Monday, November 21, 2016

ap161119 Take back America 

A challenge for artists, crafts people and designers  

In recent days the catch phrase “Take back America” caught the attention of many people and helped to win the presidential election. This author is skeptical as to whether it’s a good thing because, as a world traveler, he’s seen how Americans are viewed.

Art of the spin

“Take back America” was a pop slogan in the two-year election, but begged the question, “Has America been taken?” There is a disconnect between the haves and the have-nots in America, and the well-kept secret by the “haves” is how to take away from those who “have not.”
The cheat in a win/lose game, for example, seeks to win by not playing by the rules, and gaming in such a clever way that he doesn’t get caught. He keeps his cards close to his chest, or he has a few cards up his sleeve. The losers don’t get it.
The stakes in the presidential election were high and have been since the year 2000. Most Americans, about 99 percent probably, only took notice of how much the USA is hated on September 11, 2001 when terrorists took down the Twin Towers with our own passenger planes.
It took that to wake up Americans that someone out there really, really hates the US—even though there were plenty of signs and outright declarations. For a while, Americans came together, had meetings, put up flags and preached nationalism. It didn’t last. Within a decade there was an undeclared civil war in the USA—and our enemies helped.
Katrina came along then and showed that our belief in and preparedness for climate change was weak, along with other suspicious decision-making in the Presidency and his cabinet.
Along came a half-African American out of nowhere and won the election—which, at the same time, awakened the nascent racism in the United States.
This president restored some of the decency of the office which had been immoral and corrupt. Around the world people took notice, but the wrongs of the previous presidencies—such as the invasion of Iraq—were not forgiven.
All during these decades, education was under constant attack with renewed energy, weakened with growth of anti-intellectualism and anti-science propaganda. Cynicism grew as mind-gamers preyed on religious zeal, fear of foreigners, and economic troubles.
The proportion of losers grew relative to the small number of clever winners, the Americans who were cheating on Americans and thriving on the deepening ignorance and growing demands for more “bread and circus.”
The election became a circus, something like the Super Bowl of politics. Big money backed and rigged the outcome. “Take back America” was the most popular phrase of recent times. The winners use it to fool the losers; the loser use it to justify their blind, ignorant and misguided actions which, in the end, will leave Americans at the mercy of outside control.

The professor takes back America by its roots

I’m a professor like no other as a mixture of engineer, artist, and designer. But my main interest is education—as education is the only thing America can use to restore its place in the world as a respected nation. Education, innovation and creativity are the roots of our original nation. I will help get back to these roots.
The founders who wrote the Constitution debated its wording and came to general agreement. On some points they differed – such as slavery – but on one point they agreed: Their experiment wouldn’t sustain unless the citizens were well educated.
As a new country confronting a frontier and a mixed population and many issues, art and design were unheard of. But innovation and creative thinking of our founding fathers was at the core of our nation’s birth. Therefore, I look at the challenges facing us through the lens of the educator and innovator in arts and design. Without a doubt, art and design are behind both the good and the bad in America.
“Take back America,” is the kind of catch–phrase that comes from creative thinkers. It’s called “spin” in speech writing. Designers know that short, vivid phrases are easy to master and remember. Long speeches, thoughtful essays, and slogans over five words in length, are hard to remember and they don’t sell.
“Take back America” can mean almost anything. If you are among the top 1% of the wealthy, it can mean take away government restrictions on lending institutions selling subprime mortgages that caused the housing crisis. “Take back America” can also mean strong government controls on immigrants. The slogan can be turned this way or that, depending on hidden agendas.
I’m a professor like no other partly because I’ve had 50 years the think and act like an artist, designer, and educator. I think about America's place in the world view, I think about its place as viewed by people in other countries because I’ve been around the world.
Thanks to hundreds of people I've met over half a century–students, colleagues, and perfect strangers on the Internet—I’ve developed a worldview that helps me look at things from outside the USA and from outside of boxes.
“Outside the box” is a catchphrase that means, in my case, thinking about a tangible product to benefit artists designers and entrepreneurs born after 1980 (Millennials) can have to develop their security and do good not only for America but also for America’s place as a nation of respect and sustainable businesses.

Picture this

Picture me stepping up to a whiteboard in front of a group – mostly half my age – and selling the idea of their owning the company I architected instead of working for an established company. Right away you can see the uniqueness of my endeavor. Right away you can see that this is innovative, and creative, and you can see why conventional thinkers (inside the boxes) are skeptical.
That’s okay. In this imaginary room where I’m making my presentation, skepticism abides. Cynicism runs deep in the USA. By the time people are 30 years old in this country, they have seen so many reasons to be skeptical and to not trust an old professor particularly an art professor. That’s why you have to take a global view of my plan, and look at my sales abroad.

I’m willing to stake my intellectual and tangible property on the development of the people in my imaginary room full of listeners. But how can I sell this? Can I use a diagram to show both the local requirements and the road to international exports?
The benefit of my offering is that I have tangible data – that is I can back up every notion I have that justifies my belief that a worker-owned enterprise can provide its members with living wages and a meaningful occupation.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

sp161116  How I can help  

Art professor advises Industrial Design students

An email from an industrial design student inspires a study of the employment outlook for people like him—which does not look good. The author considers a plan for using the product line of etching presses for the nucleus of a new enterprising initiative.

My design for their future

I would like to license my product and services lines to ensure that students with an industrial design inclination be acculturated—enabled to meet changing requirements of wealth creation and redistribution, to add value to the US economy, and to be relevant to society’s educational and recreational needs.
My product and related concepts could be the basis for the students to form a not-for-profit membership organization—working titled Northwest Print Center Incubators—with a range of services reflecting collaborative innovation by designers, educators and industry professionals.

Industrial design defined and economic outlook

Industrial designers combine art, business, and engineering to make products that people use every day or in specialties such as healthcare-related and medical instrumentation, educational technology, games, entertainment and the military. They consider the function, aesthetics, production costs, and the usability of products to develop new product concepts. They imagine how consumers might use a product when they create and test designs.
The outlook for industrial design students today, however, is uncertain—if not downright grim. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Handbook a year ago, employment of industrial designers is projected to grow slower than the average for all occupations: 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Salaries will average around $32/hr., or less than $70,000 a year. Consumer demand for new products and styles might sustain the demand for industrial designers but only if they are new. American ID students must be increasingly competitive, too, as more projects are done over the internet.

Education of industrial designers

Typically, industrial design students are only vaguely aware of activities that precede and lead up to design of products. Things like stakeholder vision, business and brand strategy and management at the operational level of technology-led and marketing-led drivers. These 'fuzzy front end' activities are where the real commercial innovation and creativity is—not in some vague, aesthetic consideration or ease of manufacturing.

My work with industrial designers in an art school

At the UW, in the 1970s and 1980s, I proved to be a visionary and my teaching helped students build their careers on my vision. I’m not a genius; I merely permitted and encouraged them to think into the future beyond established curriculum. What worked for them worked for me, but not in the art world. I was invited to jump over to the design division, and one quarter I sponsored a group project by ID students designing a rock-star style bus for a mobile cross-country summer school. It was around 1982.
I retired young in 1985. The “education industry” called to me, and I built on the knowledge of art and technology that I gained in school. Art education is valued and supported as intellectual and technological activity, not just as mere supplier of artists to art patrons.
Later on I combined my printmaking skills, teaching, design and technology to create the Halfwood Press line and related services. The press is an artifact of an old, dying world, but by re-purposing it for the experience economy I found a sizable and extendable market for this and related products and services.
For example, an estimated 15 million people in the US alone experienced hands-on exposure to printmaking in the past half-century. They enjoyed it, and today they have money and time to return—and they buy my presses. To illustrate this, imagine 1% of them descending on Seattle to satisfy their curiosity and creative needs. The crowd will completely fill Safeco Field—54,000 people.

The Northwest Print Center Incubators is my design to bring young creative designers and entrepreneurs together so that they can build up and take ownership of the various enterprises associated with printmaking—not only presses, but entertainment, senior services, early childhood education and games with purpose.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

pp161113 Art Education and Social Capital  

Entrepreneurship in printmaking: Until he was forcibly retired from teaching at the University of Washington School Of Art, this professor championed the entrepreneurial spirit of a handful of students who were willing to explore alternatives to the old art world conventions of that day.

Social Capital as seen in Europe

A paper exploring the role of social capital acquired by students during student and graduate entrepreneurial journeys at three universities in Sweden, England and Spain inspired me to reflect on my work at the University of Washington School Of Art. The paper, published online in April, 2016 titled “The University is Dead: Long live the university,” focused on the connection between social capital and entrepreneurship.
The objective of the research for this paper was to understand how universities can facilitate social capital acquisition in the context of entrepreneurial learning. By “social capital” it is meant networking, for one thing, and the solving of problems through creativity and interchange among mentors and peers.


When I reflect on my first months at the UW, I think how being put in an office in the business school—next door to the art building—may have contributed to my teaching and my philosophy of art. In the European research described above, they used a qualitative methodological approach, drawing on what they term the “critical incident technique.”
The “critical incident’ of spending my first twelve weeks in a business building office, with a business professor office mate, may have been a “critical incident” in my formation. Looking out my office window to the art building across the way, may have had the effect distancing me from the citadel of art. It gave me a different perspective on what went on there.
For example, I had a view of the art school’s dumpsters filling with castaway art projects and detritus cast off from attempts at sculpture, drawings galore and worthless paintings. I noticed students struggling to enter the building’s massive, cathedral-style oak door, balancing over-sized portfolios and art toolboxes in one hand and opening the door with the other.
A small parking lot separated the business and art buildings, and there faculty came and went at their convenience. Senior faculty drove sporty cars—a white Jaguar XKE, for example, and the chairman drove a Triumph Spitfire. Lower-ranking faculty drove Volkswagens and older model domestic cars. I drove a six-year old Ford.

Embedded learning

From that distance, from the business school window, I was impressed with what I saw. When I entered the building it was like going from the real world into a church, a holy place with its own reason for being and set apart from the business-like environment I had just left. That experience may have embedded itself and surfaced—years later—as I introduced business and entrepreneurship methods to my students.
As an educator (and less so than as an artist) I was motivated to blend business and entrepreneurship activities within my curriculum to facilitate learning, the kind of learning that would lead to my students’ successes in the world beyond the walls of the art school.
Not only was it the chance incident of my brief business building residency, it was also due to my particular field—printmaking. While printmaking regarded as “fine art” it’s inextricably tied to business and industry. Printmaking is the ancestor of all technologies that shaped the world as we know it.
Therefore, to help my students succeed in printmaking, I got them to think about business and industrial practices on which publishing depends. It was not a trade school, and most of them would succeed in other art forms—not only printmaking. My curriculum balanced liberal arts and engineering, business ethics, and social networking in a skunkworks outside mainstream publishing and the arts.

Is the UW Art School Dead?

At the end of the article cited above, the conclusion is, “. . . the university is dead (as was traditionally understood); long live the (entrepreneurial) university.” This sentence expresses perfectly my view of the University of Washington School Of Art today—by comparison to my days and students in my classes in the 1970s, the UW Art School is probably dead. Yet, in my heart and mind, the entrepreneurial university that I knew is alive—somewhere and sometimes.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

ps161104 Rembrandts Ghost as Euro game  

I went into the hospital recently for back surgery, and, as so often happens to me, I was lucky to meet someone who gave me a clue in solving the puzzle of Rembrandts Ghost-the game. You may know I designed the WeeWoodie Rembrandt Press, intending this toy press to be a component in a series of games both physical and digital.

Now I know a lot of people reading this might think that going to the hospital for back surgery is not a matter of being lucky, however I do live my life as if it were a game and that every event, no matter how trivial or gloomy, is like a card dealt to me.
For example, consider what were the chances that one of the therapists on duty would be a printmaker like me?
“Oh, yes, I know printmaking,” she said—when I mentioned it’s what I do for my occupation. “My mother and father are both in the arts, as teachers, and I’ve been making prints ever since I was a little girl!”
Her name was Jessica, an occupational therapist. Having established something we had in common, and with little time to make small talk, I went further.
“I actually make miniature etching presses.”
“Oh, cool!”
I pressed on: “But, to tell you the truth, I like to think of printmaking as a kind of game, so I’m now thinking about a global network of printmakers, a kind of game, based on geography and the times they have a printmaking experience—the moment of making a print.”
Jessica was the “lucky card” in my game because when suggested that I like to think of making a printmaking game as “a work of art” she said, “Then I think you would like European-style board games.” Lucky for me, because I had never heard of European-style, or Euro Games. She explained that they are more cerebral, deeper, than run-of-the-mill board games like Monopoly or Scrabble.
After I left the hospital I began researching Euro Games, seeking a way to link together my press designs with the online network I call Proximates—a social network for printmakers in which space and time of a printmaking moment constitutes a value to share worldwide.
Pretty soon I found an article by Keith Burgun titled, “Why Eurogames are Inherently Single Player Games.” I hit pay dirt because he referred to these games as “machine-like.” My novel, “Rembrandt’s Ghost in the New Machine” came to mind as I read his words:
“. . . the core, central idea of Euros is ‘building a machine’. You take elements from the middle, buy them with resources, and add them to your machine which makes it bigger and more productive. It produces more resources, and the loop continues. This machine-building thing is really what they’re all about.”
My life game I call “Emeralda” is about fitting things together to form as perfect a life as possible, so Keith’s remarks about Euro games being akin to machine-building is one of those parts.
Making an etching press is a matter of fitting parts together to make a working machine. Making it beautiful is another aspect which is ignored by printmaking press manufacturers.
Making beautiful instruments to make beautiful art is the domain of musical-instrument makers—not printing press makers. I believe artists work best when their tools—their instruments—are in proportion to their tasks. Proportion means shape, choice of materials, performance and other things that are part of the artist, crafts person and designer’s domain.
It must be true of game design, too, and Keith expressed it. Secondly, he suggests that game play can be single-player with advantages, but people might think it a little weird—like playing Solitaire or filling in crossword puzzles is to me. If you’re a printmaker, you might relate to this comment by Keith:
“. . . the concept of taking out a board game, laying out all the pieces and playing it by yourself is very strange to most people. I’ve done this myself and it’s fun, but it’s kind of a weird feeling.
Paraphrasing Keith, I say that buying a Halfwood Etching Press for thousands of dollars from me, adding another few hundreds in import duties, shipping and art supplies and then making prints by yourself—for yourself and maybe a close circle of friends or a club—is the same kind of weird.
And what about the social value of printmaking? I believe that printmaking is a social art—and it’s an art of historical and political value, not to mention it’s the ancestor of all technologies as we know them. Maybe hand printmaking has been diminished to self-indulgent play or therapeutic pastime, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
As such, printmaking is like playing games. Confucius said it’s better to play games than do nothing at all. Jane MacGonigal said playing games can save your life, and fix reality!
Even when I was in my ‘thirties I wondered what I would do as an old man. I traveled the world meeting old printmakers to see what the future might hold for me when I reached my ‘70s (which I have!). It looks to me as though all that is left for an old man is to lay out all the pieces of my game and play it by myself.
On the other hand, as printmaking evolved to become MMORPGs through a history of technologies—millions of pieces of a virtual machine of which a few—when fitted together—could make a single-player game I call “Proximates.”
In his article, Keith added another component—bots—because single player games lack interaction by other players. If there must be other players, Keith Burgun said, then let them be bots:
“. . . because ‘other players’ don’t add anything to the [game play] experience. If there must be bots, I want them to be as predictable as possible so that I can factor their actions into my machine-building. If there must be other players, use bots, and make them as predictable as possible.”
If there are to be bots in my game design, they would be famous artists who made historic prints—everything from bird art (James Audubon) to anti-war images (Goya). Rembrandt’s (Ghost) is my initial entry. I considered Goya and Salvador Dali to include in my pantheon of ghosts in the printmaking machines. They made printmaking history, their actions in game play are predictable, not to mention the educational value of playing with these ghosts.

I hope Jessica gets in touch with me—I would love to share Keith Burgun’s article with her and discuss how occupational therapy might involve printmaking and Euro Games.