Milton Glaser on history

Steven Heller: Please contrast what you set out to do back then with the rebellion that has occurred in design over the past decade.

Milton Glaser: It’s different in one respect: my great models for what to do were largely historical. For example, I felt that art nouveau was a profound movement that had an extraordinary reservoir of ideas contained within it, which I could still use. I looked at Charles Rennie Mackintosh, for example, and realized how compelling his ideas were and how he helped set the stage for the Bauhaus. In other words, why use the Bauhaus as your only model, as the modernists did, when you can see the arts and crafts movement, and Mackintosh, John Ruskin, William Morris, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Viennese Secession, as well as the Bauhaus as a continuing series of linked ideas?

SH: I presume that you do not believe that the current generation understands the historical continuum?

MG: It seems to me that the new intent is not to follow the historical models and understand that this continuity is the essential idea that pervades human history and enriches it, but rather to say, “There’s nothing there,” and to try to invent something from scratch.

SH: I want to understand what you mean by ignoring history. For example, David Carson, through Beach Culture and Ray Gun, is indicative of one aspect of the experimental phase of contemporary work. He appears to be pushing the envelope, rather than simply ignoring history. Do you think his work lacks a historical framework or understanding?

MG: No, I wouldn’t say that. In trying to broaden the role of typography, these experiments are ultimately beneficial—although a knowledge of dada and Russian constructivist typography would enrich the inquiry. To some extent it represents the same kind of response to a rigid system that serves to energize people by searching for alternatives. On the other hand, it seems to me that if you are going to be a revolutionary, it’s best to be an informed one.

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