• Lz_2
Graphic Design

Today is the first day of the rest of your life – Demand the impossible

Guest posted by Lawrence Zeegen,

Over the last couple of weeks streams of students all over the world have started their new terms in art and design courses. In an arena that always commands a bit of debate, we’ve asked educator Lawrence Zeegen to stick his neck out and tell us what he makes of the art-school world as it stands. As the title suggests, it’s a piece loaded with opinion, so don’t just sit there grumbling in despair or nodding in agreement – click through and let us know what you think…

Attempt to shoehorn together two philosophically opposing counterculture mantras and you’d normally be in a heap of trouble. And while it isn’t often that you’ll find two rival factions come together; the Hippy edict – ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life’ and the Situationist-inspired punk decree – ‘Demand the Impossible’ jointly manifest to act as a rally call and call-to-arms for every design course fresher in the land…

Being at art school, and that includes university-run design faculties too, must act as a challenge; be life-changing, life-affirming and instill a lust for life that smashes preconceptions, and kick-starts freedom, creativity and invention. The very start of your art school education must be your very own personal ground zero.

But in a brave new world of university fees and student finance/debt is it any wonder that many of tomorrow’s mavericks and misfits are commencing three years of study knuckling down to the proposition of rowing boats rather then rocking boats. In recession-hit UK Ltd art and design students are in peril – in real danger of playing too safe, too wrapped in the cotton wool of conformity as they over-worry what the future might bring…

UK creativity has always relied on the nonconformist, eccentric, individualist, one-of-a-kind, odd-one-out rebels; those prepared to roll the dice of risk. Is it just me that remains unconvinced that in today’s climate of fear; today’s art and design students, tomorrow’s artists and designers, just aren’t pushing hard enough, aren’t bucking the system, leading an insurgent revolt or dissenting, rising up – where have all the radicals gone? The memory of the civil rights Berkeley student rebellion of 1964, the Parisian student revolt of 1968, the Soweto uprising of 1976, even the poll tax riots of 1990 are all now a distant glimmer.

Even the YBAs, the last generation of true innovators and still the most recent height of creativity spurned by this country’s art schools, are old school. The middle-aged YBAs are yet to be upstaged and overshadowed. Ok, so student radicalism can’t be summoned like a genie from a lamp; but isn’t it time for a movement to rise to the surface that scares us, dares us and shakes from our sedated sleepwalk into slumberland?

So, as term starts and your bright new future begins just remember one thing – Today is the first day of the rest of your lives so don’t just opt for the easy life – Demand the Impossible, and start to make a difference…

Lawrence Zeegen is an educator, illustrator and writer. Zeegen is Head of School of Communication Design at Kingston University, a regular contributing illustrator to the Guardian newspaper and the author of four books on contemporary illustration. www.zeegen.com

Comments

12942303885856423 thehilly on Tue Oct 13th 2009

I think the discovery of the SI was a major turning point in my uni life - it didn't come along until my final year, but reading The Society of the Spectacle acted as a massive inspiration (maybe even a guidebook, or even catalyst) on how to say fuck you! and do what you like, through an attitude and creative output. It inspired my studies which dealt with this exact issue - I think that there is still rebellion and subversion, but its coming to fruition on the internet, and not in the streets as it was 40 years ago. There is nonconformity and radicals, its just lost online - no one seems to be slapping it in the face of 'the system' and making it obvious for everyone to see. Maybe the internet has taken the edge away??

Great post, I think every creative needs to see it (and the inspiration) in their first term, thank you INT!x

12942303894146342 GalaCollette on Tue Oct 13th 2009

I'm just sitting there, nodding in agreement.

12942303902082756 rachillustrates on Tue Oct 13th 2009

Yeah, I agree with all of that. I graduated this year and have felt that I could have got more from my course. But I think thats mainly lack of direction/challenge from my uni itself. I worked as hard as I could possibly have done; there just wasnt the support. I always felt I could have chosen better. I made the most of what was there though, definitely. Miss being a student a lot.

12942303909167464 guppology on Wed Oct 14th 2009

It's difficult with so many new design students and graduates coming out of the woodwork every year to filter out the people who will kick up against conformity and create things genuinely unique. Its the same for anything that goes from being dominated by a few to many. There are still many out there who are willing to go against the grain, you just have to look harder amongst the sea of sheep.

12942303917893755 robjbowes on Wed Oct 14th 2009

I agree with guppology. Sieving through the sheep takes longer now than ever and more perseverance, not nearly as many people were graduating with art/design degrees 20 years ago, as are now; there was much less competition.
I don't think the YBA's are doing anything radical themselves at the moment (Damien Hirst just did some painting's for example...how radical) and some of their work came out after the countries finances' were in a similar state to what they are now; there's nothing to say this current "world crisis" won't prove to be another similar catalyst for new work.
Also Mr.Zeegan is my new head of school as i'm in my 3rd year of graphic design at Kingston, maybe I'll have a talk with him.

1294230392481881 alanofford on Wed Oct 14th 2009

Art isn't the catalyst for radical movements anymore, the rise of public sites like YouTube and Twitter has made it possible to spread the message far further than ever before, and in (pretty much) real-time. (For reference just look happened over the Guardian vs. Trafigura gagging order the other day)
I don't really know where art and design fits into the age of instant information, even this comment will be out-of-date by the time I've finished typing it.

I'd like to see the next generation of students challenging the way we (are failing) to interact with the real world anymore. Oh, and never give up.

12942303933562539 DIYDIT on Wed Oct 14th 2009

"In a market-led society creators can too soon become dependent on the very structures that they seek to disrupt. The spectator finds himself implicated in the very processes that he hopes to criticise. Art may start out as a challenge to the status quo, but fast-developing society soon catches up and subsumes it. Even the artist who starts out as a fierce radical ends up as a darling of the Establishment."

Rachel Campbell-Johnston. The Times. August 4 2009.

‘To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.’

Elbert Hubbard, Artsand Crafts’ Roycroft Press.

12942303940788248 DIYDIT on Wed Oct 14th 2009

Both are reasons to make work, to make work and to try and understand the systems in which we work, to question assumptions and to challenge and try and improve the ways in which we communicate together, students graduates, tutors. www.conwayandyoung.com

12942303948668861 gekfin on Sun Oct 18th 2009

As for me, going to a design school (studying 2nd year on my GD, BA course) was a decision of a great priority, as it mean the change in my prospective radically. You can rely on yourself & be successful today if you are making yourself spin 360 degrees around everyday making lots of effort towards something more or less defined, becoming aware of most of the events and things going on around the world. In these circumstances, it is of a higher importance to define the priority goals for yourself as a student, so that you know where to head yourself. That would avoid you being "good" in everything, and make you shine in a certain way. You know, we never hear about best tailor,
manager, art director, illustrator - being one person. You are only in the list, when you are sure to offer something you do better then others, maybe sometimes narrowing your activity to a certain city.

"If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important"
Michael McDonough, Top ten things then have never taught me in design school

Posted by Lawrence Zeegen

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. Main3

    An old soul such as myself appreciates when modern-day designers and illustrators go out of their way to make something look like it fell out of a cardboard box that hasn’t been opened since 1972. Rob Carmichael’s design studio SEEN is a New York and LA-based bunch of art directors and creatives who together help to create some of the best album artwork around at the moment.

  2. List

    I have heard it said that the New York graphic design scene is more splintered and less cohesive than its London counterpart, but the Image of The Studio initiative we covered last year was a fascinating way of bringing together more than 75 NYC studios to compare and contrast the way they each work. It also became a great resource to discover designers we didn’t know that much about, and with each studio commissioned to create something original that reflected their philosophy and aesthetic, it provided a great way into the New York scene.

  3. List

    German design studio Hort prides itself on being an “unconventional working environment” and a “place where work and play can be said in the same sentence.” In this video by Analog Mensch Digital, Hort’s much-loved creator Eike Konig talks about their work and ethos whilst rolling paint and printing a poster. The camera wanders about the studio past leaning bikes and big white desks, scrolling up bookcases and dwelling on the Anthony Burrill posters gracing the walls. Eike is always worth listening to, whether he’s musing on the differences between international and German clients, traditional and digital work and the morals of design. He says: “Visual language is a strong language. We have responsibility in the use of this power.”

  4. List

    It seems that Jacob Klein and Nathan Cowen are incapable of turning out a dud project. From their humble beginnings as a meticulously curated stream of stunning imagery to their present guise as multi-faceted design and art direction agency, the Haw-Lin boys just keep on coming up with the goods. This might not seem surprising to devotees of their original Haw-Lin blog, but it’s surprising how often arbiters of style lack substance. Not so for these boys; their fanatical eye for detail goes beyond simple aesthetic curation, extending into a portfolio of capsule collections for fashion brands, editorial shoots for the most erudite magazines and immaculate lookbooks that manage to add depth and pace to publications that can often be painfully bland.

  5. List

    I always think that creating the identity for a design conference is one of the most thankless commissions around – all those attendees ready, willing and able to offer informed and immediate feedback. So when we see it done well it only seems to right to give credit where it’s due, and Build did a fine job for this year’s TypeCon gathering.

  6. List_copy

    In the introduction to his exceptional new Erik Spiekermann monograph, Johannes Erler sums up “Spiekermann in two sentences” by way of this quotation: “I’m totally chaotic. I’m so untogether, my left leg doesn’t even know what my right leg is doing. I need order. I need systems. I don’t really do anything without a design grid.”

  7. List_2

    Their website is a combination of fluorescent colours, textures, media and effects so hectic that you can’t help but surrender yourself to it, but it’d be foolish to assume The Royal Studio’s design work is as chaotic as it appears. Behind the madness is a method which elevates their vibrant, contemporary design beyond the realms of trendy and into something actually very interesting, whether it’s an Honest Manifesto which claims that “everyone loves titles and captions” but they “don’t give a fuck about content” (repeated to fill) or a very well-executed poster advertising the studio’s 15-day tour around cities including Zagreb, Ljubljana, Dijon and Porto. The fact remains that Portugal-based Royal Studio are taking conventional graphic design and turning it on its head to see what happens, and we’re really enjoying admiring the results.

  8. List

    Of all the design disciplines, typography is almost certainly the least sexy. But Dan Rhatigan is one of the people who is able to talk about type in an engaging, and very human way. Earlier this year the Monotype type director worked with Grey London on Ryman Eco, described as “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font,” as it uses 33% less ink than the likes of Arial, Times New Roman, Georgia and Verdana.

  9. Tumblr_n4iq1a8swj1qdf776o1_1280

    Anyone you know a downright sourpuss? Treat ‘em to a link to work by Hungarian designer Anna Kövecses. Here at It’s Nice That we give high praise to work that is candy-coloured and cute – as long as it never falls under the tasselled umbrella of “twee.” Anna’s work is a perfect example of that as beneath the childish exterior lies a wealth of design knowledge and style.

  10. List

    In the year-and-a-half since we first featured Belgian designer Vincent Vrints on the site his fortunes have risen with the quality of his work. We were always enamoured with his canny ability to create aesthetically astounding imagery and merge it with equally appealing layouts, but he’s refined his process and embraced some new digital techniques resulting in a portfolio that floats between the retro and the ultra futuristic.

  11. Main8

    Google Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums and almost every book cover design that appears either depicts someone hitchhiking or it has the aesthetic of a grotty travel diary of someone who’s been “finding themselves” along a motorway for a month or two too long. Kerouac’s novels don’t even need covers, right? They’re stand-alone pieces of literary genius. Big applause is needed then for Copenhagen designer Torsten Lindsø Andersen who has taken the rulebook of second-rate Kerouac book design and thrown it out the train window on to the track where it belongs. These ambient, sterile designs he’s proposed for the author’s back catalogue are the perfect fit to the words within: weird, unpredictable, drunk and unique.

  12. List

    I am a big believer that every magazine should be able to sum up what it does in a few words. New title The-Art-Form does just that with the pithy statement that it’s “a limited edition publication about art and artists.” Issue one features six artists – Ian Davenport, Peter Liversidge, Rana Begum, Dan Baldwin, Michael Reisch and Paul Insect – and each has been asked 13 questions ranging from why they make art to their favourite place. The answers vary not only in tone and subject matter (as you’d expect) but also in form, so while Ian has provided handwritten answers, Michael, Dan and Rana have created paintings, drawings and sketches in response to the questionnaire.

  13. List

    Over the last few weeks we have been exploring how Shillington College are revolutionising design education through their own model of practically-focused graphic design tuition. We talked to the teachers about how they put together this new kind of course and to those employers who have found the college to be an invaluable resource of young design talent. To round off this series of features, we went along to the London Graduation Show a few weeks ago to chat to some of the students about their experiences, so rather than hear it from us, best hit play and hear it straight from them…