Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Soleful Design

B L A N K recently finished reading Kenneth Cole's monogram, Footnotes .

From the first chapter, "Why Fashion Is Not Important," to the end of the book, Cole offers some interesting insights on the connection between design and society. Could any type of design work appear more fleeting? Cole admits it. "I spend a major part of my waking hours making things that no one needs. After all, fashion is just clothes, just shoes - fashion doesn't really change the world."

"Fashion alone is not enough of a reason to get up in the morning. It's certainly not a reason to leave my wife and kids to go to work every day for long hours, and to ask my associates for the required spirit to do the same. If what we do is only about fashion, I don't believe that the collective energy of our success can be sustained." My feelings exactly.

I think if we were honest, we could substitute "art" or "design" or "football" or "banking" for the word fashion.

For some reason, college memories keep coming back today. Maybe it's spring break's approach, I don't know. Anyway, my best friend was a biology major in college (and she and her husband are both marine biologists now). I was an English major. I read a lot of books and wrote a lot of essays. She went outside, collected samples, brought them back to the lab, looked at them under a microscope and generally did what I considered "active" things. I did what I considered "passive" things.

It led to a mini-existential crisis during my grad school days. I was heading toward working on my doctorate and had to figure out quickly if that's what I really wanted to do. I had been teaching for two years at college and had enjoyed it, but I had heard the rumblings about it's not about the teaching anymore, it's about the publishing. And the publishing was what I had a problem with.

And I love research. And I love to write. The problem I had was the idea that I would spend the rest of my days reading others' works, analyzing them, critiquing them, tearing them apart and, in the end, struggling to come up with something more interesting to say than what the author started out with. While my best friend found a cure for cancer or saved the world.

Well, you see where my existentialism led me. I'm not a college professor. And I haven't regretted the decision. But I remember one professor that came up to me and said, "How could you not do this? You are so good at it." (The first response that came in my head was "I'm good in bed too, but I don't have to be a prostitute." Luckily, I somehow shut my mouth for once.)

But when I've had a bad day at work now or when I feel like I'm not getting much done, at the end of the day I still feel like my work makes a difference. I no longer have to envy my best friend in the biology lab. I feel like my work is important and meaningful. And I wouldn't trade having Dr. in front of my name for that.

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