is how allusion and audience works: if you know the background of Manet’s painting, you recognize it on Bow Wow Wow’s cover. You know the message here is that Bow Wow Wow is scandalous and shocking. You feel special and smart. If you don’t know the Manet reference it still works if you are a 16-year-old new wave kid living on a farm, “Nude girl. Cool.”

The album cover was in actuality scandalous because the lead singer, Annabella Lwin, was only 15 when the photo was released. This led to an uproar about child abuse and investigation by Scotland Yard. As a side note, when I was 19, I met Annabella during my time on American Bandstand. She had a wonky Mohawk, but one of the few guests who interacted with the kids.

Recently someone sent me Stano Masár’s version of Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. It’s wonderful and points to the issue of allusion and audience perfectly. With such a small amount of information, I recognize this. Yeah, I’m groovy, I know modern art history.