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Origins Yale Years page 3

 
 

Facilities and Curriculum
At the beginning, Graphic Arts occupied two basement rooms within Street Hall. When I arrived during the Fall of 1953, Graphic Design had moved into the basement of the new Kahn building with the Yale Museum and the architects on the upper floors. The Graphic Design studios were off a sunken court so one wall was glass allowing considerable natural light. There was one large studio with sawhorse and hollow door tables; Vandercook proof presses, type cabinets and work tables were at the rear of the studio. A row of steel lockers defined the right edge of the work tables. The office and pin-up boards were at the front. The door at the front opened into the hallway, supply closet and the York Street exit and stairs, or you could go straight through into the printmaking area. The rear door opened into a photographic shooting area with light stands, print dryer, darkrooms and copy camera room. All art classes were in the old Street Hall.

Every Graphic Design student was required to take six-week courses in photography, printmaking and typesetting. The course in photography was to instruct students in photographic processes in order for them to better understand the language and problems of professional photographers (However, Jay Maisel and Bruce Davidson were graduates from the early program). Other than using their own cameras, students were introduced to a copy-camera and photo-mechanics. They could enlarge, reduce, copy and make photostats. Richard Avedon’s posterization of photographic images using high contrast film was popular at that time and students were quick to emulate many of his techniques. They also were heavily involved in using found images, in particular, nineteenth century wood engravings of other images drawn from historical sources. This direction is readily understood because of their newfound expertise with a copy camera. Also, there were students in the program with little or no training in drawing or design. Photography, collage or using found imagery permitted them to execute class projects. There was one 4 x 5 view camera and students did some studio photographic work with lighting.

The course in printmaking required students to initially work with intaglio and relief processes. A few years later, Herb Fink taught lithography. These mediums were viewed as prototype education for the three basic printing processes of letterpress, offset and gravure. Printmaking was also a natural outlet for fine art students in painting and drawing.

The principal focus of the program was typography, printing, printing production and book or periodical design. Typography was taught as a minimal art, you did not change typefaces or sizes if priorities could be established through leading or placement. There was always painstaking consideration for choice and appropriateness of type as it related to content and function. The color or texture of text was an important consideration. There was equal concern for margins. The standard for styling was to use as few type changes as possible and to rely more on visual tension, leading and placement. Typesetting was taught in a letterpress shop using Vandercook proofing machines and foundry type or monotype.

Every student was required to purchase the two volumes of Printing Types: Their History, Form and Use by Daniel Updike. Most of us studied these books with great diligence. Students became adept at type identification. Typographic and printing histories were very important within the program. Most students became avid collectors of display types. These were recorded on 4 x 5 ortho-film negatives and kept in files. In conjunction with type, there was extensive involvement with all aspects of printing production which included lectures and field trips. Graphic Design graduates were considerably more knowledgeable about printing production than their counterparts graduating from art schools.

In 1953, Eisenman on a trip to Europe purchased some magnificent large wood types from Derberny and Peignot, an old and illustrious French type house. Students inked these types individually with small brayers and hand-stamped them onto newsprint or rice paper. Many of these playful student exercises were to find their way into later work of graduates when they became professional designers.

At the same time that Graphic Design students were taking type, photography, printmaking, and printing production, they were required to take Albers’ color class. A number of design students elected to enroll in drawing classes taught by Albers or Bernard Chaet. As I remember, art or architectural history were required and students chose other electives from the Yale College curriculum. Herbert Matthew taught photography, and on occasion, design. Eisenman was responsible for typography and printing production. Ives concentrated in design. Peterdi instructed in printmaking and the Visiting Lecturers gave students either short or extended practical problems. In their last year at Yale, graduate students were expected to find a manuscript (or write one), and then to design, print and bind an edition of fifty books. By the time of the second generation of instructors, the late 1950s, book projects were no longer required.


Critiques and Grading
Critiques and reviews were conducted by several teachers working together which broadened the scope of criticism and discussion enormously. Teachers worked as a unit and there was no pigeonholing of classes in separate rooms with separate instructors. Students were expected to perform competently in all the areas of design, typography, printmaking and photography. To fail in any one area was to fail the program (I do not remember any student ever being failed, but we were told, and we believed that to fail one course was to fail them all). Treating the program of study as a whole strengthened the interrelationships between the various areas and combined with team-teaching of sorts, made Graphic Design at Yale different from design instruction at the majority of other schools from that period.

Grading was done at semester end by review. Eisenman, Ives and one or more of the Visiting Critics would occupy the front office. Students would come into the room one at a time with their portfolio. A timer from the photography lab was set for fifteen minutes. The reviews were conducted by Alvin Eisenman and consisted of all faculty members present examining and discussing the student work along with some general counseling.

When the timer sounded, the review was over and you were out of there. The new design program at Yale was unique in several other respects. The curriculum of design, typography, photography an printmaking was exclusive to it. The faculty and visiting lecturers constituted the most prestigious concentration of designers teaching at one school in the country. Failure in one course was to fail the entire program was a new concept. Team teaching was relatively different and grading through review was an innovation not found at most other schools. Undergraduate and graduate design students were mixed together in the studios so every student knew every other student. Concentration in the major and other visual art courses was considerably more than allowed at that time by art schools, and several times over what was permitted at other universities. I recall taking only three academic courses; art history with Theodore Sizer and John McCoubrey and two semesters of Anthropology with Ralph Linton.

 

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