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Origins Educational Years page 5

 
 

Influential Teachers
There were other experiences at Yale that made a strong impact on my development. In the first year, Graphic Design students were required to take six week courses in Printmaking, Photography and Typesetting/Printing. All of these were new to me and I found Printmaking of especial interest. In the second year, I had a work-grant appointment as an assistant to Gabor Peterdi in the printmaking studio. My book project was a manual for beginning students in intaglio which was done in conjunction with Peterdi. My thesis was an experimental project in lithographic printing on metal plates using a hand-operated lithographic proofing machine. However, I was most comfortable working with woodcut. My visual interests were in natural forms and landscape.

An important experience for me was taking Drawing with Birney Chaet. As an Advertising major at the Minneapolis School of Art, I had logged as many hours as most fine artists sitting before a nude model with a newsprint pad in one hand and a stick of charcoal in the other. I remember yet, whenever the drawing instructor passed by my drawing bench, looking up at the teacher as to say, “How am I doing? Is this good? bad?” I could not evaluate my own work because objectives and criteria were not made clear to me. The best I could do was based on a presumption that the drawing should look like the model.

I am not a good draughtsman and most likely never will be. However, I now have an understanding of drawing and the confidence that permits me to draw whenever it is necessary. What I took away from Chaet’s drawing class was an understanding that drawing has more to do with space and form than content, that it is a symbolic interpretation of something else achieved through making marks on a piece of paper, and composition is dictated by me and not the subject. I also learned that drawing is a medium for conveying ideas, informationor expression, and the communication should be clear. I can still hear some of Chaet’s classroom admonitions, It is alright to shade, but every line must show!”

I had John McCoubrey for an Art History course which covered late nineteenth century European artists. I had never been in an art history class like this one, and it was fascinating. I was so interested that I never took notes because I might miss something. Needless to say, Professor McCoubrey noticed this omission and consequently, my grade was not particularly good.In fact, I received what was known as a “gentle man’s grade” of below 70. As a graduate student it was necessary to make a grade of 80 or better. I went to Professor McCoubrey and asked if I could do a paper to raise my grade the required two points. He said that it was possible to do this but it would have to be a good paper. I elected to do a paper on Daumier. I worked for a week on the paper and took it to him. His response was that it was a terrible paper, and he should deduct from my grade. However, he would give me one more chance. With this incentive, I researched further and worked hard on the new paper. On receipt of my new attempt, he said there was just enough there to have some hope that perhaps I could do a paper. It was agonizing, but I went back, dug deeper and wrote a new paper. Professor McCoubrey’s reaction this time was that perhaps if I did it one more time and went a little further with the research, the paper might be acceptable. I took two weeks to do the new paper and solicited assistance from some fellow students. His acceptance of the paper was qualified by remarking that he was giving me the two points against his better judgement. It was a real learning experience for me.

I took Anthropology with Ralph Linton, and again, he was so interesting that I did not take notes because I might miss something. His lectures were based mostly on recounting his experiences with Southwestern Native Americans and natives of the Solomon Islands at the turn of the century. He gave one particularly interesting series of lectures based on the impact of the automobile on American culture. His health was not good and he collapsed several times during the semester and had to be taken from the hall on a stretcher. Next class period he would be back. During Christmas break he died under the marquee of the Schubert theater waiting for a cab. Next semester we had a young man who was doing field work in the back country of the Philippines when he was called back to Yale. It was back to Coon and the basic text on food gatherers and hunters.

During my two years in Graphic Design at Yale University, much of the instruction was handled by a group of established designers commuting between New Haven and New York. Alvin Lustig and Herbert Matter came in on a regular basis. Leo Lionni, Alexy Brodovitch and Lester Beall gave extended problems and there were numerous visiting lecturers. Alvin Eisenman and Norman Ives lived in the New Haven area, and Gabor Peterdi came in from Norwalk.

 

Graphic Design Education
The term Graphic Design had never come to my attention until Yale. The curriculum based on typography and printing production, photography, printmaking and Graphic Design was radically different from what was being taught at other schools. I remember deciding that photography was not for me. It would be an understatement to say that my work for the first semester review was minimal. I borrowed my sister’s Brownie camera and did some snapshots. The negatives were wrinkled and the prints were even worse. When called on this at review, I stated that my interests were not in Photography. Eisenman made some remark to the effect that if there was not a change in attitude, I might not be at Yale after the next semester. This remark registered with me. I immediately purchased a Rollicord. In spite of my earlier reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed photography, found it rewarding and developed an appreciation for photographic images that far exceeds my capabilities in this medium. To this day, I cannot wind film on the spool without crinkling it.

At that time, the only Graphic Design program in the country was at Yale, and I think the students felt they were special because of this. They were enthusiastic, worked hard and there was a great deal of interaction among students at all levels. The faculty were superb role models for students both by their work and professional stature. Graphic Design was a new field, the first real alternative to advertising, and most students were excited by their prospects following graduation.

I would briefly note that Yale as an institution was an experience in itself. I had never before known that quality of people, education or institution. Art History, Sterling Library, museums and other university resources and personnel made lasting impressions on me.

 

 
 

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