Thursday, February 17, 2011


The latest from the "Design Methods" chapter of Alice Through the Proscenium.  Warnings to designers of very grave danger...

Crutches – Architect Philip Johnson named it “The Crutch of Pretty Drawing.” A dangerous, wobbly thing to lean on is the idea that, because it’s a pretty drawing, it’s also good design.  Don’t fall for your own sleight of hand.  (Try not to fall in love with your work at all.)  But also beware the crippling habit Modern Art has fallen into: because it’s not pretty, because it’s ugly or vile or obscure or obscene, that doesn’t make it Art either. 4.15

Beware models too.  The dollhouse factor makes them sooo cute; you can turn them to get a different view, but audiences sit still; and your eyes aren't in scale.  All these factors make the modeled design look more dynamic than in fact it is.  So hold the model still, close one eye, and squint dubiously, eh?

Another tempting crutch is intellectualism.  You clever thing! with your six levels of symbolism and social satire embedded in your design.  Make sure it works at a straight-forward, literal level too.  That red will remind more people of a bordello than of the fall of Pompeii – even if it is “Pompeian Red” – so make sure sex, decadence, and catastrophe all suit your intentions.  One rap star explained that his guys on stage with machine guns represented… well, it was a five-minute metaphor of the West’s assault upon African culture.  He seemed puzzled when asked if the audience might just see tough looking guys + guns = thugs.

4.15 On the other hand, pretty drawings can get you hired.  Applying for my first set –  utterly inexperienced in theater, I mean, not even a high school play 4.16 –  I sketched two Shakespeare’s and two Waiting for Godots.  My brave soon-to-be boss thought them… pretty.
4.16 Okay, in middle school I played the fairy godmother in Cinderella.  In a pink tutu.  But I’ll never admit it.

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