The 79-year-old graphic designer perhaps most famous for creating the I♥NY logo had a dose of surprising advice last week for the propagandists among us — the marketers, advertisers, public-relations spinners and, yes, journalists — along with citizens at large facing an onslaught of political campaigns.
It is “essential for us all to question all the beliefs we cherish,” Milton Glaser said in his keynote speech to a daylong ‘ganda bash, “Where the Truth Lies,” organized by the School of Visual Arts with The Graduate Center, CUNY. “Beliefs must be held lightly because certainty can be the enemy of truth.”
Propaganda “substitutes an alien authority for our own perception,” he said, adding that “the intersection of fear and persuasion has created the world as we know it” and that we are faced with a “constant and relentless subversion of what is real.”
Art is the antidote, Glaser asserted. “Art may be the only truth we can ever know,” he said. Through art, “what is real becomes visible.” Thus, he takes as his touchstone the words of the poet Horace: “The purpose of art is to inform and delight.” Notice, he said, that “Horace did not say persuade and delight.”
Furthermore, “art is a survival mechanism for the human species,” Glaser noted. “Otherwise it would not have lasted this long.” He cited the Lascaux cave paintings of prehistoric times to bolster his point.
In addition to the advice that peppered his speech, Glaser showed slides of some of his work. One, displaying a set of buttons created for The Nation magazine, was called “The Purple Coalition” — as opposed to red or blue — and it doesn’t seem to have worked yet. It offered the following epigrams, one to a button, and a few more:
Principles not politics
Strength not stubbornness
Justice not junkets
Patriotism not ideology
Cooperation not corruption
Truth not spin
Openness not secrecy
Negotiation not intervention
Jobs not pay-offs
Civility not mudslinging
Voting rights not voter fraud
Security not torture
Civil rights not surveillance
Competence not cronyism
Leadership not devisiveness
Facts not fear
Another slide, titled “Goodbye,” displayed four buttons with two characters each — IM PE AC H! — and a caption that said: “Help send the president on his way with this new four-button set.” Sadly, given the results so far, that too is one of Glaser’s less persuasive — or to use his term, informative — designs.
Postscript: A reader writes, “Pretty good, save for the fact that Patriotism IS Ideology — often at its most pernicious.” Exactly right. Every time someone raises the banner of patriotism, I cringe.
PPS: On Feb. 22 The Nation magazine posted the text of Glaser’s presentation. Go here: “Art and Propaganda”.