When I launched Scratching the Surface — in what now feels like a lifetime ago, all the way back in the Fall of 2016 as part of my MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art — all I wanted was to keep it going so I could graduate. Then I graduated and felt like there were more questions and more people to talk to so I wanted to get to fifty episodes. Then I got to fifty and wanted to get to one hundred. After one hundred episodes, I wondered if I’d make it even farther, to 200. It didn’t seem likely. I’ve written and rewritten this post countless times over the last few days, unsure of what I want to say or how I want to commemorate this milestone: Scratching the Surface just turned five years old and I just released its 200th episode.
I’m as shocked as anyone that we got here. If you told me five years ago that a podcast about graphic design criticism would have this kind of longevity, I’d have said “I wish”. But it turns out that these questions I’ve been asking the last few years are questions other people also have; and that each question only brings up even more questions.
The original tagline for the show was “the intersection of criticism and practice” but it quickly expanded beyond that tight focus. The show, at its core, I believe is still very much about design criticism if we accept that criticism means figuring out what we do and why we do it—and then, of course, how we talk about that. Over the years, Scratching the Surface has become a forum for me to ask people much smarter than me about how they think about their work. Every single episode is a conversation with someone who is doing something that I want to be doing but am not sure how.
In that sense, Scratching the Surface is a fundamentally selfish endeavor. If you were to listen back over every episode, listening only to my questions, you’d see the trajectory of my own career, my own interests. You’d see, very clearly I think, the issues animating my work at any given moment: how to write about the craft you practice, how to teach design in the twenty-first century, balancing criticism and practice and scholarship and making, the intersections of creativity and administration, moving from writing to curation. Everything I’ve been interested in, professionally, over the last five years is in this show. I’ve thought of the show as a type of journalism, but maybe it’s actually a type of journaling.
My work has expanded and grown and blossomed in ways over the last five years in ways I’d never imagined. I began the show as a recovering graphic designer in graduate school trying to figure out a new career. Five years in, I’m a tenure-track professor and am lucky to be an editor of a design publication. I’ve gotten to teach in schools I’ve long admired and edited books with designers I looked up. When I think about it, I’ve gotten to do almost everything I’ve wanted and I owe it all to Scratching the Surface; I owe it all to you. Because you listened. You came back week after week, following along on this journey of self discovery, sending me your notes, your ideas, your questions. Scratching the Surface exists because of you and your confidence in me and my work. How did we get to 200 episodes? Because you kept asking for more. And for that, I am forever grateful. Thank you.
To celebrate these anniversaries, I wanted to turn inward, to give back. There’s no guest for our 200th episode. It’s just me. Answering the questions listeners sent in. There are questions about the show — how I make it and how it’s evolved — questions about my work, about what I’ve learned, and, of course, what I’m reading. I hope it’s interesting. You can listen to that here.
I started an Instagram account just for my photography work @jarrettfullerphoto I’m going back through my archives and reposting old favorites and new work. Follow along if that’s your thing?
Richard Schultz, the great outdoor furniture designer, died last month at 95. Schultz’s office was 30-40 minutes from where I grew up and my dad sold paper products to him. When I was 14, I had to a school project interviewing someone with a job I wanted and my dad put me in touch with Schultz’s office. I didn’t know Knoll, had no idea what Herman Miller was, I just wanted to be a designer and liked his furniture. They told me Richard didn’t do interviews anymore but that his son, Peter, did. So I interviewed Peter about furniture design for my class project. Still grate for that generosity. Realizing today that was my first designer interview.
I recently finished reading The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz and completely loved it. It twisted in ways I wasn’t expecting and kept me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. I’m about 100 pages into Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Crossroads, and enjoying it very much. I know Franzen is a controversial writer but I’ve always enjoyed his fiction, especially, like in Crossroads so far, he’s both looser and more focused. Purity, his previous, was underrated in my opinion. I’m also very slowly working through Teju Cole’s new essay collection Black Paper. Cole’s work has meant a lot to me over the years and deserves a slow pace. I’m deliberately pacing myself.
I recently watched (or rewatched) Bong Joon Ho’s entire filmography. He blew up after Parasite, and I had seen his other recent films (Okja and Snowpiercer but the earlier films I had missed. What a distinct voice and approach right from the beginning! Memories of a Murder is so pitch-perfect, especially for a second film, that I was blown away. Parasite, upon rewatching is truly a masterpiece. I think I liked it even better the second time around. I’m watching Clint Eastwood’s Fistful of Dollars trilogy now. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was the only one I had seen before.
After watching Todd Haynes new Velvet Underground documentary on AppleTV+, I’ve been returning to much of that band’s catalog (both as a group and their respective solo albums). I had forgotten how much I liked them the first time I heard them. (John Cale’s solo album Paris 1919 is an underrated album, in my opinion.)
Ben Lerner on W.G. Sebald; Elizabeth Diller is designing a show at the Jewish Museum based on Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes; a great review of the redesigned/reopened Denver Art Museum; Jazmine Hughs on Questlove.
These pork chops with apples and cider were the best thing I made in the last few months. We rarely eat meat but when we do, we like to get it from our local farmers market. We bought a bunch of pork chops and ended up making this two nights in a row. Highly recommended.