I’m back with a new issue of this newsletter in under a month — this might be a record! (By “I”, I mean me, Jarrett Fuller. You’re getting this newsletter because you signed up to receive updates on me and my work.) I’m going to try to send these out more regularly, using it as a way to capture my current thinking and projects. In the first issue of this — all the way back in 2019! — I compared my goal for these to Berg’s Weeknotes but I’ve fallen away from that framework and its time to get back to it. If it turns out that’s not for you, no worries — you can hit unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. If it is for you — thanks! I’m glad you’re here!
Thanks for all the kind words regarding my new job, announced in last month’s issue. It still hasn’t sunk in but we’re looking forward to a trip to Raleigh soon to begin looking for houses — it’ll feel real then!
Last month, I:
I’m currently thinking about:
A few issues ago, I mentioned I was going through directors’ entire filmography to catch up on some film history and reconsider old favorites. I’m still doing this and recently went back and rewatched Wes Anderson’s entire body of work in order. I’ve long been a fan of Anderson’s — even if it is two twee at times — and continue to admire the art direction and design of his movies. (That’s not to say he doesn’t have his faults: watching them all in order really highlights the whiteness and maleness of them all.)
What immediately jumped out to me, however, watching them in order is how early his singular style feels fully realized. You see glimpses of it in his debut feature Bottle Rocket — the deadpan acting and dry humor, the symmetrical framing — but by Rushmore — his second film! — it’s all there: the acting and humor, the framing and art direction, the camera work and typographic flourishes. It’s as if he’s fully realized as an artist, and what he wants to do in film, right from the beginning. His third, The Royal Tenenbaums, I continue to think might be his best film and might even be a perfect film (which is different than my personal favorite which I still think might be The Life Aquatic). Hard to believe that one is 20 years old this year! This does not mean Anderson has peaked or recycled his work since. What’s even more impressive is how he’s found a way to play within this framework, continually experimenting while retaining his Anderson-ness He’s moved between live-action and stop motion, plays with story structure (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and switches up locations (New York! Paris! Tokyo!).
Another director like this, I think, is Tim Burton. Now, I’m not as much a fan of Burton as I am Anderson but his early movies meant a lot to me growing up (Beetlejuice, Batman, and Pee-Wee were favorites in our house). A little over a decade ago, I saw the Tim Burton exhibition at MoMA with my dad. We walked through it together, in chronological order. About halfway through, Dad looked at me and said “You can see him begin to refine his style from the beginning!” It’s true. Anderson is the same way.
I’ve written about my love for the reflexivity in Anderson’s films before, but I want to highlight something I think about whenever I watch his movies from Matt Zoller Seitz’s excellent Wes Anderson monograph. This is from Michael Chabon’s introduction, comparing Anderson’s films to Joseph Cornell’s collaged boxes:
The things in Anderson’s films that recall Cornell’s boxes—the strict, steady, four-square construction of individual shots, by which the cinematic frame becomes a Cornellian gesture, a box drawn around the world of the film; the teeming, gridded, curio-cabinet sets at the heart of The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling, and Mr. Fox—are often cited as evidence of his work’s “artificiality”, at times with the implication, simple-minded and profoundly mistaken, that a high degree of artifice is somehow inimical to seriousness, to honest emotion, to so-called authenticity. All movies, of course, are equally artificial; it’s just that some are more honest about it than others. In this important sense, the hand-built, model-kit artifice on display behind the pane of an Anderson box is a guarantor of authenticity.
The knock against Anderson is that his movies are artificial or unbelievable. But by making us aware of that artificiality, aware that we’re watching a film, they actually become more authentic, echoing a sort of Brechtian-reflexivity.
I completely loved Alison J. Clarke’s Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World, a sort-of intellectual biography of the designer and critic who helped kickstart what we now think of as social design with his seminal Design for the Real World. Papanek, it turns out, is a complicated figure and Clarke does an amazing job of both acknowledging his impact while also being critical of him and his work. A hagiographic monograph, this is not! What’s more, Clarke uses Papanek as a central figure onto which she brings a variety of practitioners, both contemporary and historical to better understand the social design movement. (I was also embarrassed to not know Papanek ran the industrial design program at NC State, my new employer, for a time in the seventies!) I highly recommend this one.
Somewhat relatedly, I finally picked up Willem Sandberg: Portrait of an Artist by And Leeuw Marcar, a book that’s been on my list for yers. Sandberg has been a model, of sorts, for my own career as someone who moved through art, design, publishing, and museum directing. Sandberg is probably best known as the former director of the Stedelijk Museum (working simultaneously as its curator and graphic designer) but he also worked as a typographer and was an active member of the Dutch resistance during World War II. This book is assembled through a variety of interviews and writing from Sandberg himself and paint a picture of a man who understood the power of design, using it as a tool for resistance and progressive causes.
Both of these book got me thinking the 2019 biography/monograph on Gyogy Kepes by John Blakenger again (sorry for all the white European men here), a book I read a few years ago but find myself returning to often. Together, these three books continue my ongoing research on polymathic practices but what strikes me in spending time with these three books lately is the intersection of design and administration (see above!). All three of these designers worked across creative contexts — graphic design, fine art, industrial design, photography, curation, writing — but also operated as administrators — running departments and businesses, organizing programs and workshops, acting as liaisons between industry and education. It’s an intersection I’ve long been interested in, hoping to spend more time with, and hope to do more of it myself. But what’s interesting in reflecting on these figures now is how both how much closer industry and education was but also how commerce and experimentation sat more hand-in-hand. They were radical in their own way — artists to their core who praised experimentation, creativity, and conceptual thinking — while working within the limits of their systems. In many ways, this is the model for the work I want to do more and the kind of artist I want to be.
Goals for the next month: prep the big move, complete research for a writing project I’m starting, take more photographs.
Until next time,