“I believe in lunatics.”

I’m regurgitating this short rant (see title above) for your consumption from Tibor Kalman’s biography, Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. I think it is more relevant today then when he wrote it in 1998.

As design is increasingly recognized by business as the new “competitive edge,” designers will get more stroking in the form of paychecks, press and pretty plaques. I’m concerned though that this new attention on design from outside the design community will be enough of a disguise for the big bad wolf to cook us all.

“It’s about the struggle between individuals with jagged passion in their work and today’s faceless corporate committees, which claim to understand the needs of the mass audience, and are removing the idiosyncrasies, polishing the jags, creating a thought-free, passion-free, cultural mush that will not be hated nor loved by anyone. By now, virtually all media, architecture, product and graphic design have been freed from ideas, individual passion, and have been relegated to a role of corporate servitude, carrying out corporate strategies and increasing stock prices. Creative people are now working for the bottom line.

Magazine editors have lost their editorial independence, and work for committees of publisher (who work for committees of advertisers). TV scripts are vetted by producers, advertisers, lawyers, research specialists, layers and layers of paid executives who determine whether the scripts are dumb enough to amuse what they call the ‘lowest common denominator’. Film studios put films in front of focus groups to determine whether an ending will please target audiences. All cars look the same. Architectural decisions are made by accountants. Ads are stupid. Theater is dead.

Corporations have become the sole arbiters of cultural ideas and taste in America.

Our culture is corporate culture.

Culture used to be the opposite of commerce, not a fast track to ‘content’-derived riches. Not so long ago captains of industry (no angels in the way the acquired wealth) thought that part of their responsibility was to use their millions to support culture. Carnegie built libraries, Rockefeller built art museums, Ford created his global foundation. What do we now get from our billionaires? Gates? Or Eisner? Or Redstone? Sales pitches. Junk mail. Meanwhile, creative people have their work reduced to ‘content’ or ‘intellectual property’. Magazine and films become ‘delivery systems’ for product messages.

But to be fair, the above is only 99 percent true.

I offer a modest solution: find the cracks in the wall. There are a very few lunatic entrepreneurs who will understand that culture and design are not about fatter wallets, but about creating a future. They will understand that wealth is a means, not an end. Under other circumstances they may have turned out to be like you, creative lunatics. Believe me, they’re there and when you find them, treat them well and use their money to change the world.”

— Tibor Kalman, New York, June 1998. “F___ Committees. I Believe in Lunatics” article excerpted from Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. Published by Booth-Clibborn.

4 Responses to ““I believe in lunatics.””

  1. Frank McClung

    I hope no one is too offended by the title. That’s not my title anyway, it is Tibor’s.

  2. Jonathan

    To play the devil’s advocate, corporate culture, keeps many of us from being the starving artists of old, who died at an early age due to lead poisoning from the very paint used to make them known. If it is an either/or, I’ll take my 9 to 5. It may not let me do just anything I want, but it lets me feed my family. My children are the future I am concerned about most. While I admit, I get frustrated with it all, it is usually late in the day, just before I go home and find my own voice in the projects I do on the side. I think its important also to look for opportunities to show the corporate suits something better-to try to change the thing from the inside out. While I look for those cracks Tibor was referring to, maybe I can start a few more. Afterall, the sooner the dam breaks, the better is the way I see it.

  3. C Tobias

    I face the problem in book design of “design by committee”. I submit designs and then they are vetted. First, legitimately by the art director. But then it must go to editorial, marketing, the author, the publisher, the sales team, and finally the bookstore buyers. Each has their input, their two cents. “Don’t think orange is good…don’t use all caps on the titles…why did you crop the photo this way…” The problem stems from those people seeing designers as production artists, not as professionals.

    If marketing and sales and editorial would trust the value judgments of the designers working on their projects they would find that they would end up with a better finished product, not a watered-down stew.

  4. Frank McClung

    True CT. Maybe this is why art as an advantage over design in communicating the passion of the artist.

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