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Carson the Magazine

2011 May 2

A few days ago, I saved a link to an online review of the new magazine Carson. (When I got around to writing about this, for a second I couldn’t even figure out how I’d stumbled upon this document in the first place, but as per usual…)

I don’t have anything too ambitious to share, here, which is probably just as well since I’m commenting on a review of a magazine which, itself, is somewhat empty, at least per the review; I myself haven’t even seen the actual magazine and, well, it’s Monday morning, so perhaps I can get away with jumbled observations.

Perhaps the one item in Andrew Losowsky’s comments which I found most interesting and in some way relevant, in spite of otherwise being largely unfamiliar with the subject of said comments, was this observation about David Carson’s editorial design: “It was strange, experimental, and often unpleasant.”

Which, depending on where one stands, may say quite a bit about what goes into being a “significant” figure in American graphic design in recent decades, and also about why I don’t really worry much about the judgement of my design peers.

I’ve written briefly, before, about why I don’t expend a lot of energy on design competitions, and having declined to participate in AIGA Cleveland’s biennial competition yet again, this offers a rather timely further illustration of my detachment from such shows.

I mean I like to think of myself as versatile, but, for all that they can be excellent qualities in the right context “strange” and “experimental” just aren’t called for that often in most of the work for which clients come to me with offers of money. And hey, I’m an open-minded 21st-century post-post-whatever relativist and, while I’m not shy about sharing critical opinions, in most cases I don’t really believe that they represent any sort of universal standard, so unless it’s really hurting someone else by all means follow wherever your muse leads you… all the same, I certainly find “unpleasant” a challenging concept as a design value, let alone one which I ever have people seeking from me, as paid (or unpaid) work.

These seem to be among those things which get attention within the community of other designers who pay attention to what’s going on in graphic design, though, and again that’s fine by me but these aren’t really things which I have much occasion to pursue in my own work. So why would I offer up that work for evaluation based on criteria which were not considerations in creating that work? I’m not really sure.

Other than that, I mostly found the concept of a Carson magazine rather curious and amusing. I know very little about David Carson beyond 1) a reputation for, as Losowsky phrases it, “[not] even necessarily turning up to his own events,” and 2) a basic awareness that he achieved a design world fame/infamy in the 1990s for designing magazines like Beach Culture and Ray Gun. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any examples of these, either, aside from perhaps a spread or two reproduced in some other magazine.

Oddly enough, I think most of my awareness of Carson and his reputation probably came from my formal design education, very possibly my History of Graphic Design class. Which was taught by a lively and entertaining character, to be certain, but plugged-in to youth and rebellion professor Mickelson was not.

So it just seems kind of funny that this guy, having already to some extent achieved acceptance or at least acknowledgement by established, “mainstream” design by the late 1990s, is now involved in a magazine which seems to offer little of interest beyond Carson’s reputation and dozen-year-old style innovations. (Granted, I haven’t seen the magazine, but this is at any rate more or less what Losowsky had to say.)

The concept just strikes me as a bit like Mike Judge bringing back Beavis and Butthead years after mainstream culture has largely absorbed everything which was in any way novel or daring or controversial about his 1990s hit. Which, from what I hear, is also in fact happening, but doesn’t change the time-capsule oddness of it. And that’s cool, and in fact I love revisiting the 1990s myself, but, I dunno…

I’m even planning a brief revival of a project which was at least in some small, personal way, a “success” a dozen years ago, too… but I see the whole exercise as a very conscious indulgence in anachronism, and definitely don’t expect to make much of a popular impression on anyone.

What do I know, though, right? The superstar does not need my wisdom or insights, I’m sure, even at the price for which they are offered.

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