Time after Time

Marianne Brandt, student at the Bauhaus, 1931

When someone asks me, "With all the different technologies, which one is the most important for a designer to learn?" If I were clever I'd answer, "flash." But I'm too honest and, of course, explain that good concepts and smart thinking will always be more important than the newest tools. Every generation believes they are the hippest chosen people of all time. The old people are clueless and totally square. It's good this happens, otherwise, culture would stop evolving and we'd be trapped in 1892.


Students and Professors at the Bauhaus, 1920s and 1930s

Images of students at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s show super groovy people, strange art people, and tortured hairstyles. The same is true for Black Mountain College in the 1930s. Cool design students talking about design and hanging out. When I was at CalArts, we were certain we were so much cooler than anyone over thirty. We took artsy Polaroids and did live drawing from new wave models. Today, at ArtCenter, I can see myself through the eyes of my students, a square dude with odd plaid shirts and khakis. This may be true, but DO NOT mistake them for Dockers. They're Brooks Brothers and J. Crew., which is probably just as un-hip.


Students at Black Mountain College, 1930s and 1940s

Ray Johnson, Black Mountain College, 1945


CalArts, 1980s


ArtCenter, 2010s

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.

Beatings at the Bauhaus

This is what I hate: I'm giving a lecture about Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus and someone is sleeping. Not just nodding off here and there, but face down on the desk. First, if you're so tired you can't be interested in the Bauhaus, you should get medical attention. Second, I'd understand (sort of) if I were doing a lecture on the variations of black-letter typefaces, but the Bauhaus is filled with subversive behavior, radical shifts in thinking, World War I death and destruction, and Nazis marching into people's apartments and arresting them.

When someone sleeps through all of this, I'd like to (forgive the cursing here) smack the mother-fucking shit out of them. But we don't do that in polite society.

I compare this with a visit I made to the Bauhaus a couple of years ago with 12 of the most Cracker-Jack students I've known. For a designer, this was like returning to the source of all life. And these students were following an educational pedagogy based on the Bauhaus' approach. This, in extraordinarily simplified terms, the studio approach, working and making, using craft and design for industry. 

Of course, rather than ending our visit with an espresso and pastries, we honored the Bauhaus students with beer. Oddly, everyone managed to stay awake through the entire journey. 


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.

Left of Center

margetlarsen

Many of you have written me and asked, "Sean, WTF? What happened to Burning Settlers Cabin?" The simple answer is that I have four jobs: AdamsMorioka, Art Center, AIGA, and Lynda.com. As you know, I was also in Berlin for three months for the Art Center TestLab. And, of course, I have a very busy routine hanging out at the country club drinking martinis, tennis lessons, and playing golf every afternoon. But now, I'm getting a handle on it all and back to bring optimism back to the world.

In between my freshman and sophomore year at college, I was asked to interview at Landor and Associates for an internship. The interview was remarkably humiliating. The first comment being, "Uh, you might want to consider cleaning up the rubber cement on your projects, and using something other than a chainsaw to trim them." The downside was no internship. The upside was a great lesson that my sloppy, messy CalArts portfolio wouldn't fly in the actual professional world.

In my head, I imagined all the work in San Francisco to be like the remarkable packaging Marget Larsen did there. Her projects for Joseph Magnin were light and playful and people coveted them. They have a tinge of counter-culture, Victorian eclecticism, and clear Modernism. Most importantly, they were fun. They didn't look constipated, uptight, and angry. It was clear that the designer enjoyed making them. Today, when every project is run through ten committees and budget is the highest concern, it is hard to imagine anyone giving the green-light to a box that turns into a Thonet chair or multi-colored set of game boxes. Larsen's work is ground-breaking and was widely imitated. She had the misfortune of working at a time when few women in the profession were recognized on a coast where only "far-out and wacky" work was produced.

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