Louis Pascal wrote "A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once." Extremities can be measured in many ways: sacred/profane, courage/cowardice, give/take, motion/rest, theory/practice. Of the latter, which is part and parcel to everything we do in our business, Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great, believed that the soul was broken into extremities, the rational and irrational. Of the rational he broke that down into intellectual wisdom and practical wisdom - theory and practice - with practical wisdom deriving from virtue, or excellence. Aristotle explains at length the great gulfs between extremities, how our virtues and ethics are derived within the balance of self and society.
Here in AIGA/Austin and all like-minded organizations, we hope to act as the meridian of many points. To the outside world we in Texas consist of cowboys and Indians and we can better address that idea by understanding some "outside" cowboys and Indians. In the 1980s the term "cowboy" was often used in a derogatory manner: a loose-cannon, going their own way, outside the norm. Yet the words "American" and "individual" have been synonymous since our beginnings. "It is individuals that populate the world," wrote Henry Thoreau in his 1854 essay Life Without Principle. In that essay he makes an appeal for not only individualism and self-realization, but that by properly integrating with society, one can do more by "living" than by "making a living."
And Indians have their say on the matter. The two-thousand-year-old collection of Hindu writings, the Kama Sutra, begins by extolling the three necessities of life: virtue, prosperity, and love. And then makes clear that there are individual and social aspects of both, with no man or woman being complete who has not reached a balance in all these areas.
Meanwhile, back in the States, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1858's Society and Solitude that "solitude is impractical, and society fatal. We must keep our head in one and our hands in the other." Yet even while Emerson’s Concord neighbor Thoreau found “it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time,” in Walden he went on to quote Confucius: "Virtue does not remain as an abandoned orphan, it must of necessity have neighbors."
This chapter of AIGA was founded on the notion of, and belief in neighbors. This creative community, though small, is rich in innovation and growing steadily. Those who set the tone and pace a decade ago have moved into an isolation of their own - there’s not much room at the top. Yet the neighborhood grows as students matriculate and others gravitate toward the pull of our city. These newcomers are not looking for solitude. They long to participate and interact.
To work in visual communications - to work at anything well - one often works in solitude
creating for the masses. How many of us work in solitude whether in a lone studio or office peopled by a small group of confederates? How many get outside their finite realm of ideas, solid though they may be, and take measure of other’s ideas? In a 1957 interview, Albert Camus suggests "it is harder today. It is possible to fall in love every once in a while. Once is enough, after all. But it is not possible to be militant in one’s spare time. And so the artist of today becomes unreal if he remains in his ivory tower or sterilized if he spends his time galloping around the political arena. Yet between the two lies the arduous way of true art.”
What we do for a living is, as we have heard all too often, neither “rocket science” nor “open heart surgery,” yet if we are to do it at all, and do it well by understanding that there is an art and science to it, to be “militant” about it by eating and breathing it as simply as we do all other nourishment, we must take what we have learned as individuals and share it with our professional neighbors. We, as individuals, must act collectively as the way between the two.
1 September 1997
Barton Springs, Austin, Texas
[The above was written for the quarterly newsletter for the Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.]