WILLIAM A SLOAN
Teaching the Teacher
And so it begins...again
So, I had my first class and it was a wonderful thing! A little stage-frighty, a little “How do I fill two -
and - a - half hours?!”, a little “Can we turn down these lights please?” But then I realized that A. the stage is apparently my natural home, and B. I can basically have a non-stop conversation with plant life, so two - and - a - half hours is not a stretch, and C. Yes, but next week I’m bringing a reflector board.
Kidding! Partially. It’s my way of dealing with a genuine concern to get it right. I take teaching very seriously. It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back and share what we’ve learned through the course of time. And I think anyone who ever had a really great teacher-mentor or a really bad one would agree. I had both, a few times over. I think about the great ones often, even after all these years. And I think about the bad ones never, except to say I hope they’re happy and found a different line of work.
My two stand-out greats are Stanislaw Zagorski, in my college years, and Seymour Chwast, in my early career years.
Mr. Zagorski was a teacher I had the honor of studying with in college. He was an incredibly prolific illustrator/designer who did too many record covers, book covers, magazine covers, etc to count. He was quiet and charming and laser smart and had a strong Polish accent that was very distinctive and made anything he said more interesting and important. He once gave us an assignment to design a record cover for Lou Reed’s A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE. Beyond cool. I was very proud of my work when I took it into class for review and he loved the image – a black and white close-cropped photo I took of my best friend, who had remarkably agreed to shave half of his beard and chest. Art school in the Seventies –so great.
Zagorski loved the image. Thought it was wonderful. But my very safe, quiet type treatment for the title of the album was awful, as far as he was concerned. And his critique, which I’ve repeated on a regular basis for 40 some years was this – “Type does not walk. Type is not wild. Type is not on the side.” Simple. And brilliant. Simply brilliant. Don’t overthink it.
I learned a very different lesson from Mr. Chwast. He was my idol, you see, and a design legend, and I was lucky enough to have my first job out of school, working for him. After nearly a year of happily doing whatever I was asked and being invited to take part in a few unbelievable creative collaborations for a newbie, like a Time magazine cover and a show at The Louvre and sculpting a portrait of Barbra Streisand in chicken liver – I know, right? – I conjured up the nerve to ask Mr. Chwast for a raise or promotion and he said to me, in so many words, that he thought I deserved that raise or promotion, but this was the job he needed fulfilled and this is what that job paid. So I asked if that meant I was fired and he said,”No. But I think it’s time for you to go. And I think you know that, too.”
Ouch. Lesson learned. And never forgotten.
And so, my career began.
Wisdom is knowing when to leave. Bravery is daring to fly. And talent is within you and grows as you grow.
And if I can instill any of that in my students, if I can share an inquisitive nature, if I can create an atmosphere where it’s comfortable to ask how? and what? and when? and why?, then I think Mr. Zagorski and Mr. Chwast would be pleased. I hope so.
If you dig a hole and it’s in the wrong place, digging it deeper isn’t going to help.
– Seymour Chwast