Students in Watkins’s graphic design program talk about the drafting that went into their senior show.
By Dan Brawner
One of the first tasks for graphic design seniors at Watkins is to develop a concept for their senior exhibition, one that promotes the group. The selected concept and design inform the show’s poster, website, and physical exhibition. The process involves discussing the merits of solutions from prior years before students explore potential ideas individually; then the students make proposals to their classmates and faculty. Interestingly, this semester’s seniors presented multiple design proposals that probed a singular theme: space. Literal and figurative, real and absolute, physical, synthetic, curved, digital, outer, inner, negative, private, and public space.
A pivotal moment in this year’s discovery sequence occurred when one student presented the work of Bruce Nauman and James Turrell as artists she was studying in another class and ones who were guiding her thinking. I asked if she and the class had seen the Turrell room “Blue Pesher” at Cheekwood. They hadn’t, so off we went. After a group lunch, we walked into Turrell’s subterranean chamber and gazed up and out the circular hole above us. Through it we saw distant jets, cloud formations, and a Mourning Dove—then suddenly the sky cleared and the opening appeared to become a flat blue dot on the ceiling. The sky came down and perceptual space became subjective, an illusion—art.
As a professor, it is this investment in the creative process—which includes interdisciplinary inspiration, labor, mindfulness, time, and space— that becomes central to the education and formation of the artist and, in our case, the designer. Research, experimentation, failures, and discoveries are integral to turning the development of an idea that lives only in one’s mind into a work of art. “The aim of the poet is to inform and delight,” as the philosopher Horace once said, and the same is true for the designer. The selected senior show concept succeeds by combining the two without explanation; and the poster the class eventually chose (the third one below) is an invitation to an event and an invitation to think. How artists get “there,” though, is an equally important discovery.
That’s why, looking back on the evolution that was “Space,” I asked each senior to offer a short meditation on his or her initial concept. Here is what they said:
“While discussing the theme for our senior show, we talked a lot about space. We contemplated both the literal interpretation of this word, the great expanse that is the universe, as well as a more conceptual interpretation, in terms of space in relation to design. I decided to pursue a more conceptual path, and worked with the name ‘whitespace.’”
— Annabelle Arnold
“All of the seniors decided they wanted the theme to involve space in some way, whether outer space or conceptual space. My idea for the senior show was ‘moonshot minds.’ Referencing outer space by invoking the moonshot, which is defined as launching of a spacecraft to the moon, this was a metaphor for the seniors launching themselves into the market as designers.”
— Angelique Camacho
“I began thinking about this project at the same time I was researching Bruce Nauman for another class. Nauman is an artist who works fluidly across mediums and questions society’s expectations of artists and of art itself. A quote of Nauman’s that really struck me was this one: ‘What I am really concerned about is what art is supposed to be—and can become.’ Reading into his process led me to ask questions about graphic design. What does design mean? What role do designers play in society, and do we have an obligation to fulfill those expectations?
“I explored the idea of space in the literal sense, and looked into artists like James Turrell who work with perception and light. The senior show is an opportunity to work with a space that will host a large part of Nashville’s creative community. I intended to address this audience and the experience of the location’s physical space. By exploring the concept of space in different mediums like installation, animation, and interactivity, I wanted to challenge preconceived notions about design. My senior show concept aspires to start a conversation with the creative community about what design is and could be.”
“My concept for our senior graphic design show was to explore and combine spaced typography with a designer’s natural environment to create a look and feel of contemporary, relevant design—modern, elegant, minimalistic, and simple. My goal with this simple design concept was to use typography as the foundation and allow the viewer to spend time observing how space can be used in design. I’ve always liked the saying, ‘A simple concept is hard to forget.’”
“Space is representative of the wide unknown, limitless potential and possibility; going ‘into orbit’ in terms of beginning our careers and the next phase of our lives. Exploring space as a frontier also seemed metaphoric for the stage we are in. Finally, space is representative of the concerns of physical space we deal with as designers. Exploring space as a means to a creative solution is critical in our work.”
Dan Brawner is an associate professor and chair of Watkins’s graphic design department. Watkins’s graphic design senior exhibition “Space_” features Annabelle Arnold, Angelique Camacho, Noelle Grimes, Chris Hughes, and Jessi Knight. It will be held at redpepper on November 30, 2016, from 5 to 8 PM.