I’m writing to you, for the first time, from my new home office in Raleigh, North Carolina! July was a whirlwind as we saw our things boxed up and taken a way on a truck that was probably too big for our small Brooklyn street. A few days later, it appeared again, in our new home 500 miles away. We bought a car. We tried to enjoy our last days in New York. And now we’re here. In Raleigh. My new job starts next week; I’m neck deep in syllabi prep and getting up to speed on a new academic policy. It’s fun, exciting, stressful. I can’t wait to get back in the classroom.
I, by the way, am Jarrett Fuller, a recent Brooklyn ex-pat about to start my new job as assistant professor at North Carolina State University. You’re getting this email because you signed up to get updates from me and my work. Thanks for following along. If you decide it’s not for you, just hit unsubscribe at the bottom of this email. No hard feelings. I get it.
In the middle of moving, this summer has still been productive and I’m excited to share some new projects and work updates:
In the midst of the move, my latest piece for Eye on Design went live: this one is on the history of graphic design at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Andrew Blauvelt, the director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, has curated a massive exhibition on the mid-west art school which felt like an ideal time to examine the influence of this peculiar school’s graphic design department. In the piece I write:
Over the last half-century, Cranbrook graphic design has been accused of having a “house style” that today’s students are just continuing to produce: layered graphics, distorted typography, and the deconstructivist aesthetics of the ’70s new wave. This is ironic, of course, because the modernist aesthetic they fought against was also a house style. What makes Cranbrook so interesting is that it does not have a house style. In flipping through the pages of With Open Eyes or to look at the work of recent graduates, you’d find a wider range of aesthetics, mediums, and approaches than any other graduate program. Over the history of the program, what emerges is less a clear aesthetic and more a clear approach: students come in, are given studio space, and then told to follow where the work leads. Perhaps in an era when so much of design looks the same, what we need are more design students who are encouraged to catch the next wave. It’s then that graphic design can once again find new aesthetics, discourses, and ways of being in the world that reflect the complexity of this moment. “If design is about life,” the McCoys wrote in the 1993 book Cranbrook Design: The New Discourse, “why shouldn’t it have all the complexity, variety, contradiction, and sublimity of life?”
I’ve always been fascinating by Cranbrook — its pedagogy, its design, its students, its history — so this essay was a nice excuse to spend a lot of time reading about the school. I talked to Blauvelt and the current 2D design department head Elliott Earls for quotes for the piece which was immensely helpful in situating the school into a context. Over on my blog, I wrote a bit more about the process and how a Sam Anderson article on Kevin Durant got me rethinking opening paragraphs and voice.
I think of this piece as a continuation of my ongoing research on what I’m calling the ‘intellectual history’ of graphic design, looking at the influence of overlooked design movements and the ideas behind them. Its in the same vein as my Dot Dot Dot piece and even my essays on minimalism and design criticism are attempting similar same ideas. There’s more where this comes from!
Also on Eye on Design, I’ve commissioned and published essays on Thames and Hudson’s experimental imprint Volume, an obituary for the late-designer Ken Garland, an explainer on the hot-academic theory ‘ontological design’, a history of Cyrillic type, and what turned out to be an excellent piece from George Kafka on the proliferation of mockups in design portfolios. That last one was a topic I’d been thinking about for a while so when I talked to George about it, I was excited to see him run with it and deconstruct why every portfolio website looks the same these days.
My podcast continues to chug along, inching ever-closer to the fifth anniversary and the 200th episode, both of which we’ll hit in October.
In the last few months, I talked to New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman about writing about architecture for a general audience, curator and writer Glenn Adamson about his new book Craft: An American History, designer and educator Tobias Revell about critical design and administration, designer Tereza Ruller about performative design, and Zak Kyes about graphic design as cultural production. Hopefully you’ll find something interesting in those — I found all of them very helpful, in different ways, in working through things I’m thinking about in my work.
I’ve been taking photographs for going on two decades but its only in the last six years or so that I’ve realized the ideal container for my photographic work is the book. I like taking my photos out of the stream, off the screen, and putting them onto the printed page. I like thinking about sequencing, scale, beginnings and endings. I like thinking of a group of photos of a collection, a series, a theme. Over the last few years, I’ve self-published a handful of books of my photography and I just completed my most recent: Sunset Park.
This is a book of photographs made over the five years that I lived in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I’m really happy with how it turned out. In putting this book together, it became my most personal, strangely emotional project I’ve ever worked on. The five years I lived in Sunset Park were, perhaps, the most transformative of my life. The person who moved to the neighborhood was not the one who left. While the actual events are not visible in the photographs, this change, these moments are all over it for me. You can see more images of the book here.
As always, the book piles continue to build up around me. Always too much to read — too much I want to read. Charles Saumarez Smith’s recent The Art Museum in Modern Times hits a bunch of themes I’m interested in: architecture, museums, administration, and the history of museums and curating. Saumarez Smith, the former secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts and director of the National Portrait Gallery examines seminars museums from history and how architecture helped shape their reputations. It’s a nice framework to talk about how art and architecture intersect and how the role of cultural institutions in our society have changed. I’m really enjoying Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley’s Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine, a book that eerily began long before the COVID-19 pandemic. I admittedly never thought about the idea of ‘quarantine’ until a year ago so Manaugh and Twilley’s sprawling history is a fascinating account of how, in many ways, we got here.
I’m a long-time fan of writer/photography/novelist/critic Teju Cole so I’ve been anxiously awaiting his new photo book, Golden Apple of the Sun, and it was worth the wait. Composed of photos Cole made of his kitchen countertops in the months leading up to the 2020 election, Cole uses tight constraints to find new approaches to a photography style he’s been developing over the last few years. As claustrophobic as the photos can be, the essay that ends the book is a sprawling, expansive, and poetic meditation on food and cooking, race and power, photography and memory. Cole’s work — regardless if if it is fiction, criticism, or photography — always has the same effect on me: it forces me to slow down, to pause, to look a bit closer. (Allan Sekula’s seminal photo book Fish Story is on my desk now and I’m itching for a few hours where I can really sink into it.)
On the fiction side, I really enjoyed Kate Zembreno’s Drifts, a fragmentary meta-fiction that hits on all the things I love in a novel. My friend Kyle Chayka wrote about it at the beginning of the pandemic. I also read two Emily St. John Mandel novels: Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. I know Station Eleven is what she’s known for (and is being adapted for an HBO miniseries written by Maniac’s Patrick Somerville and directed by Hiro Murai that I cannot wait for) but I think I liked The Glass Hotel more. I found the characters mysterious, the story’s contours left me guessing where it was headed, and the strange context of it all alluring. I also just started Brian Vaughan’s Doctor Strange: The Oath from the New Avengers Series. Strange is one of my favorite comic book characters and Marcos Martin’s art here is top notch. (I’m looking for other comics to read, too by the way. Let me know if you have favorites!)
Two new-to-me bands that I can’t get enough of lately are The Goon Sax, whose new album Mirror II is one of my favorites of the year, and Nation of Language, who have a new album coming later this year. Both feel sort of like 80s post-punk cosplay but hit the venn diagram of my music tastes: droning vocals, 80s synths, slightly sad but totally danceable.
I can’t wait for the new Big Red Machine album and hope one day we’ll get to listen to Donda.
I’m not going to promise the next edition of this newsletter anytime soon. Classes start next week and who knows what the next few months will bring. More work to do, more books to read, more food to cook. Thanks for following along — I’ll write when I can.