I really enjoyed reading the three 20th century manifestos — so varied in tone and context, which I could appreciate given their respective introductions. As we talked about in the first class, historical context can be vital in understanding what a piece is really arguing, or where these arguments stem from.
The futurist manifesto’s prose struck me — its captivating rhythm seemed to strengthen its own argument about energy and speed. I looked for the original Italian text thinking the fluency I once had in the language would add a new dimension to my understanding — and while I didn’t understand it nearly as well as in English, I felt even more enamored with the sound of the words. Of course all of this beauty is punctuated by extremely unsettling rhetoric, glorifying war and nationalism while vilifying “moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.” The introduction warned us, but I still wasn’t ready for how enthusiastically Marinetti advocates for these oppressive ideas. The writing reels you in by its energy, making the manifesto extremely attractive to a willing audience.
The constructivist manifesto felt less straightforward, maybe by design. It reads more like poetry — diffuse, fragmented, even confusing until a second read. At first I couldn’t tell which “side” of the art vs. technology debate the author was on; it seems to leave a lot unsaid or assumed. The lack of punctuation makes the reader sometimes guess where a sentence might end, creating ambiguity. Still, parts of it deeply resonated with me — most of all, “Of course, the square existed previously, the line and the grid existed previously. What’s the deal. Well, it’s simply — they were pointed out. They were announced.” I’d seen this argument before in the Non-Designer’s Design Book: the author tells the story of getting a tree identification book and reading about the Joshua tree, thinking it was a very unique tree she hadn’t seen before, only to realize it was all over the neighborhood where she grew up. She had never noticed the tree until it was pointed out to her, named and described. So many important discoveries hinge upon this simple process of pointing out, whether on an individual or systemic level.
The Bauhaus manifesto struck me in its prescience — “tomorrow we shall be able to look into the heart of our fellow man, be everywhere and yet be alone.” It’s hard to believe that Moholy-Nagy, living in the early age of film, could truly imagine the level of detail we’re able to garner from our fellow man’s heart today. On the other hand, he mentions “the unambiguousness of the real, the truth in the everyday situation,” taking image as reality in a way we cannot do anymore. Lastly, Dematerialization of Screen Space was both interesting and challenging to absorb — given it mentions tools and paradigms we’re currently using and depending on. Like Helfand says, “we are also [the computer’s] prisoners: trapped in a medium in which visual expression must filter through a protocol of uncompromising programming scripts, “design” must submit to a series of commands.” This must be a familiar feeling to all designers: the struggle to translate from brain to screen, the urge to toss your mouse to the side and draw right on the screen. Even with a tablet screen, I’ve felt constrained, restricted by my posture or my laptop’s positioning on the table — not to mention performance issues that get worse as my machine becomes obsolete. At the same time that a tool restricts us, it gives so much freedom and ability that we wouldn’t have; drawing a perfectly straight line in a second, or scaling graphics to our heart’s desire, for example. I understand the call for new spatial paradigms, and can imagine AR/VR may help us get there; still, it’s hard to conceptualize a personal computer operating in new dimensions when 2D digital interfaces can already be so overwhelming to some. Familiar formats — flat, metaphorical, and conventional — help users process the abundance of options and information in digital tools. How do you introduce a new paradigm without disorienting and alienating audiences, when digital literacy is a pressing issue as things stand? This isn’t to say I disagree with the manifesto, but rather to acknowledge (and appreciate) how hard it is to envision a new technology before it’s in practice. It’s especially interesting after reading 20th century manifestos — making me wonder how they were received in their time.
Our world is busy, noisy, and messy. No one knows what they’re doing and no one’s in charge, not really, in the way we liked to imagine as kids. Every second of every day, for most of us, there’s way too much going on — maybe more than we were meant to process, maybe more than we should. The things you make can be louder than the rest and add to the noise, or they can try to be something else.
I want to bring focus and comfort: the relief of a pause when something falls into place, when it makes sense to your eye and your mind. I want to delight in simplicity, to make you say, “Of course,” like it couldn’t have been any other way. To be confident in concision. To honor my viewer by not burdening you with needless work — to recognize when challenge or intrigue are needed, and to make sure they pay off. I want to be balanced and bold and nimble. To craft color, shape, and words into a beautiful rhythm — a perfect rhyme that rings in your ears, cuts through the noise, and brings you a smile.