I HAVE BEEN TOLD I DESERVE
“A FULL LIFE THAT ISN’T JUST ABOUT FIGHTING FOR THINGS”

Steven Heller admits he “was” afraid of blogs. Be a Design Cast Nº 50:

Q. And he actually asks what your hatred with blogs is.

A. Well, at the AIGA Conference Next, which happened in October, I moderated the “Blog o’ Fear” panel…. And I don’t hate blogs. I was afraid of blogs. Fear sometimes generates what appears to be hate but really is insecurity…. But blogs, it’s not important enough to hate. On the other hand, I did fear the fact that blogs would kind of usurp what I was doing, and that was, you know, in any change, in any transitional period, one has trepidations….

I think “design criticism” is a term we have to define as a common term, and I don’t think that exists yet. The blogs are such that you can’t call it necessarily Design Criticism with a capital D and C; you have to look at it with lower-case letters because it’s in transition, it’s moving. Blogs are either news, they’re reportage, they’re commentary, they’re tidbits….

And so what I do find about blogs, and I guess I could say hate comes close to the emotion, is that I’m obsessed with them, and anytime I’m given an opportunity to write, I write, even if I don’t have the time to do it. So it’s a personal thing. It has very little to do with the great – the overview of the blogs. But, that said, design citicism is still in its infancy.

This is bullshit, of course, since graphic-design magazines have been publishing graphic-design “criticism” for 50 years, approximately Heller’s age. Is he still in his infancy? (“I’m old,” he states flatly in the podcast. So is design “criticism.”)

Further admissions:

  • He “like[s] to” have five books in progress each year.
  • Some books (“five or six”) never get finished, but don’t tell the publishers that.
  • He really needs collaborators, researchers, designers, cowriters, and coeditors in order to finish these books. He’s all about ideas, but not great at follow-through, apparently. (He as much as admits that the collaborators do most of the work. I’ve always viewed his coauthored books as akin to scientific publishing, where the eminent figure might be lead author but all the work was done by the second name listed.)
  • He’s written or cowritten 120 books. Some are stinkers and some are out of print.

Now, I also watched the first ten minutes of his presentation at TypoBerlin about an icon of design history so obscure that nobody had ever heard of him. The icon is so obscure I’m not even going to look it up (or bother linking).

It was quite amazing to watch. Even with a single digicam focussed unmovingly on Heller’s head and shoulders, you could tell he was losing the audience with every passing second. He knew everything about the topic and his entire air and delivery style were consistent with that. But he also made the mistake of veering off into little in-joke tangents of the sort you find at design conferences – little offhand references that the audience is supposed to get. But they weren’t getting it, and it wasn’t just because they were all Germans listening to a second language. The sole audience for Heller’s topics is Heller. He needs collaborators just to get the work done and as a sanity check to verify that non-Heller persons would ever give a shit. The Berlin audience didn’t.

Clearly he’s a workaholic, a Type A personality with his own studio separate from his dwelling (another admission in the podcast). He is abetted by a good memory and a vast clipping file, I assume. For the first time in his career, he is faced with an author as prolific as he is, except that it is a distributed authorship, “the blogs.” Maybe he should be afraid. But really, the design-press intelligentsia – all of them Baby Boomer intellectuals with a publishing background – will keep him in his five-book-a-year stipend until he goes senile or croaks.

I could go on about this at hellerian length, but let me just cut to the chase. This podcast, at long last, made me understand that some people have a wide, tall, deep space in which they are able to work. All I’ve got is a tiny cushion on top of bare daily functioning, and only in that tiny cushion work may occur. The cushion is vulnerable and can pop like a balloon at the slightest deviation from prime conditions. Most typically, on grey Toronto winter days I can’t do anything. My personal work envelope is so tiny and fragile it can be erased completely by a cloudy day.

You might be able to run to catch the bus, but you’ll never finish a marathon. Steven Heller makes me realize I can’t even finish the hundred metres. It is no consolation that he has been wrong on blogs from day one and his bread and butter, design “criticism,” is doomed. He works and I don’t.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.01.19 11:52. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:
https://blog.fawny.org/2008/01/19/workahellerism/

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