Born in the Bronx in 1929, Glaser attended the High School of Music and Art, and Cooper Union. As a Fulbright scholar at the Academy of Arts in Bologna, he studied etching with a modernist master, the painter Giorgio Morandi. Upon his return to New York he co-founded Pushpin Studios, which revolutionized the world of graphic design. Fifty-five years later, Glaser shows no signs of slowing down. His recently published book, Drawing Is Thinking (Overlook Press, 2008), is a compendium of his drawings and prints, arranged in a loose sequence of themes. It reflects his fascination with various styles and traditions of art, ranging from Chinese brush painting to the Renaissance to Matisse, his marvelous imagination, and his inimitable qualities as a draftsman. His works are currently being exhibited in Southampton, Paris, Milan, and Slovenia. A movie, Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight, is about to be released, and he has just completed the design for a movie house at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), where he has taught for more than 50 years.
On a recent afternoon, I met with Glaser in his Manhattan studio, which he has maintained since 1965 (he is also a weekend resident of Woodstock). We sat at a table in a sunny room with butternut walls. A paper model of the bar he designed as part of the SVA movie house was displayed on one shelf, while another was cluttered with bibelots and samples of his work, including bottles of Brooklyn Lager Beer (the logo is currently peppered all over the city). Tall and lanky, Glaser moves gracefully, like a cat, and his voice is eloquent, with just a trace of New Yorkese.
MILTON GLASER ON HIS WORK
Drawing as Meditation
We spend most of our time deflecting information that the world offers us, because it’s too complex to deal with. A censoring process occurs, which prevents us from understanding what we’re looking at. The conscious attempt to see is a form of thinking. Visually you have to make the decision to do it, and then the mind mysteriously shifts and you recognize what you’re looking at. Drawing is a form of meditation. The same absence of prejudice that occurs in meditation occurs when you draw. Art is about being put in a meditative state, so you can look without judgment.
The criteria for the use of drawing is based upon another moment in history, when you couldn’t represent things in any other way. What’s happened with the computer is that it shifts the attention from making to gathering. Technology just sweeps things aside. Whether you have an ethical, moral or any other basis for trying to cling to them, it’s over, and it’s over for so many parts of the visual world. There’s still no greater instrument for understanding form than drawing, but in the absence of that you can now find anything or photograph anything you want. But interestingly enough, it also comes back another way: the merit of drawing, in terms of the way you think as opposed to the way you execute or assemble, is becoming more apparent. More and more kids are studying drawing in school than they were before. It’s strange: just as it becomes least relevant in terms of professional practice, it has returned simply because of the recognition that your view of what you look at is different when you know how to draw.