Seeing The Negative In Everything: Charles Goslin
While I loved my art school teachers, they were all very different. There were some who taught technique. They were masters at drawing, design and type and their tips and tricks were valuable to a successful career, but some of my favorite teachers were the ones who taught creative thinking. I recently reconnected with a teacher from my first class in art school. He was at the top of the field and I took his class more to meet him and hope I would cozy up enough to him so I could work for him. He was young, cool and, without a doubt, the leader in his field of design. He was world class. At the end of the semester, he gave me a new magazine he was art directing and signed, “it was a pleasure having you in my class and watching you totally miss the point.” He was right. It took me years to put aside my pre-conceived notions on creative thought and understand what he was trying to place into my thick head. I had several teachers like that and I have thanked them for what they taught me and their patience and maturity in allowing me to be foolish on my journey to become a successful creative. They are happy for me and another lesson they have taught me, many years later, is to be patient with students to whom I speak and mentor. “The circle,” as Darth Vader exclaimed to Obiwan Kenobi, “is complete. Now I am the master.” “Only the master of evil,” some other teachers might add! There are teachers who are gone, too long for me to thank them. It’s a bad feeling that they had hope for me and may have lived to see me on my way, but they deserved a “thank you.” Sometimes we learn from people in front of us and sometimes we learn from examples of those we don’t personally know. I can only pass on examples of the late Charles Goslin. Charles was the master of negative space. While others saw the glass as half full, Charles saw the glass as full – we just couldn’t see the air that filled the other half.
The Man, the Myth, the LegendCharles Laforest Goslin (February 23, 1932 – May 16, 2007) was an American graphic designer and professor of graphic design and illustration at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York (1966–2007). He also taught at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City (1975–1985). Charles was educated at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduating in 1954. For most of his career, he worked as a one-person studio out of his home in Park Slope, Brooklyn (not far from my apartment), favoring independence over "filtering my work through another artist." He was also a popular professor known for his candid criticism and unique assignments. Charles was able to see the big message in small things. He was one of those people who would walk the street and see things in everyday objects. We see horses and dragons in clouds and stains on a napkin. Goslin saw design solutions. As a professor, Goslin taught graphic design and illustration by assigning news clippings with real but unusual stories. The student would interpret the story or problem through a round of sketches, then produce the final work in the assigned medium (which sometimes would be left to the student. Charles stressed the importance of exploring different ways to communicate including media like performance art or video.) He never repeated an article or story and wrote "about a thousand projects." He used news clippings because it was something he would enjoy himself. "I liked things that are specific... to work on myself... and the best place to find them was any newspaper." Occasionally, Goslin would "write a ringer" and assign the clipping unbeknownst to his students, including one example about the Roman Coliseum becoming Rome's first shopping mall. He has inspired literally thousands of designers. His favorite projects are handing out news clippings based on strange but real stories. There’s one from the New York Times about an automotive product called “Nuance” which gives interiors that “new car smell:” Design an advertisement for this pump spray invention. Or the article in the Daily News about an animal chiropractor—what would the brochure’s cover for this odd practice look like? The student’s job is to sketch, conceptualize and interpret, but above all, the student must communicate. He playfully likened himself to a simple shoe cobbler -- as close as possible to his work. “To get down into it, to push things around with my hands, crafting a design; that’s what I like best.” “I felt the same way the day before I got the award as I did the day after. And I shouldn’t feel any different. Otherwise, it’s a conceit trip. But it is nice. When I make an image of my own, it’s very concrete. It’s there. I can see it. I can enjoy it. But when I teach, it’s very abstract, so for someone to pat you on the head and say, ‘You’re alright, cousin. You’re not bad.’ That’s very nice. That’s concrete.” —Charles Goslin, May 2003 In all of the examples of his work, and surprisingly, there are few available on the internet despite the wealth of his work, it was the ability Charles had to see what WASN’T there… but to SEE it there. I wish I could explain it but I just don’t have the mind that Charles had. It’s like idiot savants who can multiply huge numbers instantly in their head. Charles, a normal, intelligent and humble man, just had the gift.