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Cranbrook Academy of Art

Page history last edited by Michael J 13 years, 1 month ago

the link to the website.


The Department Philosophy.



Cranbrook as an institution was founded on the right principles, and at its best moments lives a certain ideal. This issue cuts to the absolute core of the Design Department philosophy and intent. The Department continues to produce designers with an active disdain for "the rules" and for established practices, with a resistance to "categorization." We want to create a home for designers with the courage to define life and work on their own terms. It's a "love" thing. The goal in life is to quit responding to societal pressure, fear, and desire, and to attempt to gain a deeper understanding of one's true nature, then have the absolute courage and "stupidity" to work ceaselessly towards that ideal. Concern over one's peers is misguided and is a creative noose. However, respect for one's peers is fundamental to studio practice at the Academy.


Certain aspects of the Cranbrook experience are fairly well-known within the design community. The Designer-In-Residence is charged with leading by example. We have no classes. We don't give "projects." Once here, one's education is a self-directed experience. The studios are open twenty-four hours a day, and students are expected to spend the lion's share of their time here. The studio is very intimate; we have seventeen students. The integrity and quality of one's education is a direct reflection of the level of commitment of each member of the studio. We look for balance in the studio. We have a handful of hardcore, classically trained designers, and we have other students that have never taken a formal design class. The bottom line is that we look for people with "the eye of the tiger," regardless of background. This is not a program for someone more interested in social entanglements or drinking with the boys. Being a work maker, a designer, an artist can be a beautiful and meaningful experience. We rely on individual depth of commitment in the studio and in critique. This raises the bar for everyone.


We support old-school formal design fundamentals. In music there is the notion of "chops"; one develops one's chops through diligence and application. The issue of formal mastery is critical, because that old form/content dichotomy is so oversimplified. Form is content. Content is form. They are inextricably linked. Conversations or methodologies that deal with one then the other are counterproductive. A certain technical and formal master is essential. However, there are far more important issues than external discipline-based awareness that should guide the designer. Cranbrook actively cultivates a disdain for work that adheres to Names and Forms. Graphic Design Proper doesn't exist and never did. The real work -- the work that will stand the test of time within any discipline -- is so much harder to classify. It doesn't conform, it doesn't follow or fit. The real issues for the designer are so much deeper than that, and so far below current cultural radar. Central to our agenda is an attempt to get the students to begin to discuss work in relationship to an interpersonal value system. That is, one's work should be a natural extension of one's core values. And those core values should be examined. The goal is not to advocate a specific value system, but to begin to understand how ideology is related to "form." With this in mind, the first and most important step is to be true to one's self. To allow one's work to be "true," to be "honest," to be "real" even in deceit. Within the studio and within the critique, discussion about these issues and how they affect both generation and reception is cultivated. It is equally important to establish an environment that encourages and rewards risk taking. There is no gain without risk. There is no contribution without risk. To steal a quote from Frank Herbert's Dune, "Fear is the mind killer." Students must realize the importance of risk within work. They must realize that approval seeking is a vicious cycle that never leads to truly powerful work. The studio environment gives them an opportunity to deal with these issues from within the work.


Graduate education can be very vital, but only if undertaken for the right reasons. There are two types of students: those who feel that the responsibility for their education lies with the school, and then those who realize that the responsibility for their education lies within themselves. This correlates with those who attend a school for the "degree," and those who attend for the "experience." A real education transforms the individual at the core, and is priceless. That you have two years in a supportive environment, with a group of equally committed peers, to explore any subject, theme or media, is powerful. Is that enough? No, of course not. But it certainly begins with the cart behind the horse. There is a pronounced attitude of entitlement that permeates most educational institutions that is extremely counterproductive at best. Freedom is a double-edged sword. We welcome those who are self-motivated, unafraid and possess a great deal of energy and flourish. We adhere to the advice of Joseph Campbell: "Follow your bliss."

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