Hi all—things have been pretty quiet on the journal these days, but I’ve still been taking the LUMIX point & shoot on trips. Photos above are from the Venice Biennale, Valdobbiadene (Prosecco Hills), Croatia, and Tuscany. Amanda and I had a wonderful time visiting the Venice Architecture Biennale this year. We even screen-printed and painted in the Japan Pavilion (top photo), which was super fun. I didn’t expect to get into that type of thing at an Architecture Biennale, but it was great. We’ve had a ton going on here. Most notably in my little corner of the world I started teaching Graphic Design again at my alma mater, West Texas A&M university—online. It feels great to teach design again and I really enjoy the students’ energy. Facilitating studio projects online is a unique challenge, but the faculty and students have been so welcoming and receptive. It’s an honor to to teach where I got my BFA. I never thought it would be possible when I was there, lol. Gotta run for now—time for Italian lessons. More soon—ciao.
QUICK POST: I made this a while back to test a few things out with AfterEffects and Media Encoder. I made the basic loop several years ago, but I think it holds up with the NOAA weather forecast audio.
⬆️ Project Inspiration: My uncle Todd’s Bell Magnum from when he raced motocross in the early 1980’s.
Moto Helmetry: Bell Magnum—and more!
I’ve been meaning to start this project for a long time so I’m happy to finally be posting the first helmet of what I hope will become an 8-10 part series. I’m calling the series “Moto Helmetry”— kind of a goofy spin on the word “Heraldry” from the days of knights, kings, castles, etc… It’s a for-fun project that is meant to explore the design and decoration of motocross helmets from the early 80’s through current. I’ve gone through the decades and selected some of my favorite helmet models to illustrate and to create period-appropriate designs for.
I decided to start with the Bell Magnum for a lot of reasons. Probably the most important was that I have a great piece of physical inspiration with my uncle Todd’s Bell Magnum from his racing days. Todd unfortunately passed away recently after a multi-year battle with cancer—way, way too soon. I literally grew up on / around race bikes, gear, dirt race cars, etc… and this helmet was a big part of that. I remember my uncle even having a pair of SCOTT goggles in the color scheme.
Design-wise you can see the helmet is a Bell MAGNUM open-face with a JT mouth guard for face protection and SCOTT goggles + nose guard. I took a little liberty with the nose guard, because I liked the base looks of Oakley’s guard much better than what Scott had at the time. I would absolutely never race motocross without a full face helmet, just like I’d never drive a sprint car without a role cage, but they did for many years. The mouth guard is definitely both an eclectic and interesting piece of moto history. They were mostly phased out by the mid-80’s, but there were notable hold-outs such as Jeff Ward, who stuck with the open face late into the 80’s (maybe even the early 90’s??!). I decided to add the nose guard attachment as well mainly because I think it improves the overall look of the setup. From a visual design perspective I kept it pretty conservative. I built my design around. 37 and 371 were number I used when I raced so that was a no brainer, lol. This would have been a common color scheme during this period and running the number on the side of the helmet was way more popular than it is now. I wish they would bring that trend back a little more. Heavy serif typefaces like Clarendon, used here were popular on number plates and helmets back in the day. Again, I’d like to see this trend come back around, too!
I had a blast making this first piece and hope to crank these out semi-regularly. I was a little concerned about pulling off the open face given I don’t actually have a rider wearing the helmet, but overall I’m happy with how it turned out. My next selection will be a full face helmet—most likely the Bell Moto III or the JT ALS 2. What do you think? More soon—ciao.
UPDATE: I decided to keep adding new helmets I design to this post instead of making a new post for each helmet. I think it’s neat seeing them all together in one post like this in order to see the technical progression—starting from oldest down to newest.
Amanda and I recently traveled through Cortina to Climb the Ferrata Degli Alpini for a second time. We had great weather and a fantastic overall experience. I still can’t get over the tunnels in the solid rock faces and debris, such as barbed wire and wood left behind from the First World War. During WWI, the contested border between the Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire ran right through this area. It’s impossible for me to imagine how people survived, let alone fought and built fighting positions in these extreme locations—especially in winter conditions. The suffering that must have went on is unimaginable. As I’ve mentioned in previous ferrata posts, WWI was the primary reason the Via Ferrata networks exist in Italy. If you are a person who likes exercise, heights, and history I recommend getting some ferrata gear and trying it without hesitation. Anyway, lots of photos and just a few words to share for today… more soon—a dopo
It has been a much needed rainy and mild Spring / Early Summer here—I’m super thankful for this after the extremely dry and hot Spring / Summer we had last year that totally drained many rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, some areas of Italy a bit south of us have had too much rain and dangerous flooding. I hope we have some stability moving forward, but who knows with how crazy weather patterns are these days.
I have some toy camera film in waiting I need to scan, but unfortunately my 10+ year old epson V500 scanner / negative scanner finally bit the dust. I’m in the market for a V700 when budget allows. The film will just have to wait until then. Enough for now…ciao!
I’ve been hard at work getting my home screenprinting (it’s one word for me) setup dialed in for another exhibition here in Polcenigo with the awesome people at La Taverna Slow Shop & Bar. I dropped some photo samples above, but if you’d like to see a much more extensive process of how everything was done check out my stories in evidence on instagram. I broke everything into 8 “chapters” from the first test print through the exhibition installation.
Documenting was tedious at first, but it quickly became baked into my printing process. Getting a setup dialed at home took some time, but overall I really enjoyed the process of making adjustments to get the best results possible using the minimal equipment I have here. If I show again I think I’ll just totally eliminate using the computer for anything. I’ve done some tests with sharpie and things like tape direct to transparency and I really love the feel.
The large prints are A2 size—and I used CMYK for everything just to keep it simple. I did darken the process yellow just a tad for one print. I also cut many of the test prints into a variety of v-fold cards and bookmarks to sell. I wrote an informal statement for the space, which I’ll paste below. I’ll probably make another post with documentation from inside the exhibition space, but for now here is the statement:
REITERATIONS | REITERAZIONI This exhibition came as the result of anxious hours spent considering the role of individuals who make images, sound, and write in our shifting technological landscape. I’m speaking particularly about impacts Ai image and text generation platforms such as Chat GPT and DALL•E 2 are already having on our collective creative landscape. disclaimer: I don’t have answers as to what the future holds or how we should proceed—and this work isn’t an overt attempt to propose solutions. Sorry!
I’m a graphic designer with a passion for printmaking. I’ve always been drawn to creative processes that are analog and require movement of the body to perform. These processes can be broken down into steps and understood logically at a single human scale. Film photography and screenprinting (as you see here) are great examples. For me, there is a deeply calming satisfaction that comes as a result of breaking down a process, physically working with what is in front of you, and improving proficiency over time through repetition. In fact, this show is a greedy exploration of repetition just to see what kind of creative outcome would naturally be revealed—hence the name, Reiterations.
As we become more estranged from understanding how the tools we use to run our lives work, I find myself (as a maker at least) mourning the potential loss of process as we currently know it. This kind of process is a journey filled with messiness, unexpected interactions, difficulties, imperfections, slowness, and pleasant surprises that arise along the way. What you see here is the full documentation of a process that spanned two months. I worked steadily with the processing power of one human brain and two hands. You’ll probably notice the prints aren’t perfect—this is a direct result of the physical limitations navigated to produce large-scale, hand-printed work at home. There were many compromises, hacks, and work-arounds that give this work its own unique voice.
Now that I’ve sufficiently bashed technology, let me be a hypocrite and suggest you go to my instagram page @jarrederraj to see videos of how each print was made in my DIY garage studio! Thanks for reading and happy making, everyone.
NOTE: a shortened version of this article was posted over on VURB moto. Huge thanks guys to Chase and Brent for doing that!
MXGP with one hell of a view:
Moto Club Arco is located in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Northern Italy and his host to an MXGP race every year. I know there are lots of famous motocross tracks out there, but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful location for a track than this! The track itself is nestled right at the foot of the Brenta Dolimites—it’s a sprawling layout with dark, rocky soil and tons of elevation change. There are two triples on the track and one of them is famously gnarly.
I went this year as a spectator, but also to photo-document and connect with friends I’ve made in the creative community situated around moto here in Italy (more on that later). When I was living in the U.S. I didn’t really follow MXGP, but since being here for around two years now I’ve definitely become a fan. I follow what’s going on with MXGP the same as I follow American moto and supercross. Not unlike Formula One or MotoGP, these guys travel all over the world to race—a season is a grueling hustle to say the least. That said, motocross in general is a big deal in Italy and this track is a popular stop not only because of its layout and natural beauty, but also because of its relatively central location in Europe.
I camped with a buddy walking distance from the track and roamed all over the place like a kid in a candy store taking photos Saturday and Sunday. I was totally wiped out Monday morning. The racing was of course, awesome. You can head over to the MXGP website or instagram to check results or see recaps, but that’s not really what I’ll cover here. I also think the culture around moto in Europe has been pretty well documented at this point with the smoke flares and eardrum shattering chainsaws. We had plenty of that in Trentino, too. Instead, I want to share a glimpse of the show behind the show. There’s a vibrant community of independent creative practitioners hustling their asses off here in Italy—and I’d like to share that. I’ve gotten to know two guys pretty well over the past few years that exemplify this hustle—so much so that it motivates this old guy to grab his camera and do whatever it takes to get the shot.
A media guy photographing media guys photographing professional athletes:
Flash back to the Motocross of Nations 2021…the race was in Italy and I had just moved here. Even though the American team couldn’t come (bummer) I was still pumped to go experience the event. The Italian team won with Tony Cairoli, Mattia Guadagnini, and Alessandro Lupino. On the way out, my buddy and I grabbed two large Monster Energy MXoN banners that were being taken down. Once I got this thing home I realized it was waaaay too big for me to do anything with it.
At the time, I had just followed an instagram account called AstroClub. I vaguely knew these guys had connections to the Italian team—specifically Mattia Guadagnini. So, I shot them a message on instagram to see if they wanted this big-ass banner to commemorate their MXoN title. To my surprise, a guy named Tommy answered almost immediately and said they’d love to have it for their studio. I thought that was super cool—so, I drove South for around an hour to meet up with Tommy in a small town called Dolo just to the West of Venice.
I had no idea what to expect, but in walks this super young and hip guy dressed in all black. I learned that he raced moto for several years when he was younger, but now he was getting ready to graduate from university with a degree in fashion design. At first I was confounded by this unique combination of skills / interests. But then I thought of my own background—former open wheel dirt track racer with an MFA in Graphic Design. Sadly for me though, learning how to intersect/reconcile my creative and racing worlds took more than a decade. I thought damn, here’s a guy that’s fully prepared to hustle. We talked about all kinds of stuff—I learned that he’s leveraging his background in fashion design by making and sourcing material for Mattia’s merchandise. He gave me one of his hoodies in exchange for the MXoN banner and we’ve been in pretty regular contact since.
📸 ⬆️ ⬇️ I had the pleasure of connecting with Tommy (above, white ASTRO shirt) at the Arco GP even though he was insanely busy working with Mattia Guadagnini (above in red) for media appearances, social media, and his youtube series, “Behind,”which Tommy and Mattia Dallapiccola (photographed with Tommy below) fully produce pretty much by themselves.
Mattia G. is a factory rider for team RedBull GasGas. He’s also a creative guy that likes to dabble in film photography among other things that exist independently from his motocross career. It’s nice to see a professional athlete that isn’t afraid to show other facets of their personalities online, albeit I’m sure this is a double-edged sword for him. He’s a very popular man at every GP—but he’s basically a celebrity in Italy. It was overwhelming to see just how many people he had orbiting around him at all times more or less wanting stuff. So much so that I have to admit I felt guilty harassing him and Tommy with my camera, but they were as accommodating as ever.
I think the photograph below captures why the AstroClub collaboration is truly impressive and inspiring—it’s literally three guys running a media hub with a few cameras and phones in real time from the infield of a racetrack—oh, and one of them happens to be knocking out top 5s in the premier MXGP class. A-hem…as an old cantankerous man in his thirties, it’s a little shocking to see how fast they work. I hadn’t even taken anything off my camera’s memory cards yet and they had already shot, processed and posted a mountain of pertinent race content.
📸 ⬆️ ⬇️ Another friend I met later though AstroClub is Federico Cunial (Fede). Fede also has strong connections with Mattia Guadagnini and is currently in independent practice. He’s insanely talented with a camera and demonstrates a ton of range within his scope of practice—shooting everything from moto to crossfit. He was working with Factory Beta rider Allessandro Lupino (photographed above) at Arco and let me tag along to grab a few frames of him in action. Again, I felt guilty interjecting with my camera, but Fede was happy to accommodate by throwing me his trademark Shaka. After getting to know Fede he invited my wife and I to spend a day with him in his home town of Bassano Del Grappa— I could ramble on about our experience there and Fede’s hospitality, but long story short it was amazing!
Motocross & creativity are universal languages:
Both Tommy and Fede are multi-lingual. I more or less feel like a jackass around both of them because I can only speak English fluently. My Italian is coming along, but actual proficiency is sadly still a long way off. Thankfully, our shared love of motocross and creativity is also a kind of nuanced language…and it seems to bridge any sort of gap in formal understanding of spoken languages. It has been so cool to see how far both of these guys have progressed in the short time I’ve known them. They have definitely inspired me to not only up my own game, but also to get serious about actively using my creative skills to explore my passion for racing. Thanks guys!
Taking it all in through my own lens:
I’ll wind down by sharing some of my favorite frames from the weekend. I didn’t have a media pass and definitely wasn’t set up to shoot from long distances, but I was able to worm my way close enough to the track in a few choice spots to capture some solid action. It really is crazy how effortless these riders make ripping berms and sending hundred foot triples look.
⬆️ Sights, sounds, smells, silence—damn, it just felt good to be at the race track. The group of guys in the photo above were our neighbors in the campground. Our grill broke Saturday night and they let us use theirs and offered us beers. There it is again—moto—the universal language! We talked American Supercross with them and it was really interesting hearing European perspectives on what’s going on in the U.S. Eli Tomac and James Stewart came up over and over again when we asked about their favorite riders of all time. I randomly bumped into them in the sea of thousands of people at the races the next day. I had to document their recycled one-liter water bottle approach to beer drinking. Smart move, guys. They offered me one in another suspect looking unmarked bottle, but I had to say no thanks—I was on the job.
If you’re living in the U.S. and a fan of moto, hitting a GP in person or even planning to make the trip across the pond for a MXoN when it’s in Europe is something I cannot recommend enough. I’ve been to a MXoN and two GPs now and I would say just the races alone would make the trip worth it, but when the track is surrounded by spectacular mountains or right outside an ancient medieval city (catch Fede throwing the Shaka at the beginning of the Fried video in that link) it definitely sweetens the deal. MXoN is in France this year…just sayin.’ Maybe I’ll see you there—ciao!
Last weekend I headed over to the small town of Fanna, PN to see an FIM regional Italian Enduro event. I had a blast walking around grabbing shots of the action. The atmosphere was super laid back—the town of Fanna basically became the pits for the races. Everyone we super friendly and they had no issues with me roaming around with my camera. I was able to get close enough to get some pretty detailed shots with my 70-200mm lens (no press pass needed 😀). I don’t shoot action like this often, but it was a nice challenge. I’d love to go try shooting some more events. I grew up going to local / regional circle track races like this. It’s a vibe I really enjoy—and it feels the same in Italy as it does in the U.S. Just a short blurb for today—alla prossima.
⬆️ Gianni (above in the vest) photographed working with clients on a letterhead print job.
Amanda and I took a quick train over to Venice last weekend to experience a day of Carnevale (those photos are slated for the next post). We planned a stop at a letterpress shop we stumbled upon six years ago when we came to Venice together for the first time. “Gianni Basso Stampatore” is a multi-generational letterpress shop and museum in the heart of Venice. Gianni is incredibly nice and was more than happy to allow me to take photos in the print and museum spaces of his shop. It was super neat to see him build a letterhead project for clients in real time—he’s fast and great with people. Gianni’s son helps him run the shop today, but they were both preceded by at least two older generations of Bassos working in this space (as evidenced by the foot marks worn into the base of the press photographed above). It’s heartening to see this shop still thriving today amidst so much change. Amanda and I purchased a hefty stack of v-folded cards for correspondence as well as bookmarks for gifts and we were on our way. The next stop was for lunch at our favorite restaurant in Venice, CoVino. There we had an amazing lunch and great conversation with new friends we met sitting at the table next to us. It was sad to see some of the canals running low, as we’ve experienced at least a month of no rain and poor air quality here in the Po River Basin area. Many people we’ve spoken to that have grown up in this area have never seen drought like this before. The last year of weather here has been very concerning. Really hoping for some rain and cleaner air soon. Gotta press pause for now—alla prossima.
free-form ramblings on the role of Ai image & text generation (among other disruptions) in creative industries + education
(and some other teaching stuff)
“Tile mosaic of a human heart” one of my early experiments with DALL•E 2. Seems like a fitting image for this post 😂
Like a lot of folks in the creative world, I’ve had thoughts/fears/questions about this this topic floating around in my head for months now. I thought some good old fashioned journaling might free up some space in my mind so I can get on with life. So… Let’s start with a little foundation work. I identify as a creative practitioner here on my website because I’m not a huge fan of discipline labels—especially since most people that work in creative domains jump in and out of a variety of disciplines. That said, I am trained as, and have worked as a graphic designer. I’m also trained to teach graphic design in a traditional sense, like early 2000’s sense 😅. Things have obviously changed and the general discipline has broadened a lot since then. The term graphic designer doesn’t even make much sense anymore—so I landed on creative practitioner. I’ve tried my best to keep up, but my cranky grandpa streak really seems to be coming out quite a lot these days. But at any rate, I’m coming at this topic more or less as a graphic designer that likes to illustrate, print, cut, build, and write. I love using my hands and moving my body as part of my work. I still shoot film for god’s sake.
This post isn’t going to be about the different Ai generation platforms out there for image and writing generation—just hop on instagram and look at some hashtags for that. I’m not an Ai expert either. My goal here is to attempt to broadly conceptualize what is happening and provide some insight or questions about where it might lead us culturally. I’d also like to acknowledge that we have, in fact enthusiastically onboarded Ai for a while now and that it is deeply baked into the creative software we use (among many other things that are part of every-day life)—ahhh sweet content aware. I’m talking about the explosion of imagery and the high level public discussion going on about chatGPT we’ve seen circulating on social media, popular podcasts, and mainstream news outlets in the past year.
Before any questions or insights though, I want to start with a story. The other day I was scrolling on instagram (as one does). I happened upon an ad. In that ad there was a beanie-clad dude raving about how you can now build an entire ad using Ai platforms to write copy, build the imagery AND size the ad / build the layout. He proceeded to generate a candle using prompts and one of the platforms (maybe DALL•E 2, Open Ai) and then chatGPT to write the copy. Then there was some other browser-based software with a zingy name I can’t remember for generating sized ads for any media platform. Voila—a beautiful ad ready for publication. Obviously, the issue here is that there is no real product to back the ad, which is both sad and stupid (this might be different for students making concept work, but we’ll get into that later). But I felt a pang of real sorrow as someone who enjoys the process of making things. These prompted and automated processes pretty much eliminated the making aspect for every step. There was no candle or packaging prototyping, no product photography, no layout design. No kerning for god’s sake!! Just beanie guy in his garage writing prompts. The quirky struggles that happen along the way as we make are the things I enjoy most about the creative process—something that can be practiced, but never fully mastered. This was just a click-baity ad that is certainly not 100% indicative of the end of graphic design, but it still illustrates model of alleged “creativity” devoid of actual making I’m not comfortable with.
The most common narratives I’ve heard designers use about coming to terms with Ai image and text generation are these: It’s another tool for the tool belt. A good way to rapidly ideate. In the event something is generated that is liked, a professional comes in and rebuilds or essentially post processes or dials in the imagery to a higher level. In the future it will make our work faster as Ai training models improve and move more into motion graphics. I hear this, and it all makes total sense to me. And yet.. I’m a little concerned about the tone of overconfidence in having a handle on how this thing will develop. Some designers—especially illustrators and those who write—are freaked out. And rightly so. Christoph Niemann (among others) recently posted an idea about a kind of Ai free certification for imagery and things got spicy in the comments. I made the mistake of going into those comments, and it seems everybody thinks they know exactly how it works, yet nobody seems to be able to come to a consensus as to whether training models are ripping artists off or creating original work that is built from “influence” or “inspiration” of other works.
Getty seems to think they are getting ripped off, as they are suing Stable Diffusion for using a shit load of watermarked images in their training sets. That’s a lot of infringement. Do Ai training sets rip artists off—in many cases using their work without legal permission? Yes. Do Ai training models build images from scratch using images as “inspiration”? Yes. Will lawsuits stop development of platforms like this? No. More than likely litigation will just produce a crappier version of the inevitable—a Windows 8 version, if you will. Truth is, it’s a both-and scenario. The difference is the speed and scale. Artists and designers have been ripping each other off …a-hem… I mean making work “inspired” by previous works forever. Where we had individual people building copycat works before we now have browser and app-based platforms that allow anyone with a pulse access to machines that possess insane amounts of “inspiration” and processing power… just cranking out droves of imagery and text in seconds. Whether you like this shift or not it is happening and the toothpaste ain’t going back in the tube.
I think what is happening and the arguments around this whole thing boils down to a “complicated” vs. “complex” issue. I’m reading “Team of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal right now. Love or hate the guy there are some deep insights about how technology and our interconnectedness have reshaped the global communication landscape (and so much more). I won’t get into any more specifics, but I do want to extract the “complicated vs. complex” concept from the book because I think it really applies here. According to McChrystal, “complicated” is something that has a lot of moving parts, but can ultimately be broken down and rebuilt in a predictive way—in other words, it can be figured out. A complicated machine (like a car engine) is complicated, but behaves in a predictable way and problems can be more or less diagnosed and repaired objectively. “Complex” is by nature organic and unpredictable. Complex problems are non-linear (like weather) and solutions cannot necessarily be planned ahead for strategically using traditional, linear planning methods. I think Christoph’s idea of having non Ai images certified (while well meaning), or even viewing this issue through a traditional copyright lens (which is already pre-internet level woefully outdated) are proposing complicated solutions to a host of very complex problems that we haven’t even begun to understand. But guess what? It’s happening anyway.
So, I am weary of this whole “it’s just another tool” justification. Until recently I taught at large universities. Everything within the structure of these universities from the president’s office down to the single classroom level are built around hierarchical, predictable, complicated frameworks. I’ll be honest, I loved the predictability in the structure—being able to plan 5 years out and actually believe we’d have the stability within our department, let alone the world to carry out that plan was super comforting. That’s just not the case anymore. At my last job, I witnessed the (at least in my opinion) the full collapse of the complicated model in academia. When the global Covid Pandemic swung into full force we probably saw most strikingly what it looks like when complicated systems clash with complex problems. We responded by attempting to push on in a fashion that was as “normal” as possible. In many cases, this resulted in wearing students to the nub trying to deliver educational content through traditional teaching methods via zoom or other video conferencing platforms. Or even better, forcing teachers back into the physical classroom super early against a strong consensus of actual expert advice. Of course, we got better at teaching remotely quickly, but it was all definitely still very much a round peg / square hole scenario, as McChrystal puts it in his book. But even aside from Covid, the traditional complicated model in education was breaking down, and had been for several years. In many cases students don’t go to the teacher if they have a problem anymore, they go straight to the dean—or to social media, where some of them have very large followings. Traditional hierarchies are definitely becoming a thing of the past. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. How could we not expect everything to shift given the massive technological changes and cultural upheavals fueled by our new, “complex” interconnectedness? I’m getting away from Ai a bit, but the complexity of Ai and how it fits into traditional education models is a perfect example of disruption that will continue to be the norm in academia and other large corporations. Heck, after working at one university with a massive lazy river and one that paid their football coach a 12-million-dollar buyout, firing him less than one year after giving him a contract extension…public universities are basically corporations.
Short of running design programs like independent design studios that don’t have to answer to schools or colleges and abolishing tenure I’m not sure where traditional design programs can go from here. Is there enough need in the market for school-studios and would existing professional studios want that? Probably gonna be a real-hard no. Do I want that? Heck no! I want a safe space for students to learn and experiment. I want to add at least 6-9 credit hours of mental skills training and self-care related curricula to all design programs. I want teachers that are hired and paid well and fully supported to kick ass teaching students at high level universities—the students deserve it for the price. I want students to be required to study abroad in a fully school-funded program for at least one summer. If we have to give up the lazy rivers for that, so be it. I’d definitely like to see some adjustments to the tenure process and some actual checks and balances once tenure is achieved. I would love to see a reasonable—like, 150K/year MAX—salary cap for athletic coaches. I’d like to see presidents of universities that have a recent background in teaching, not politics. All that said, I suppose as long as schools are making enough money from enrollment things will continue on.
How do we make and teach successfully in complex environments? I wish I knew for sure. McChrystal’s answer would likely be to increase our resilience to disruption. I’ve been informally asking talented young folks that are just out of school in addition to seasoned teachers and designers about this. How are they thinking about Ai image and text generation within the scope of their own creative practices? Nobody has an appeasing answer. One thing I do find both comforting and disturbing is that humans, too are very “complex”. Even with insanely powerful making tools at their fingertips—so powerful that you can just ask a platform to build something for you on demand in seconds—people still get a high from making things themselves and from collaboration at human to human scale. I see a bit of a creative insurgency on the horizon for those of us who like to get our hands dirty (figuratively or literally). The eff it just delete everything side of me thinks…can we just block this out and pretend it isn’t happening by moving back towards true specialization? BTW..that would be letterpress or film photography for me. If you wanna get real funky with something you’ve gotta get real focused, right? Then again—and this is something else McChrystal mentions in Team of Teams—is that specialization generally leads to less overall resilience. This is because we leave ourselves more vulnerable to external disruption when we are locked into one specialization or way of thinking. This makes a lot of sense to me, especially within the “complexity” context when I think about my last few years of teaching. Our day to day teaching was impacted deeply by political upheaval, a global health pandemic, natural disasters, etc… These outside factors obviously impacted everyone—and we don’t come to school or work in a vacuum. Pain manifests itself regardless of context. My role as someone that was a specialist at teaching graphic design felt like it shifted into something far more nuanced and complex by 2021.
⬆️ I’ve been afflicted with this sort of all or nothing mentality (tutto o niente in Italiano) for a while now. Stay in or come out of the shadow. Hmmm. I’ve made a lot of work about it. My MFA thesis was titled “Everything and Nothing.” Yeah—it’s a thing. This mentality really flares up when it comes to onboarding emerging technology I’m not comfortable with. Example: I can’t just have instagram and not existentially obsess about whether I should have it or not…how I should use it, what social media is doing to us in general, etc… I get sick of hearing myself talk to myself about this, lol. I’d say an all or nothing mentality is definitely not a resilient way to think. My urge to run back towards the safety of specialization / familiarity is just a deep urge to “figure things out.” Figuring something out is most certainly a “complicated” mode of thinking. The immensity and organic nature of—ethics and truth in social media, for example—is an incredibly “complex” problem. These things cannot be figured out, just navigated. I know this, yet I still find myself wasting precious creative fuel trying to “figure out” social media. Ain’t gonna happen! The Buddhists say desire is the root to all suffering…they’re right. So…how do we creative practitioners shift from thinking about complex things in complicated ways? Guess I’m not quite ready to answer that yet, but if I had to now: it’s becoming clear (for me at least) that letting go of the “figure it out”mentality and doing anything that feels like it’s reactive, or an attempt at a “quick fix” to a complex disruption is a good start. Pursuing long terms goals within a domain of genuine interest that requires daily discipline, patience, collaboration, and humility seem to be the best way forward. I’ve written a lot about my ongoing struggle to learn Italian here in the journal. This is a good basic example of this concept. The process of learning the language has taught me so much more than just learning the words.
Students and professionals alike have been using stock photography and found images forever in their work—this is more or less the super slow not efficient version of dialing up something with Ai. It will be interesting to see how Ai imagery and text changes the complexion of student and professional portfolios as we move forward. There’s no sense in trying prohibit it unless it’s for a focused exercise. Will we even notice a difference? And what about when training sets are trained on other Ai generated images? It will be very interesting/scary/exciting to see how this alters our visual and written communication landscapes. Typography is also an exciting frontier. We’ve had variable and parametric fonts for a while. But now people are using Ai to do everything from pairing and kerning type to designing full typefaces that leverage Ai image generation. I suppose the best of the best will rise to the surface in any domain regardless. This will both thin and thicken the herd (creative community) at the same time, but will the new complexion be ethical? Socially just? Not saying it’s those things now—and maybe that will make our existing problems exponentially worse as we ramp up speed and scale with Ai riffing off our existing biases.
Continue the daily creative practice in the face of uncertainty—focus on big projects that demand deep sincerity, time, developing relationships with others, and of course, detail/nuance. Resist the urge to produce outcomes for outcomes sake. That’s the space I try to occupy. As an educator and someone who went to school when building a static website was a big deal (I learned about HTML in undergrad from building myspace profiles 😅 ) this is all super scary and also exciting. It just depends on the day you catch me. One day I want to sample and design it all, the next day I want to move into our van and start chopping firewood for the impending apocalypse. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this—continue the practice. I’ve been experimenting with DALL•E 2 from OpenAi. It’s good at some things and terrible at others. I’m sure this will improve quickly. It’s out there. That’s really all I can say about it at this point. There is something super creepy about how Ai generates faces and snippets of words—they feel like they’re from some other universe or level of consciousness. I can’t say I’m 100% comfortable with it. It’s almost like looking at a dead person or an unfamiliar language from outside this planet.
We all know where this is heading…and the train left the station a while ago. My greatest fear within this context is living in a world where we don’t know if any piece of media we consume is real or fake. Younger folks seem to be more comfortable with this notion. I am not. Without sound ethics and sensible policy implementations (with broad public support) that protect citizens / consumers from the highest level of government we’re in trouble. I think we should be spending less time litigating copyright in legacy systems and more time trying to figure out how we are going to come to an ethical consensus on what is Truth, where are the lane bumpers in our world of communication, and how are we going to navigate this thing together. The 45th U.S. President among others, who’s name will not be mentioned here has already shown us there is a community of folks out there who will literally do anything in any domain to gain political / corporate power or leverage. Given the polarized nature of politics right now I’m fearful of potential outcomes. This is a discussion that goes way beyond creativity. And definitely fodder for another post.
When I think about this too much I still can’t help but have escapist fantasies of 23 year-old grad school me blissfully printing away on our Vandercook SP-15 at 3 AM. Good times. Ignorant times? And this is where I have to leave it for now—alla prossima.
and for no particular reason a few more selects from the mosaic binge I went on with DALL•E 2