Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Bruno Munari’

07 MAY, 2013

The Designer Says: The Collected Quips and Wisdom of Famous Graphic Designers

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“Everything hangs on something else.”

On the heels of last year’s tiny gem The Architect Says comes The Designer Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom (public library) — a charming, similarly-spirited compendium of more than one hundred beautifully typeset remarks by some of today’s and yesteryear’s most celebrated graphic design minds, including favorites like Saul Bass, Charles Eames, Debbie Millman, Milton Glaser, Louise Fili, Paula Scher, and Maira Kalman.

Saul Bass, revered by many as the greatest graphic designer of all time and little-known children’s book artist, captures the essence of intrinsic motivation blind to extrinsic reinforcement:

I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.

Charles and Ray Eames (Image via Bo Bedre)

Reconstructionist Ray Eames acknowledges the inextricable chain of influence in art and the combinatorial nature of creativity:

Everything hangs on something else.

Charles Eames, man of ample quotable wisdom, reminds us of the usefulness of useless knowledge:

My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts.

Seymour Chwast shares a valuable distinction:

I read once about the concepts of the lateral idea and the vertical idea. If you dig a hole and it’s in the wrong place, digging it deeper isn’t going to help. The lateral idea is when you skip over and dig someplace else.

Legendary curmudgeon and wit Paul Rand, who worked closely with Steve Jobs and who too illustrated some delightful vintage children’s books, echoes Anaïs Nin’s case for making by hand:

It is important to use your hands. This is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.

Paul Rand (Image via Irish Times)

Celebrated Italian designer Bruno Munari, oracle of Neapolitan hand-gestures, argues that in the mind of the graphic designer, like that of the inventor, creation and curation go hand in hand:

A graphic designer usually makes hundreds of small drawings and then picks one of them.

Information visualization godfather Edward Tufte reminds us of the weight of function over form, integrity over vanity:

If your words aren’t truthful, the finest optically letter-spaced typography won’t help.

Edward Tufte (Image: Sadalit)

Erik Spiekermann echoes Dr. Seuss’s advice to children:

Read.
Travel.
Read.
Ask.
Read.
Learn.
Read.
Connect.
Read.

But perhaps most heartening of all are the words of Alan Fletcher, who eloquently articulates the joy of fulfilling work that comes from having found your purpose:

I’d sooner do the same on Monday or Wednesday as I do on a Saturday or Sunday. I don’t divide my life between labor and pleasure.

Pair The Designer Says with the collected wisdom of famous writers on their craft.

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13 DECEMBER, 2012

The Fine Art of Italian Hand Gestures: A Vintage Visual Dictionary by Bruno Munari

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A pocket guide to Neapolitan nonverbal communication.

Somewhere between his seminal manifestos on design as art and his timelessly delightful children’s books, legendary Italian artist and graphic designer Bruno Munari made time for a number of idiosyncratic side projects. Among them is Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture (UK; public library) — a charming, quirky, minimalist guide to Italians’ expressive nonverbal communication originally published in 1958 as a supplement to the Italian dictionary, inspired by The Ancients’ Mimic Through the Neapolitan Gestures, the first collection of gestures made by Canon Andrea de Jorio in 1832. Unlike the hefty and sparsely illustrated 380-page original tome, however, Munari’s pocket-sized version features frugally descriptive text and ample, elegant black-and-white photographs of hand-gestures for everything from mundane activities like reading and writing to emotive expressions of praise and criticism.

In the short preface, Munari notes the globalization of nonverbal vernacular, as Neapolitan gestures begin being recognized worldwide and American imports like “OK” permeate Italian culture, then promises:

We have collected a good many gestures, leaving aside vulgar ones, in order to give an idea of their meaning to foreigners visiting Italy and as a supplement to an Italian dictionary.

Old Neapolitan gestures, from left to right: money, past times, affirmation, stupid, good, wait a moment, to walk backward, to steal, horns, to ask for.

Another illustrated page of the book of Canon Andrea de Jorio. Meaning of the gestures: silence, no, beauty, hunger, to mock, weariness, stupid, squint, to deceive, cunning.

Gestures of drinking and eating (from an old Neapolitan print)

'You make a mockery of the 'madam'!' (from an old Neapolitan print)

For a naughty twist, complement Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture with the surrealist chart of erotic hand signaling.

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22 NOVEMBER, 2012

Bruno Munari on Design as a Bridge Between Art and Life

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“The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing.”

In the preface to his 1966 classic Design as Art (public library) — one of the most important and influential design books ever published — legendary Italian graphic designer Bruno Munari, once described by Picasso as “the new Leonardo,” makes a passionate case for democratizing art and making design the lubricant between romanticism and pragmatism.

Revisiting Munari’s iconic words is at once a reminder of how much has changed, and how little — but mostly a timeless vision for design’s highest, purest aspiration.

Munari begins:

Today it has become necessary to demolish the myth of the ‘star’ artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair, and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher’s shop (if he knows how to do it). The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men, well up in present-day techniques, materials and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him.

The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. … There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.

In the introduction, he cites Maxim Gorky:

Munari cautions against holding on too stringently to conceptions of what art is and isn’t:

Anyone working in the field of design has a hard task ahead of him: to clear his neighbor’s mind of all preconceived notions of art and artists, notions picked up at schools where they condition you to think one way for the whole of your life, without stopping to think that life changes — and today more rapidly than ever. It is therefore up to us designers to make known our working methods in clear and simple terms, the methods we think are the truest, the most up-to-date, the most likely to resolve our common aesthetic problems. Anyone who uses a properly designed object feels the presence of an artist who has worked for him, bettering his living conditions and encouraging him to develop his taste and sense of beauty.

Munari cites from the school prospectus of Walter Groupis, who founded the Bauhaus in 1919 in what is considered the birth moment of design, with a lens on art education that parallels Isaac Asimov’s vision for science education:

‘We know that only the technical means of artistic achievement can be taught, not art itself. The function of art has in the past been given a formal importance which has severed it from our daily life; but art is always present when a people lives sincerely and healthily.

‘Our job is therefore to invent a new system of education that may lead — by way of a new kind of specialized teaching of science and technology — to a complete knowledge of human needs and a universal awareness of them.

‘Thus our task is to make a new kind of artist, a creator capable of understanding every kind of need: not because he is a prodigy, but because he knows how to approach human needs according to a precise method. We wish to make him conscious of his creative power, not scared of new facts, and independent of formulas in his own work.’

Munari ends on a note reminiscent of Lloyd Wright’s ethos, arguing for beauty as a kind of right:

When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.

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