Glaser’s Abstraction Covered

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Milton Glaser is an eclectic. Meaning he does not practice any single ideological method, manner or style. As a young student he noted, “My own training was not very doctrinaire.” He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York, where, he says, “I received one body of instruction, and then on to Cooper Union where I got another, then to the Art Students League for yet another.”

These various methods taught him “that there was no single truth.” When I asked him in the AIGA Journal back in 1988 to discuss the Modernist spirit that impacted so much of American design in the 1960s, he replied, “Modernism offered me a set of conventions to work with or against, because in the absence of beliefs (even temporary beliefs), it is just much harder to act. Anyway, I tend to view all philosophical notions as sometimes useful and sometimes not.”

He added, “There is a certain arrogance in the idea that [one] can develop a universal methodology that works in every case for every person. It does not make any sense … Life and people are too complicated.”

I have habitually tried to put art and design into neat categories. I cofounded SVA’s “Modernism & Eclecticism: A History of American Graphic Design” to address the polarities between design and designers. Yet as I get older (maybe wiser) I realize that Glaser is right. The bucket-concept is not realistic. Art is about growth not limitation. And style is just a surface manifestation of many options available to us all.

The book covers below by Glaser from the 1960s and 70s prove the point. At first glance neither were recognizable as his work, but come under the Modernism “style” umbrella. At second glance they underscore his statements above. Design is meant to solve an intended task. “Then if you’re lucky,” he said, “if you are lucky and talented, you may also create something extraordinary that goes beyond the objected task.”


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