Milton Glaser’s 10 Things

Milton Glaser’s “10 things I have learned,” via BoingBoing…. Lots of interesting things here. Here’s one:

Early in my career I couldn’t wait to become a professional. That was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything – not to mention they got paid well for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is limiting risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please doc, do it in the way that has worked in the past.

Unfortunately in our field, in a so-called creative activity – I’ve begun to hate that word. I especially hate when it is used as a noun. I shudder when I hear someone called a creative. Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is desirable in our field, is continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. Professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.

Actually, I’m not sure I want a brain surgeon to do brain surgery on me exactly the way he’s done it every other time. I’d rather he be conscious of exactly the surgery my particular brain in its particular condition needs. Same with the mechanic and my car.

Everyone always talks about confidence and believing in what you do. I remember once going to a class in Kundalini yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a more practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins.

He makes it sound like a principle to apply to religions and philosophies, and not things on a more practical, simpler level. I can actually see more clearly how firmly held ideological positions on, say, programming or painting would lock you in and isolate you from experience.

Lots of good stuff here.

I especially liked the “professionalism” debunking because I’ve been thinking that the whole “amateur/professional” distinction is one of those big misleading bogosities foisted on us by our age.

4 thoughts on “Milton Glaser’s 10 Things”

  1. I would want the doctor to realize that a given treatment or technique usually, but not invariably, has a given effect, and to be mindfully aware of exactly what effect it had on me, and be ready to change it if necessary! I think in that way medicine is closer to the creative arts than one might think. It’s a lot worse to ruin a human body than to ruin a canvas, but human bodies can be even more unpredictable and temperamental than canvases…

  2. Fortunately, they have quite a degree of predictability, which is why I take Tylenol, get my shots on time, and get my eyes laser-cured – while in the art world discovering that something has been made according to such a simple remedy is usually a sad moment. How about: human bodies CAN be unpredictable, while canvases SHOULD be unpredictable?

  3. Should? Who’s saying “should”? :)

    Glaser’s a designer for advertising, isn’t he? If I were a corporate executive spending my ad budget, I’d want to make sure the designers involved were aware of all the factors that could predictably be used to increase the success of the campaign and use them where appropriate — while still being mindfully aware of the fact that this campaign, at this moment in time, for this product, with this demographic, is a unique event for which “rules” made in the past may be better broken.

    And many a great artist works to “master” his or her materials to the degree that there is some predictability involved in their use, while hopefully remaining open to new possibilities at all times.

    I think if there is a difference there it is one of degree, not of kind.

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