Image dump: Alvin Lustig and assorted finds

I’m gearing up for another book cover project for Twisted Spoon Press– this one being a volume of short stories and essays by Jasienski, the same Futurist nutcase who wrote I Burn Paris. In the course of my research, I inevitably come back at some point to Alvin Lustig, a designer whose work you can experience a completely fresh appreciation for every time you take a long look:

A few other favorite recent finds and rediscoveries, while we’re here:

Attributions: 1– Paul Rand, 2– Swiss Werkbund, 3– AisleOne, 4,5– Erik Nietsche, 6– Bradbury Thompson, 7– S.L. Schwartz, 8– Tacoma Library postcard archives

Blog fight song, part two

From David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to graduates of Kenyon College in 2005:

“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship– be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles– is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”

The Garage-Door Metric

I’m very much a closeted football fan: the sport appalls me on a number of levels, but invariably pulls me in as a fascinated spectator by the end of the season. The same dramatic arc replicates itself over each season: when training camps and exhibition games start up in August, it’s easy for me to scoff at the spectacle of 300-pound fatsos falling on top of each other in the blazing heat; in the deep cold of December and January, however, the game takes on a war-like gravity that neither baseball nor basketball– games that I generally have a higher regard for– can compete with. A game like last year’s NFC Championship takes you as close as any sport is going to take you to the seige of Stalingrad– there’s just nothing that compares to it. (OK, bad example in the sense that that game was played inside in a warm dome… but you get the idea.)

Given my already-conflicted status, I hate it when stories come to light like the retirement of a Redskins tackle who just revealed that he played his entire professional career with a spinal condition that put him at risk of paralysis with every blow to the head. Yuck. File this in the big, ugly, dented, misshapen bin of stories with every other guy who’s developed dementia, or heart problems, or a debilitating addiction to painkillers shortly after leaving the game. This is a sport where the average player drops dead at age 53. I feel conscience-bound to stop watching, but the siege-of-Stalingrad thing keeps pulling me back in.

The report about Chris Samuels and his spinal condition brought to mind a study I read many years ago about a medical researcher who had set out to study the physical abuse experienced by pro football players. The part that fascinated me was the weirdo metric he came up with for quantifying this abuse: the physical impact of playing pro football, he calculated, is equivalent to going to the back of your driveway and riding your bicycle full-tilt into the garage door 25 times a day from various angles. I love this. Especially the ‘from various angles’ specification. Did he actually ride his bike into his garage door to measure the impact and get his baseline unit of impact? If so, how long is his driveway? (It seems like this would potentially effect the calculation a lot.) I would like to see this garage-door metric applied to a wide range of activities and hopefully take on an obscure, puzzling non-metric name, like the bushel, peck, or knot.

The longhairs of Weimar

Before there was the band Bauhaus, there was the Bauhaus Band:

In the documentary Bauhaus: The Face of the 20th Century, former student Kurt Kranz talks about the school band and student life there:

“The Bauhaus Band was a sort of cross between Dixieland and… let’s say, something partly inspired by Hindemith and his electric piano. When we dared to go out onto the streets– especially the girl weavers who wore trousers– there was always uproar. “Impossible!” people would say. When we came along with ponytails, mothers warned daughters ‘Don’t look! They’re from the Bauhaus!’ We were the punks of Dessau!”

The thing that really interested me about this documentary– which I just showed to my design history students– is the revelation that, along with all the endlessly-touted contributions that the school made to our architecture and interior design ( ‘Our cities it turned into rather mechanical machines, and turned our interiors into rather nice, simplifed kitchen-like instruments’ as one talking head nicely summarizes), it also created a fixture in our social landscape: the ragtag student radical. The basic elements of Kranz vignette– ponytails, androgyny, spontaneous happenings and pranks, horrified middle-class on-lookers– all sound like staples of the early 60s, but the microcosm Kranz describes happened 30 years earlier.

In a culturally chauvinistic way, I tend to assume that there was something genteel and restrained about college life the world over until the early 60s when – poof! – the student radical suddenly emerges on the American college campus on the strength of demographic factors, post-war prosperity, the social protest movements of the 60s and everything else. But, in a ‘winners write the history books’-type way, I tend to forget that the atmosphere in Germany between the wars was more politically galvanizing than anything the U.S. has ever experienced– I mean, you had a short-lived communist coup AND a fascist takeover within 14 years, and all centered around the city of Weimar where the first incarnation of the school was headquartered. Plus, the Bauhaus preached all the the free-thinking ideas– question everything, knock down gender roles, etc– that we associate with the liberal campus environment.

There’s also a nice bit about Johannes Itten, the mysterious instructor who taught a foundation course that hugely shaped the spirit of the school for its entire lifespan. You always read about Itten being a bit of a weirdo, but I hadn’t realized that he was a full-blown mystic who opened classes with chanting and dabbled in Zoroastrianism:

World’s oldest religion, baby!

Also, there’s an interesting discussion of the Nazis’ contradictory attitudes to avant-garde design– onthe one hand, they persecuted the Bauhaus teachers and students and promoted a pretentiously rusticated style of furniture design. But this opposition was mainly for show– the director briefly summons an entertaining photo of Hitler lounging in a tubular steel chair as evidence of their basic hypocrisy: