That Perfect Day

George Hurrell, Errol Flynn

Every few months one of the news channels does a story about the unethical practice of Photoshopping models. "They send the wrong message." "Nobody could meet that level of perfection." "It's dishonest and false." Yes, these are all true. But it's not a new concept realized by the power of Adobe tools.

The Greeks slowly refined their sculpture of the human body over several hundred years. The first figures of gods and goddesses were more realistic than Egyptian stylized sculpture. By the Classical period, they managed to perfectly recreate a human body in marble. The figures were perfect anatomically. But nobody liked these. So the sculpture moved toward an idealized version of the human form. Take a couple of ribs out, reposition the oblique, create stances that defy gravity, all good. People liked these.

In the 1930s, George Hurrell mastered a technique that reframed the movie stars of the period as the gods. He posed them in romanticized settings, added flawless lighting, and retouched the images creating a marble like appearance while holding the sharp detail. Other photographers have attempted to recreate this technique, but there is an extra spark in the Hurrell images. Again, the public opted for the fantasy of perfect creatures living in paradise, free from disease, poverty, and depression. 

My headshot has been heavily retouched. I'm rather wrinkled and aged so I demand this. Of course, it's a shock when people meet me in real life. It can be demoralizing when someone shrinks back kind of throwing up in their mouth, but at least the photo is nice.

Veronica Lake

Joan Crawford, unretouched left, retouched right

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.

On Being Plain

Every once in awhile, I get a hankerin’ to be taken seriously. I’ll see a critical theory article that deconstructs one of my friends’ work and think, “Maybe I should be doing that kind of work.” Envy is a terrible and pointless emotion. But then, I remember our mission. When we started AdamsMorioka in 1993, we wanted to go the opposite direction. There was so much desperate work then that screamed, “I’m serious! I have no sense of humor. I am only intended to be understood by a select group of intellectual theorists.” I wanted to be the Beach Boys, not Bauhaus (the band), Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Karen FinleySteven Speilberg, not Luis Buñuel. This doesn’t mean I'm anti-intellectual, or don't admire artists who push limits. I love things that are way out of the park. And I refuse to deny anyone the right to create whatever they desire. So, what does this mean?

Ed Fella said it best when he called my work American Pragmatism. It’s about being plain spoken and honest, not fancy and oblique. Maybe it’s because I'm from the West and can’t think differently. I'm interested in speaking to the broadest audience possible, making life a little better for them, and treating every other designer with respect and dignity. I'm not interested in excluding or demonizing others because they do work unlike mine. Everyone deserves to be celebrated and revered.

Now the funny part of this is that we both came out of a deeply theoretical education at CalArts. I can subvert, deconstruct, and pastiche with the best of them, but I do it with stealth. As long as the form is seductive, appealing, and aesthetic, I can pour in as much meaningor contradiction as needed. But, I'm human. When someone at a conference says, “You’re so funny. Everything you do is so cute.” This feels minimizing and I’m tempted to do that oblique and complex poster in the nude that nobody understands. Then I remember why I like plain and honest, something that has optimism and joy. So I leave you with these sentiments:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will Rogers

 “The world belongs to you as much as the next fellow. Don’t give it up.” — Rodgers and Hammerstein

 “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs. We've been having fun all summer long.” — Beach Boys

 “ET phone home.” —Steven Spielberg

Emotionally Repressed Party Chatter

I’ve often been called uptight. I would tend to agree. I understand uptight people in movies. Everyone else thinks they’re the villain, emotionally rigid, or deranged. They just seem sensible to me. This comes, no doubt from a long line of, as Noreen calls them, “Uptight white people.” There are times, however, when the uptight problem turns into a self-abuse spiral. When I go to a speaking engagement, party, or conference, I spend the following day pondering what I may have done that was offensive. I typically have two primary offenses (there are probably many more, but I can only manage two).

First, I meet people who I have met before, but don’t recall them. I’m always careful to introduce myself, even if I’ve just been onstage, and say something such as, “It’s nice to see you, I’m Sean,” or “I’m so glad you’re here tonight.” Most people go with the flow and manage a pleasant conversation. Of course, once in awhile somebody challenges me, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I know I’ve offended them, but the problem isn’t that they aren’t important, it’s that I can’t remember my own family member’s names.

My other problem is turning my back on somebody. I’ll be carrying on a conversation, and in the middle be interrupted by someone else, usually by yanking on my collar. I’ll turn to acknowledge them, and then, the other party feels that I have simply become bored and turned away. Once again, it’s a brain problem. I have a true talent for deep focus on one subject, but I can’t juggle more than one conversation. So, if I have turned my back on you, it is a reflection of my growing senility, not your company.

I was taught a few simple rules by my grandmother who seemed to live only to practice correct manners.

1. No one ever wants to hear, “I know your face, but who are you?” If you can’t recall someone, the best approach is to say something harmless, “That is a really fantastic tie.” Hopefully, he or she will say something to trigger your memory.

2. Alternatively, no one wants to be accused, “You don’t remember me. Do you?” Instead, if you see someone out of context, or haven’t seen him or her for some time, provide some information, “Jane, it’s so good to see you. I’m Peter Meriwether. We met at Alice Thornton’s club.”

3. Never provide unsolicited advice. It is rarely if ever wanted, even by hyperactive attention seeking children.  It is one thing to lean in quietly and say, “Jack, you might want to check your trousers’ zipper.” This is helpful and a friend will always appreciate the heads up. It is quite another to say, “Thomas, your family may have been in politics for generations, but let me give you some tips on the correct way to campaign.” This type of advice only reads as bitter, condescending, and unpleasant, regardless of the intent.

4. When the conversation dips, these are three comments to move it along: “Tell me about your garden. I hear it’s incredible,” “Now, what brought you to Darien (or wherever you are),” and “Would you consider your taste to be traditional or contemporary?” These are all safe subjects and give a platform for conversation. “Did you know your hair is thinning?” is really wrong.

My Uptight White People