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Origins Yale Years page 5

 
 

Faculty — Interests and Influences
The influence of Josef Albers on Graphic Design students was of greater import than many graduates realized then or now. Unfortunately, not every Graphic Design student recognized the value of Albers’ teaching, but those who did realized benefits that lasted throughout their careers. Only recently, Alvin Eisenman related to me an anecdote about Albers which is so typical of him. When anyone asked him to comment on matters pertaining to Graphic Design, he would defer them to Lustig or Eisenman by saying, “I am not a Graphic Designer but my nonsense is helpful to them.” Color and drawing courses were attended by students from painting, printmaking, sculpture, architecture and Graphic Design as well as from Yale College. This mixture of students was unusual in itself. Student interaction was spontaneous an unstructured but highly effective. This was due to a large extent because of the high degree of respect generated by Albers.

Albers was a tremendous influence on students, but there were others. Among the Visiting Lecturers, Lustig preached, “The solution to any design problem lies within an analysis of the problem.” Lustig also defined Graphic Design as communication and believed that designers should always ask themselves “What am I trying to communicate? Can I communicate more clearly?” A number of influential designers have always been willing to teach, but Lustig differed in that he was interested in educational planning and organization. He was more concerned with an overview of total programs than most professionals. He had never had an art school or university education himself, and this might have been a motivational factor in his concern for design education. According to Elaine Lustig Cohen, the greatest design influence on Alvin was a German emigrant art instructor, a Professor Koplick8 who taught at a junior college in Los Angeles. Before coming to Yale, Lustig had drawn up design programs for the Universities of Georgia and North Carolina. His educational interests are clearly revealed in a small book published after his death by a graduate student at Yale, The Collected Writings of Alvin Lustig.

Lester Beall presented his projects through a written problem statement in which he included misleading information to challenge students to separate the relevant from the irrelevant, to analyze Alexey Brodovitch emphasized experiments. He once gave a photo assignment to cover a hurricane which was headed for New Haven. The storm veered inland sixty miles south and left students with only wind and rain. When students showed their photographs, his comments were that the photography did not reflect a hurricane. When students protested the difficulty of photographing an event which did not take place, his reply was to send them into the darkroom and create a hurricane!

Eisenman and Thompson concentrated on printing history, type an typographic styling Eisenman taught students that type was important, and knowing this, most students treated type as being important. Perhaps of even greater significance, Eisenman introduced the concept of typographic and printing history with historical research into the Graphic Design educational program. Until this time, design students had to be content with either art or architectural history. To this day, I am amazed at Eisenman’s grasp or the breadth and detail of printing and typographic history. It is entirely possible that the present inclusion of design history into Graphic Design programs evolved from the type and printing history first taught by Eisenman at Yale.

Bradbury Thompson focused on publication design and “the history of type. His first design job‚ had been with the Westvaco Paper Company in 1938 where he designed the Inspirations journal. Ives was primarily interested in formal values. His special magic was an ability to silkscreen two colors on a twenty cent piece of paper in a manner that students carefully picked it up at the extreme edges with thumb and foreigner. Matthew insisted that students carry their cameras at all times and use them constantly in all places and situations. He would not permit us to go across the street for a cup of coffee without taking our cameras. This most gentle old man with his hair going in all directions and the inevitable cigarette with the long ash could be deadly in critique. When confronted with pictures of babies, pets or similarly saccharin subjects, he would say, “That’s nice, that’s always nice!”

Paul Rand insisted on quality, an especially that design solutions must be relevant to the content and objectives of the problem. Rand was most responsive to humor or playfulness in design, and as a teacher, he encouraged it. Rand, as did Lustig, had a keen interest in education.

Armin Hofmann, an instructor from the Kunst Gewerbeshule at Basel, Switzerland, stressed formal values more strongly than anyone since Albers. Many of his American and European students from Basel were hired into American corporations, design studios and educational institutions, and several of them taught or lectured at Yale. Under his tutelage, students at Yale developed strong hand skills and perceptual sensitivity. Hofmann, as did Albers, understood perceptual studies and was very successful in teaching students to recognize and use visual properties. Influence shaping Graphic Design students came more from contact with a variety of individuals than from any one school or philosophical approach.

Characteristic of the faculty were that many of them were European educated. Only Paul Rand had any strong connection with advertising; most were well schooled in art and design history, and several were educated in fields other than art or design. Eisenman, a Dartmouth graduate studied typography with Paul Nash and came from a book design and publishing background. Beall had been educated in art history. Lustig did not have a formal education in art or design. Lionni was educated as an economist in Italy and was self-taught as a Graphic Designer. Matthew studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Geneva and the Academie Moderne in Paris under Leger and Ozenfant. Thompson was a graduate of Washburn College, a small liberal arts school in Kansas and had been a cartographer during WWII Paul Rand, largely self-taught, was influenced by European painters and designers. He attended night classes at Pratt Institute, took some courses at Parsons School of Design and studied with George Grosz at the Art Students League.

Albers and Hofmann understood visual theory and were effective teachers in this area. Lustig, Lionni, Beall, and Matthew taught from professional experience and they dealt with the practical. However, all of them were superb role models and contributed a great deal to the overall educational experience for students. What took place in Graphic Design at Yale during the formative years was not always by plan or intention, and its uniqueness was seldom realized by faculty members. It was students who recognized the value and distinction of the new program. This was especially true for those students who had attended another school before coming to Yale.

 

Impact of the Department of Design
Students did not see themselves as preparing for careers in advertising or commercial art. They viewed Graphic Design as being focused on problem solving and communication and something quite separate from advertising. Graphic Design students saw design as being professional rather than service oriented, and similar to architecture in status. Seldom has a single school or program had such an immediate and overwhelming impact on any profession as did Graphic Design at Yale University during the 1950s and 1960s. There was a similar impact on design education. By 1968, Graphic Design programs were beginning to surpass advertising programs at American art schools and universities.

The spectrum of student backgrounds and credentials in Graphic Design narrowed with time. Graphic Design moved from the Kahn building across the street to the new art building designed by Paul Rudolph. The Division of the Arts became the School of Art; the Graphic Arts program became Graphic Design. Photography eventually became a separate program. No matter how much change took place during succeeding years, the integrity of the Graphic Design program remained consistent under the leadership of Alvin Eisenman who retired in the Spring of 1991.

 
 

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8 Elaine Lustig Cohen could not be certain if this was the exact spelling.

 

 

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