Over the holidays I have spent some time reading and revisiting some of my favourite books from my library. One of these books is Marks II A Graphic Vision by Jay Vigon. Vigon is a legendary graphic designer whose portfolio includes logos for Gotcha, Princes’ Purple Rain and Star Wars Return Of The Jedi. Since the publishing of this book, Vigon has moved into film. I’m always impressed with this collection of Vigon’s work but this time around, it’s his Preface to the book that really caught my attention.
Preface from: Marks II A Graphic Vision by Jay Vigon
Photo: Margo Nahas
“I remember my first day at Art Center College of Design. I walked down the halls, feeling like I was really there. Then, as I began admiring the student works on display, I began to panic. I had been known as the class artist all the way back to first grade, but suddenly, I felt like an imposter and it was only a matter of time before everyone knew. Maybe I wasn’t there after all.
But I blundered on. In the late 60’s, Art Center had already passed through its Bob Peak-mark English influence and was entering the Milton Glaser-Push Pin phase of seventies contemporary graphics. With exposure to some inspiring teachers, I gained confidence, if not style. And by the time commencement rolled around, I was as cocky as the next art center grad, a real know-it-all ready to conquer the L.A. design scene. I had no doubts now that I was there.
But life beyond art school was confusing. It’s one thing to know what you want to be; it’s another to understand what that takes. Every time I showed my portfolio to an art director, he would tell me, “Great work, I’ll call you.” Little did I know then that this was industry-speak for “don’t bother me, I’m busy.” (Years later, I would use it myself.)
In 1974, I was working on some small projects for a former professor, Roland Young, who was the art director for A&M records. At his suggestion, I called his mentor, Lou Danziger, who was one of the premier graphic designers in the country. I made an appointment to see him, sure that he would be the one to recognize my greatness. Days later, I was ushered into his studio/home on Melrose Avenue. It was an intimidating, high-ceilinged space lined everywhere with books. In the middle of the room was a billiards table which doubled as a layout table. It was everything I imagined a creative design atmosphere should be.
Danzinger took his time leafing through my portfolio, but made no comments. Then, abruptly, he thanked me for coming and said good-bye. Desperate for some response before being completely dismissed, I asked what he thought. He said there wasn’t much here that was any good; maybe one or two pieces, but that’s all.
When I got home, I was still reeling from this assault on my ego. But he had touched a nerve. Intentionally or not, he had forced me to reevaluate who I was and what I was doing. As a result, I began to realize for the first time that this constant self-questioning is exactly what the creative process is about. It is not a mere matter of success or failure. I knew I had the talent, but I also had so much to learn. And the best art school education is not the end of the education.
This was my first real breakthrough as an artist. To know how little you know is a crucial step —and, in a funny way, it is knowledge itself. It’s very freeing, allowing you to explore, to make mistakes, to accept that other people have something to offer, to stay open, to grow. Sometimes, the most important thing for a designer to know isn’t what’s right with his work, but what’s wrong, so he can push himself to move on to new breakthroughs.
I realized that this was to be the beginning of a long process, not the end of a short one — that creativity is about getting there, not being there. A true artist is not looking for a finish line; he’s not running a race, he just loves to run. As soon as he thinks he’s there, that’s when people pass him by.
I like to imagine myself in my 80s, still solving problems, and asking myself, Is it there? And knowing that when it’s not, it’s okay, because then I have the opportunity to rethink the problem and constantly stay innovative.”