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.

Cruel Story of Youth

Communication Design 1 is the class at Art Center that is a student’s introduction into ideas, idea making, and the power of images. It’s also a hard class to teach. And sometimes other teachers have a snobby attitude, “Oh, those lower level classes. Well, I would never teach one of those.”  Now I know how people felt when my family members would say, “Bless her soul, what a sense of style. Of course, I could never wear something like that.”

I remember my first class in college. It was with a great designer, Milt Zolotow. First, I couldn’t believe I was in the same room with Milt. Secondly, he was standing right next to the words, “Fuck You,” that someone has scribbled on the wall. Now I am in the same spot, standing in front of people on the first day of their first class. I make sure there are not swear words on the wall next to me. The hard part of CD1 is helping students realize great concepts when they may not have the technical skills yet. But, when they pull it all together, the results are spectacular.

The final project is designed to push their limits and force some introspection, rather than simply making nice jam labels. The assignment is to design a poster for a fictional conference that is about dangerous ideas. The students determine what idea is dangerous for them. The best results come from someone taking a risk. The solutions that fail are usually safe and nice, and that’s all. I’d rather someone tackles a really difficult issue and go down in flames, than do something “nice.” For months I hammer on “less is more,” “make it clear,” “why is that there?” “What does it mean?” and “No bold serifs.” Then I throw a curve ball and ask someone who is twenty years old to tell everyone his or her deepest issues. That’s the fun in teaching.