Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wallpaper of Ugly

Please welcome our first guest blogger, Design Communication Arts advisor Karen Lauritsen.

I like pretty (although defining the term is relative, or at least should be), but I want more. Culture, especially in the U.S., trains us to reach first for the shiny, the lovely, the perfect. We like to look, and we know what we like to see. We want visual support for our cognitive assumptions, we want to consume as we know how, and we want to find agreement in a common aesthetic. So in creating, it’s tempting to focus on pretty.

When I was a high school English teacher, I found the most successful students were the ones still willing to use pen and paper. As we have all experienced, the computer hides our drafts. It corrects the superficial and forgets what came before. It can make everything look pretty at first glance, perfect and ready to read before the real work has been done.

This illusion seduces students in design as it does in writing. They stare wide-eyed the idea of including early sketches and concept work in their portfolio, as though no one is interested in their thinking, only in their decorating. Indeed, it takes courage to show process, to make a decision based on personal thought and belief rather than communal aesthetic. Society demands pretty and perfect; it’s vulnerable to show something unique and unfinished because it may be deemed ugly, one of the gravest offenses in our culture.

I remember a teacher who saved every draft of everything she wrote. On the first day of school she taped her work around the room, creating floor-to-ceiling wallpaper with her many ideations, complete with scratches and tears and Xs and notes. This is the real work writing involves, she explained. The students balked, incredulous. But in time many accepted that process was necessary. Ugly was okay - it could even be pretty.


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