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Grafica e comunicazione

Almost everything depends on its use

Speaking with a graphic designer from so-called "good old days," we had a good time trying to come up with the breaking point, or turning point, in our profession. And that’s how I discovered that I had been a part, albeit unconsciously, of a real revolution, which like all revolutions was both dramatic and bloody. 

I opened my graphic design studio precisely in the period of dramatic transition, coinciding with this major change. Graphic design, in the form of advertising art, during the late Eighties and early Nineties, went from being a very well remunerated profession of elite artistic content to a terribly underpaid job of the masses. Suddenly everything collapsed. The schools had started “spitting up” so-called graphic designers, ignorant and unprepared, but as enterprising and unrealistic than ever. Simultaneously, computers came on the scene. This explosive mix led to a real massacre. Just image the combination of mediocre minds, convinced to be worth more than Leonardo da Vinci, with such a perverse and pervasive tool as the computer at their disposal. Game over. I heard, in those days, graphic designers say that the Mac would be solve everything, at once becoming a cultural vacuum, a lack of imagination. Because people really believed in the powers of the computer, it's easy to understand why a whole generation capitulated itself in that direction, and why a entire profession collapsed in the short span of a single generation. 

The kickbacks or rebates from print media disappeared, but it had been expected for some time, and, as a result, paychecks were cut in half. Around the same time, it was also discovered that with the rise of the computer, which was supposed to resolve all issues with a single click, the underlying problems remained intact, only that now they were a lot more expensive than before (at that time hardware and software were far more expensive than today). The computer however sped up all the routine work and production, eating away at the time normally spent thinking. Everything had to be done with hast in order to produce a senseless, mediocre result without a real project, or real concept, supporting it. We all found ourselves without a budget and without room to breath. Instead we had mountains of chores to be settled quickly. 

This is pretty much the portrait of the situation I found myself working in. It was an unfortunate fate and nothing more, but if I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to open a graphic design business. 1989 was precisely the fateful year. At that time, were still working in the darkroom and with transferable Letraset, with Pantone color wheels and scissors, with brushes and with rapidograph, with cutters and spray glue, with photocopiers and airbrushes, but computers were already on everyone’s minds. And a couple of years later we found ourselves in front of a silent screen, sort of brain reserve, a mental health tool, a thought sterilizer, bearer of one real benefit: we had clean hands. 

But I will not make the same mistake of Socrates, that in the revolutionary invention of writing he saw only one source of moral and cognitive impairment (which has the effect of forgetfulness): every revolution generates violent rattle and prejudices, and even he really fell. Mindful of his experience, I tried to expand the horizon and limited my preconceptions. So I feel I can say that the advent of the computer has also brought undoubted benefits, once the system was stabilized and we became aware of the potential and limitations of the instrument. And, paradoxical though it may seem, the greatest benefit was seen in noble and ancient exercise of writing. I believe that the use of computers has greatly favored the progressive and exponential intensification of the act of writing. You write a lot more than before, and this is undoubtedly a good thing, a very good thing. Without focusing on the quality, which is of course never dependent of the medium, I am convinced that writing, the act of putting thoughts in words, is useful prerequisite to understanding, which is prerequisite to improvement, to any kind of improvement. 

Herta Müller says that no one can predict what effect words will have before they are written. She also says that the written word is never something that could have been said aloud and what is written is precisely what you couldn’t say and didn’t even think of saying. She says that writing comes from thinking straight and then illuminates the thought of something new, the conquest of a sense that, by principle, wasn’t conceivable. 

I not only agree with Herta, but confirm that the only things (seriously: the only) that I think I understand the world, of men, but especially of myself, I have understood only by writing. It is a sublime exercise that has greatly benefited by this tool that I have before the eyes and in my hands for hours upon hours each day. Yes, the same tool as before, with a silent screen, a brain reserve, a mental health tool, a thought sterilizer.

02/02/2016 Filippo Maglione