Creative Conversations: Pablo Berger + Milton Glaser
Leading up to the Young Guns 11 call for entries on May 1, we are posting a series of stimulating conversations between YG’s and other Creatives.
Pablo Berger: I’ve always had a tremendous respect for your voice as a person and how you express yourself and your eloquence, which obviously seeps through the work, as well with the books you’ve read. Now I’m just curious as to what you are reading right now.
Milton Glaser: I’m interested in the way the brain works. I tend to read a lot of books on behavior and brain functions and neurology and also to some degree books on ethics and philosophy. I never read novels and I usually spend my time reading non-fiction.
I spent so many years reading bad novels for book jackets that I was doing, that I lost my appetite for reading novels for pleasure.
Pablo: What are you working on right now?
Milton: I am trying to do work that is self initiated, so I am doing some new ceramics, a line of clocks, some wrapping papers and fabrics. I just finished a line of carpets that have been made in Tibet and things that are basically outside the general area of graphic design as we usually practice it. It’s very hard for me at this point of my life to work for an art director or even to work for a client that has an existing problem that has to be solved. I find it much more satisfying to create your own problems and try to solve them.
Pablo: That’s always more fun. I think that it’s kind of fun to be able to assume the problems of others and then absorb them yourself and sort of figure how that work can be done.
Milton: It depends on what point in your life you are. At a certain point you get very narcissistic and self-absorbed I suppose and not interested in hearing somebody else’s opinion on what color something should be.
Pablo: Do you believe that once the project leaves your hand, it’s not yours anymore?
Milton: It’s the search that is the virtue of doing one of these things. And the solution is not the pay off. The payoff is really the process of looking for an answer to something and very often the answer is irrelevant.
Pablo: And how have you found yourself dealing with preconceptions with your life-long career?
Milton: I’m at a great point in my life. The work that I’m doing is the freshest and the best I’ve ever done, at least I think so. I may be delusional but. I look at my work and it just looks better than anything I’ve ever done before and it looks different than anything I’ve done before and the work I’ve done in the past seems immature but essential to understanding what I’m trying to achieve now.
Pablo: Do you think it has anything to do with being able to afford for yourself more self-initiated projects?
“The nature of any activity that is imaginative demands that you abandon what has succeeded before.”
Milton: Well to some degree it’s the consequence of realization that I won’t be able to move forward unless I move forward by stating my own objectives, because the objectives of the moment and design are always going to be circumscribed by your client and your clients cannot move forward, they always have to look at the past in terms of what has succeeded and try to replicate what has succeeded in the present. I mean, whenever you get a job, it’s always in terms of what has succeeded before from a client, because all the marketing and focus groups always focus on what has worked before. The nature of any activity that is imaginative demands that you abandon what has succeeded before.
Pablo: Of course, but on the long term for you as the individual creator, how does that then affect your outlook on life, work and everything in between?
Milton: Well, you can’t be stupid about it; you have to recognize that you’re in business with the client. Your client wants this to sell goods, that’s for me the secret, if I may reveal this to the world, it’s not what I want to do necessarily, I want to create beauty. Those are things that are not necessary congruent but you have to figure out a way to make them work together. They are not an easy pairing.
If you’re too eccentric and too individualistic and too concerned with that as a primary objective, you’re going to fail and nobody will touch you. If you’re too much of service you’re going to be a hack and do mediocre work and perhaps succeed. A favorite question I have now for young people is: Pick one of these two choices in life. A: You do ordinary work that is celebrated and you make a lot of money. B: You do extraordinary work that your peers applaud and you make little money. Pick one as a life choice; and you discover how difficult that is and also how much people lie about which one they’d choose.
Pablo: Well, if I were to choose even though I could succumb to the possibility that maybe people will call me and tell me that it is a bluff or a lie but I think the second its not even an issue with the adulation of my peers, I think it is the satisfaction of knowing that it’s a job well done and it’s a job that enriches you as an individual and as a professional.
Milton: You realize how hard it gets, you think here I am, a young kid of 27 who thinks I’m going to be a great artist no matter what and I’ll live modestly but I’ll know the work is meaningful. Suppose I’m 45 and now I have two children and I want to send one of them to a good school and I also need a larger apartment. Am I really willing to sacrifice the kids and live modestly just so that I could get awards from the Art Directors Club and the applause from other people seeing me living in a big apartment. All of a sudden it’s not so easy anymore to say no I’m going to do the greatest work and I will be admired by others, not so easy. But a good question to ask yourself.
Pablo: How have you dealt for many decades with both sides of the coin?
Milton: Well, I’ve really been lucky, I’ve managed to make as much money as I’ve wanted to make. I’ve never in my life felt that I didn’t make enough money. I didn’t have the dreams of a Wall Street trader. I’ve always felt that my work was good. So I have to say that I never felt conflicted, that I never felt that I had to do something else in order to earn more and that the creation of beauty for me was the most satisfying and important thing in my life.
Pablo: How would you define success in the actual sense, in the broadest success possible? Personal success, I mean the moment for you personally when you thought that you had success in life at any given point in your life. It could even be as a child or last year or?
“There are so many awards and so little invention.”
Milton: Well, to be absolutely truthful and at the same time trying not to appear egocentric or self absorbed, that’s easy to say because I realized that I’m always being driven by accomplishment. That when I got the Presidential Medal two years ago which is from Obama, from the National Medal of the Arts, I really thought, I’m so sorry my mother wasn’t here to see this.
The idea that the President of the United States gave me this medal for my accomplishment that no other graphic designer had ever gotten anything like it, I finally said well, now you can say that you’re in a different class. I have to say I was not immune to that. Generally speaking most indications of success, medals, awards, professional things like that are irrelevant and I don’t care about them. This meant something else; it meant that I had gone into a different area of acknowledgment.
The thing that puzzles me is how limited the field is and how right now it’s so stagnant and there are a few bright lights but generally speaking the field is so circumscribed by commercial objectives and its limitation that it’s shocking how little invention there is and how much celebration and the pursuit of self interest and the fame. There are so many awards and so little invention.
Pablo: The lack of value towards nurturing and creation of ideas and concept?
Milton: Too many words and too little pleasure and too little beauty. The tendency has become be cranky when you get older but here there is reason to be cranky. And it’s a dull period with some highlights. That’s not to say that there are no interesting things going on but, part of it is that the field has become too big. It’s enormous and everybody is sort of looking around for what’s hot and it’s just not good enough work that is distinctive and part of it is driven by just the commercial effort to stay on top of everything.