• Steven Heller

An Alternative Culture Education

Blueprint for Counter Education by Maurice R. Stein and Larry Miller is one of the defining (but neglected) works of radical pedagogy of the Sixties era. Originally published as a boxed set by Doubleday in 1970, the book was accompanied by large graphic posters designed by Marshall Henrichs that could serve as a portable learning environment for a new process-based model of education, and a bibliography and checklist that map patterns and relationships between radical thought and artistic practices—from the modernism to postmodernism, from the Bauhaus to Black Mountain College, from Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin to Buckminster Fuller and Norman O. Brown—with Herbert Marcuse and Marshall McLuhan weighing in. The entire set is now available as a reprint/facsimile published by Inventory Press. Its editorial director, Adam Michaels of Project Projects, discusses this exciting new project. 

You’ve been publishing quite a bit on art and architecture through the Inventory Press imprint. First off, how are you doing? Doing well, thank you. It’s been a highly engaging two and a half years since starting Inventory Press.

How did the press begin? IP came about as a natural extension of Project Projects, the graphic design studio that I cofounded in the early 2000s. I’ve focused on book design at PP since we started, and there’s been a kind of ease (albeit of a deeply time-intensive variety) in branching off into editing and publishing books from that origin point—also as a way of integrating professional standards that I’ve developed in my design career with the subject matter and methods of various DIY activities that I’ve undertaken since the 90s.

My interests have always been directed toward various marginal cultural activities; it’s a tremendous pleasure that the press provides a setting for the exploration and promulgation of topics that likely wouldn’t otherwise receive deserved attention. I remain very interested in cultural realms such as art, architecture, music, and so on, though am far more attracted to neglected, weirdo, in-between zones than the more consensus- and market-driven aspects commonly put forth by institutions and publishers.

Blueprint For Counter Education is a bit of a departure for you. Where did you find this amazing document? My awareness of Blueprint for Counter Education came from a prior collaboration between Jeffrey Schnapp and myself, The Electric Information Age Book. In rounding up a range of mass market paperbacks incorporating avant-garde editorial and design techniques, we came across Ira Einhorn’s graphically elaborate 78-187880, published by Doubleday. Taking note of its designer, Marshall Henrichs, led us to his other significant counter-culture design project, the considerably larger-format Blueprint.

I’m surprised I never heard of it or saw a copy. That’s my era, after all. At that time it was relatively easy to find an affordable copy online, so both Jeffrey and I obtained copies and were quickly blown away by how it was such an exceptional print artifact. For some time we mulled over how we might develop a project on the topic. Things started to really move when we discovered that Blueprint’s editors and designer lived relatively close to Jeffrey’s home in Cambridge, MA, whereupon we began a series of fascinating conversations with them.

Roughly around the same time, IP had started to build momentum; it occurred to me that it could be feasible (and incredible) to put the full publication (a slipcase with three giant posters and a substantial book) back into print, with the addition of a new book taking stock of the original from a contemporary perspective.

What do you believe is its relevancy today, other than its graphic allure? Issues of educational approach are at least as pressing now as ever; Blueprint‘s mix of rigor and play, and attitude of constructive contempt for the stultifying aspects of conventional pedagogical approaches are well worth putting forth as a still-relevant model. Also, the publication’s contents still provide dozens of compelling branching-off points for further inquiry.

From the design side, other than the sheer visual pleasure of the the posters and books, Blueprint stands up as a strong example of formal innovation stemming from an exceptionally close engagement with content—notably in this case, radical content written with a willingness and desire to sidestep formal norms.

Was this well known in its day? How many were printed? At a panel at PS1 last year during the New York Art Book Fair, Blueprint coauthor Larry Miller mentioned that the original print run was 5,000 copies—this struck me as a surprisingly high number, given how difficult it is to find a copy now. On the other hand, that may have been a relatively small run for a large publisher like Doubleday, and it seems like Blueprint‘s distribution was particularly focused on campus settings.

For a variety of reasons, of which Maurice Stein and Larry Miller’s time teaching at CalArts is likely most significant, on at least an anecdotal level it appears to me that knowledge of Blueprint is significantly higher in Los Angeles than NYC. When presenting first copies of the reprint at Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair this past February, numerous passersby came up to the IP table to express their surprise and excitement that Blueprint is again available.

What does the document propose? And what was indeed adopted? The document proposes a learner-driven model of education. One suggested use is for viewers to install the posters (termed charts) on three walls, forming an immersive environment for studying the displayed range of political, philosophical, and artistic ideas and personas. Herbert Marcuse and Marshall McLuhan are put forth as the most significant poles of influence at the time; “Modernism as meditative environment” is pitted against an early reference to “Post Modernism as participatory environment.”

Viewers are suggested to start by finding a topic that they’re familiar with, and then from there follow patterns of thought and pursue new points of connection between ideas and contemporary events.

The accompanying “shooting script” provides further directives and a bibliography that includes books, articles, and periodicals, as a set of outward oriented links. The charts are put forth as a work in progress, very much intended for further editing and elaboration by each viewer.

Who is your audience? While the original Blueprint is a relatively obscure cultural artifact, we’ve found that the new edition has already been receiving a great deal of interest. It appears most natural that we’ll reach audiences already interested in radical pedagogy and/or graphic design; it seems like a more general crowd is becoming interested based on the publication’s remarkable physical and visual qualities, as well as its accessible and engaging presentation of its subject matter.

Is Inventory planning more facsimile editions of rare documents? I’m certainly open to the possibility, and I’m impressed by the high production values that are achievable these days for a facsimile such as this. IP has a number of new titles in the works, though there aren’t other facsimile editions coming up in the near term.

The Spring 2016 issue takes a dive into the largest design capital of the world: New York City. Get an exclusive look into the lives of design celebrities–from James Victore to Timothy Goodman, Jessica Walsh to Stefan Sagmeister. And then ask yourself: what makes a designer a celebrity? And is there a difference between “celebrity” and “fame?”

All of this PLUS the winners of the Typography & Lettering Awards, the history of Helvetica and a sneak peek at Seymour Chwast’s next exhibit.

#BlueprintforCounterEducation #DailyHeller #InventoryPress #StevenHeller