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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What is the essense of Art Center, and how should it evolve?

To begin the conversation, we invite students, faculty, staff, chairs and alums to comment here about what they think are the essential characteristics of Art Center.  

* What are the essential characteristics?
* Do they apply to all majors? How are they different?
* Looking to the future, how should this character evolve? 


Bambi said...

The essence of Art Center, to my own memory is basically this. And you can apply this level of thought to all majors.

1) "Top-quality" peers.
I worked for a long time to develop my portfolio to the level of getting to Art Center. When I got there, for the most part, I found peers that had accomplishments already. They worked hard and inspired ME to work hard. I always wanted to outdo my peers, and vice versa. My work improved 10-fold as a result.

2) Top-quality instructors.
I found myself caring less about "famous" designers who also taught, but rather "excellent", inspriational and motivational instructors.

3) Facilities that supported the above.
Sure, the bridge building was cool, but it was quite well-equipped. Sure, the roof leaked and the walls were too "sterile", but I always felt secure in the building and having the cafeteria was great. I always felt proud to be there. This was Art Center. If they ever eliminate 3-D modeling clay, I hope they can just pump the smell into the building at some point. The shop was great, and I loved having that as a resource. The film stage was awesome too. The only thing it lacked was a few sofas to kick back on. Classrooms should never be over-booked. It is easy to determine the maximum number of students in a class. Stick to that number.

4) Showing the work.
We did great work. The gallery was inspirational and was (in my opinion) very important to the place. I often stopped by the gallery to check out the work.

5) Strong internship opportunity.
Maintain the strong connection to the working world

6) A strong social life.
I LOVED going to parties. They used to throw a part on-campus once a semester (Uncle George party?). It even had alcohol served. really miss that experience. I made so many good friends there.

7) Bambi the deer. Does he still come around?

8) Being somewhere near L.A.
L.A. was an exciting place to be then. It's a very significant city. I could care less what part of town it is in, so long as affordable housing can be reached and the driving distance is fair. I did love Pasadena though.

What Art center did not embody (in my mind)... The endless self-promotion and the endless amounts of money spent on superfluous things such as conferences, overseas trips, etc.

I also came to resent the massive administrative staff that seemed to occupy more space than the faculty.

Ophelia Chong said...

Here is a letter from Andy Graybeal '60, this embodies the beginnings of the DNA of ACCD:

Hi, Ophelia,
As you know, in the days before Pasadena, it was Art Center School. The degree offered someone in the industrial design program was Bachelor of Professional Arts, the best they could muster with their credentials. The teachers had reputations we ascribed to the apostles-one degree from the source. Joe Thompson, Joe Farrar's mentor, worked on a Cadillac assembly line in 1913, held our hands as we struggled to smooth out the clay.
Doyald Young and his mentor Mort Leach ("Caslon was my inspiration!") taught us lettering. Strother McMinn would invite us over to his place in the Silverlake district to socialize and listen to cool jazz while we talked cars and design.

We were, as a group, older than present day undergraduates. Many in my class were on the GI Bill which nearly covered our expenses. I was married so my wife held down a job until she had to take maternity leave. My son was born in March 1958, but fortunately I had a couple of aunts willing to subsidize our expenses.

It was really simple then. I don't think there were any pretensions about the school-we were the best and employers were eager to hire us. Not being in the advertising or graphics side I didn't come in contact with those teachers too much, but they were all well paid professionals. Product teacher John Coleman, who taught airbrush (now there's something you don't come across much) told us that he used to endorse his paychecks with an airbrush!
When you talk of "mid-century"design, you were really talking of the faculty at Art Center School-colleagues of Harley Earle and Raymond Loewy, contemporaries of Charles and Ray Eames. The Case Study houses were new. Pre-stressed concrete was the key to wild new structures like the outer space restaurant that settled into the midst of the LAX terminals.

We had academics force fed to us by Pasadena City College professors. We were never bored. Art Center lived up to my high school expectations and when I graduated, I was hired by GM and went to work in the Nirvana of car styling, the Tech Center. So you could say that the two years and eight months spent at 5353 West Third Street set my life course and provide me with fond memories.

Andy Graybeal

Anonymous said...

High expectations of students. Set a standard and stick to it.

Perfect Storm said...

The essence of Art Center is the quality of student work -- period.

The quality of an applicant's work is what gets them admitted to the school; the quality of a student's work is what gets them a positive critique, a scholarship, into the gallery, a freelance job. The quality of a graduate's work is what earns them a career, a gallery, a commission. The quality of work is what communicates ideas and solves problems -- it is what can help change the world. It's our core.

All Art Center initiatives, be they educational or administrative, should be tethered back to this core value -- quality of student work. It is how we keep from losing our way (again).

Marketing, for example. Every day in the studios of Art Center there are newsworthy stories unfolding -- innovations, cultural/technological insights, compelling objects, powerful images, that embody ideas about the world today. Our marketing, newspaper, and magazine articles, and advertising should be about the quality of student work. We need a marketing team that understands art and design and can tease out the issues and articulate them with intelligence to the media.

Same with fundraising -- bring potential funders through a studio at critical points in the semester, give them a glimpse into the design process, multifaceted and analytical, culturally and ecologically innovative, visionary. Our fundraisers need to be savvy about design, able to speak with insight about student work.

Recruitment also -- quality of student work (and scholarships, scholarships, scholarships...).

Under Koshalek, we have been trying to market, recruit, and fundraise against the grain, not by leveraging our core, but by trying to piggyback on the reputation of Frank Gehry, name-dropping travel excursions, and celebrity conferences. All that stuff's ok, as a second or third priority to the extent it can be funded. But we got off track -- disconnected from our first-priority core. As long as what we are doing originates from that place -- the quality of student work -- we will be on the right path.

Captain, my captain said...

The college needs to move forward, not backwards. The school needs responsible leadership, which is responsive to the dynamic and creative influences and contributions by all of the departments: Transportation, Fine Art, Photography, Graphic Design, Media Design, Grad Art, Illustration, Environmental and Product Design. Art Center should avoid the temptation to isolate or diminish it's overall capacity (streamlining by getting rid of departments and services which effectively serve the students) and embrace the aesthetic DNA of Art Center College of Design. It's the diversity of idea, forms and peoples, which make this place special. Who would be interested in going to the Design Center College of Pasadena?

Anonymous said...

I think the core essence should be about constant innovation and reinvention, while maintaining high production level in student work and a strong focus in conveying provocative conceptual ideas.

What I mean in the innovative is that we should focus on the future and grow with emerging technologies. We should use this environment as a think tank to further progress in all realms of design. What we should NOT do is get stuck on past nostalgic experiences of how Art Center operated in the past. Nostalgia is pleasant, but highly impractical for implementing a student curriculum.

I can only speak for myself as a student, but I will say that had I still believed this school was just "a trade school," I would have exerted my energies in another institution. As it stands, I am constantly challenged intellectually and conceptually by my core faculty, as well as being able to grow in my design skills. I have yet to feel disappointed with what I'm paying with my tuition thus far.

Bambi said...

I think we all understand that there are elements of Art Center that change. But what "core" principles of an Art Center education NEVER change (and should NOT change)?

Anonymous said...

The fundamentals rarely change, no matter what method is used to create it. Teach the basics first. One cannot create good digital design if they cannot draw and think on paper first.

The younger students seem to think that fundamentals do not apply to them. That is why we see total messes of "design" and cookie cutter ideas. They just open up illustrator and copy what the next guy is doing instead of using thinking to create something.

Bambi said...

I realize that the ID students want up-to-date mills and visualization software. But let us not get too wrapped around the axle of "technology", and let us not use the term generically.

Art Center is by no means in the dark ages of technology. This school has always been very well equipped as far as that goes.

A said...

Art Center has always been simply "the toughest and the best" to me.
-Top quality students taught by top quality faculty.
-Hard work and a drive to excel in any field, whether it be illustration, ID, or graphics.
-An education based on a solid understanding of basic design principles. This is necessary in every field. Eliminating foundations is like taking the steel out of a concrete building. It may look cool when it's built, but one earthquake and the building crumbles.

Anonymous said...

I think Art Center needs to be the best at what people need today and in the future. Not the best at what people used to need. It is important that we stay current. Art Center used to offer many more courses in fashion. Now it is not offered as a major because AC could not compete in that area. And Art Center will be fine. When there are no more jobs available for graduates who know how to shoot images and film using traditional film media, should Art Center keep teaching it if they cannot get jobs? Should we offer classes and departments just to keep the jobs of faculty? No. Everyone needs to evolve so that Art Center always offers the best leading edge programs. Art Center needs to help faculty evolve. So at some point Art Center needs to drop some things to add some things. Not just keep adding beyond what the school and students tuition can bear. It won't be easy, but it needs to be done.

Rob Curedale said...

My first contact with Art Center was about ten years ago when I taught a workshop on global design at Art Center Europe. I now work as a consultant working mainly for European and UD manufacturers but I am based in LA.

Since then I worked in consultancies including frog and Hauser, was Design Manager at Haworth and Chair of the Product design Departmet at CCS in Detroit and have taught in China and Europe as well as other US schools.

I belive to maintain leadership amongst US design schools Art Center needs to recognize futher than the school has the changes in US Manufacturing environment.

Art Center needs to give greater stress to thinking and problem solving skills. In fiveto ten years I believe that there will be little commodity type manufacturing in the United States.

The Marker Monster's days are numbered.

This means that the styling type positions associated with commodity type manufacturing such as passenger cars and consumer electronics will be largely based in Asia not the US.

As the US moves into a post industrial economy the new types of jobs will be more technical and analytical such as medical design and design research.

Art Center could look to the Courses at Delft for a model for a possible direction in this new economy because this school reflects education changes necessary to maintain graduate employment in a post industrial economy.

To maintain relevancy I belive Art Center needs to move a little more towards a technical model and away from an Art based education model.

In an interview I think over two years ago Starck said that in two years he’s retiring from design. He’s reached a point in his life where he looks back to the objects he has produced over the past 20 years and has come to the conclusion that he has done nothing but contribute to materialism. “Everything I have created is absolutely unnecessary”

I believe that good design is an approach which encourages consumers to continue to use products till the end of their functional life. It is not appropriate or responsible for a designer to design a product such as a car which uses a lot of resources which will be out of fashion in a short time.

This requires a new approach to design education.Traditionally students have been trained to admire and imitate short term style oriented designers like Philippe Starck or Karim Rashid rather than considering long term resource use or designing products that people would love to use forever.

Design needs to be less about designers and more about taking responsibility for what we do and improving things rather than styling them.

Nathan said...

To coat tail on Rob Curedale's post above, there needs to be larger shift towards the design of systems over individual products. As society moves into a more resource conscious (and restricted) world, designers work will need to address that.

There is something to the essence of Art Center that imparts an attentiveness to intricate details. Traditionally this has been more commonly expressed in sensitivity to form and similar aesthetics. To evolve into the future Art Center needs expanding into systems/network design, with the same attention to detail of aesthetics.

I'm speaking from an ID background, and I think as a core concept, this should be imparted on some level to all majors.

Rob Curedale said...

In reference to the proposed new architecture at Art Center.

An important characteristic should be flexibility.

The nature of increasing change in the world and the position of Art training people who are at the forefront of implementing change means that it s difficult or not possible to predict a configuration of spaces and technology management that may be best for the buildings in five or ten years.

It should be possible to design a building that have optimum flexibility. That is features such as internal walls that can be moved easily and reconfigured for changing educational needs. In the coming society where knowledge or information is the commodity not manufactured goods we will require different types of educational spaces for design that have not yet been fully conceived.

A system of managing technology that is independent of the architecture and modular so it can be changed inexpensively as possible as technological needs change.

Jason said...

I counldn't agree with Rob and Nathan more. I think the key word here is flexibility. Designers at Art Center should understand how to design flexible systems in a flexible environment. (Ellwood's building serves this function quite well)

I cannot stress enough the importance of understanding business. Students would not only benefit from a bit of Sales and Marketing knowledge but Communication skills that give them a boardroom polish if needed.

Sending students into the world with massive debt and little to no training of creating and maintaining lucrative opportunities is truely sad.

Anonymous said...

The essence of art center should be to be the best at what we do in all that we do. Right now our leadership, starting with the guy at the top, and counting down through his ranks, is far from being the best. No matter how you cut it, they often fail to impress. Most students don't even know who they are.

Lets clean house and focus on making Art Center the best and not using Art Center to make their own little worlds the best. The school and the students that graduate will never get a chance to be the best as long as our president and his supporters stick around.

Rob Curedale said...

The professions of design are changing so fast. We are living in times of massive change. Art center has a better process than most design schools of keeping in touch with change in the workplace by having mainly part time staff who are working in industry. I have been thinking what is the future of design education in this time of massive change. I believe that the future of business, design and much human culture will be tied up with Web 2.0 the postindustrial knowledge economy and networking groups. I moderate a number of design related groups on LinkedIn that perhaps a hundred people a day are joining andwhich may become the largest online groups of designers in the world within one or two years. At the moment Art Center curiculum is refined and developed by the group of perhaps 50 or 100 teachers located in LA based on their current knowledge of industry needs. One problem with this model is that it is culturally and geographically too regionally focussed. I could imagine a process of curriculum development that has continuing input from perhaps half a million designers where those designers are rewarded through networking credits for providing ongoing information about the changing state of design where they work. People are selected to teach changing subjects based on the networks rating of the value of answers they give to questions asked about design on the network. LinkedIn has something like this question and answer rating system at the moment. This would be something like the way that small parts of the human brain interact with the larger brain network to perceive changes in the outside environment and direct the human body to react to the situation. Art Center could in this scenario become a global network of hundreds of thousands of people asking and answering questions that they think are important while those who the network believes have the best answers are given a short term teaching role. This vision may be too "Star Trek" for some.If you are interested in further exploring or discussing this new model that I have been considering, particularly if you are in a director's or senior position somewhere and may be able to help me make it happen in a prototype form, email me at rob@curedale.com

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob,
Good post about web 2.0.
I agree that these sort of networks are becoming more important. But, that may not necessarily be good for a school like Art Center. Those kinds of networks are open in both directions which means they are subject to editorial dilution by "the wisdom of the crowd" as well as leaving them open for pirating by other institutions.
Part of what makes Art Center unique is a particular point of view that would not necessarily benefit from a web 2.0 style curriculum design.
I'm sure you are considering this but the topic merits some particular attention and study.

Rob Curedale said...

Hi Anonymous,

It would be good to see a culture at Artcenter where people can post their ideas without anonanimity. It may be taken as evidence of a change averse environment that may harm Art Center in the longer term.

The network based model that I have envisioned could to be mamaged and directed by a group of experienced and knowledgeable industry experts just as it is at the moment. They would formulate goals and guidelines for the purpose and daily functioning of the institution. A network based model may not require the painfull funding focus which is a diversion from the goal of graduating skilled students. The model may allow many more people to participate globally and gain the benefits of complex cultural cross fertilization without having to move to LA. It could be more flexible and able to work in a positive way with global change. More people being able to participate in more places could mean higher standards of excellence if managed that way. But it is a new paradigm requiring many people to share the vision to ever become a reality. Such a digital network model could operate in parallel with an analog bricks and mortar institution as evidence that Artcenter really are "Thinking different" by creating the future of design education for others to follow.

Rob Curedale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Curedale said...

I thought that I would share a link to a post on my blog about Don's Solar rechargeable electric scooter.


Don has been using it for a couple of years to commute 5 miles each day. It is an example of an idea that could be the basis of economical transport for millions of people with some of the cool factor input that Artcenter Trans students are very qualified to give. It could be made in China or Detroit if a car executive had the vision and courage to "Think Different" economically in volume and has a strong environmental story.