Scholars Explore Public Art and Graphic Design for Spring Book Discussion

Bethany George, ’15

On Feb. 28, all Park Scholars met to discuss Stefan Sagmeister’s “Things I have learned in my life so far.” We examined questions that were raised by Sagmeister’s piece, such as the differences between both the creators and the audiences of public art, graphic design, and advertising.

Each semester, the Park Scholars come together for a book discussion. The books for both semesters have the same theme, but the texts either contrast each other or explore different aspects of the theme.

This year, the theme was the creation and consumption of images in media. In the fall, scholars read Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others,” a critique on the commonplace of images that portrayed atrocities of others.

Sagmeister’s “Things I have learned in my life so far” is a collection of pamphlets that exhibits projects he created based on life lessons gathered from his own experiences or other people. Two examples of these lessons are, “money does not make me happy,” and “actually doing things I set out to do increases my overall level of satisfaction.” The life-lessons-turned-art-projects depicted in the pamphlets were contracted by clients, who gave Sagmeister the creative freedom to do what he pleased.

Because some of the art displays were personal to the artist, we talked about the effects of making personal work public. Additionally, in the pamphlets, Sagmeister discussed the importance of taking sabbaticals—or time-off—to clear one’s mind and create art for the pleasure of creating work. We hoped that one day we too were successful enough to have the leisure of taking vacations to refresh our minds and spirits.

In addition to discussing “Things I have learned in my life so far,” we also watched the 2010 documentary, Waste Land. The film was about the artist, Vik Muniz, who traveled to the world’s largest landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro, Jardim Gramacho, to find a way to create art out of the trash.

Muniz hired some of the locals, whose primary occupation was to sort recycled materials from trash, to collaborate with him to create large portraits made entirely of things found in the landfill. After the portraits were created and photographed, the images were sold at a prestigious auction house in London.

The documentary raised many questions about the way that Muniz interacted with both the community and the locals. We wondered if his presence actually did a service for the community, or if it was merely good publicity for the artist. 


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