Could it be that I ventured down a path of design and writing in various formats because of this book? Or maybe I was entranced by the book as a kid because it lit up something already in me?
Swooooon. I’ve been waiting for this graphic design book to become available on Amazon and I finally snagged one: 6 Chapters in Design: Saul Bass, Ivan Chermayeff, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, Ikko Tanaka, Henryk Tomaszewski.
Rand and Tanaka are my favorites. I simply can’t get tired of surfing through their works, and I love their stripped-down complexity via simplicity (I know, it’s a conundrum.)
Here’s the really interesting thing.
My favorite book growing up was Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words. It was until some 30 years later when I found myself working in graphic design, that I decided I must have a copy and as at the time it was out of print, I had to find an old used copy.
Here’s the blurb on Amazon about Sparkle and Spin:
Through harmony and rhythm, resonance and pitch, Ann Rand inspires readers to listen to the tuneful play of her text as it sings off each page. Illustrated with graphic designer Paul Rand’s colorful, witty artwork, Sparkle and Spin is a children’s classic (now happily available again through Chronicle Books) that reveals to young readers the power and music in the words they use every day.
Ann Rand AND Paul Rand? Remarkable that a gravitated toward it and didn’t even realize. (Just so no one gets confused here, these two people are NOT Ayn Rand and Rand Paul, OK? Just checking.)
The introduction to Paul Rand’s chapter in the 6 Chapters is written by Japanese designer Yusaku Kamekura who says about Rand’s designs, “I detect very Japanese feelings in his works. I’m not referring to mere exoticism with a Japanese bent. What I see is something much deeper and more spiritual. Indeed his forms are often more “Japanese” than those of most Japanese artists. In the years after World War II we Japanese rushed, and writhed, to keep up with Western culture. Our struggle to absorb as much of the West as possible was, in some ways, touchingly sad; yet we believed that this was our only means of survival. Today, thinking back to the pressures we felt in those times, the situation seems rather heartrending.
When we Japanese look at Paul Rand’s works and ponder the futility of our struggle to absorb Western culture, we are stunned to recognize traditional Japanese styles––styles which we Japanese have long forgotten–– running beautifully and refreshingly through them.”
Yes!! So YES.
One of the things I loved about studying Japanese culture was the confluence of the literary with the visual — words and pictures, whether in kanji, or the poetry that accompanies paintings on scrolls or screens. Of these, and based on my preferences for disarming simplicity, I suppose it’s no wonder I gravitate toward the minimalist, “cleaner” forms of these (my clients have often heard my mantra “less is more, less is more!“): for example, the classic one-stroke enso 円相, a circle rendered in so many ways to express something that it would take.
Or the haiku form that emerged from longer poetry styles; many non-Japanese don’t realize it’s not just about a 5-7-5 syllable count, but part of a longer story, that captures a moment in time lived fully, expressing in very few words a season, a feeling, a connection to the larger picture of the poem that came before it.
But I’ll stop now, lest I delve too far into the “occupational hazard” that is a consequence of my graduate studies (in Japanese language and classical literature.) The point is that the “empty” space between things (in Japanese “ma” 間) says just as much as what we see or hear, hence the reach toward simplicity that says more than “a bunch of stuff” could.. My hope is that I can improve my use of it.
So back to Paul Rand and Ikko Tanaka. I am both amazed and yet not too too surprised to read Kamekura’s statement, since so much of traditional Japanese design appears “modern” to Western eyes. What Kamekura says makes a certain sense I’m right now unable to describe. But I think I felt it all along.
I can’t wait to savor this book. 🙂