"I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

— Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a young Poet

From Old School to New School

Last night, I unexpectedly had the pleasurable experience of being utterly inspired by people I had never met before (well, almost). My dear friend Timothy Rodgers invited me along to his end-of-semester presentation at the small, yet wonderfully alluring graphic design and typography school, Old School New School. Veronica Grow, a former RMIT & Box Hill Creative Industries design educator, founded the school upon a necessary belief for design education to shift back towards ‘old school’ teaching methodologies.

“My friends were all Medical students,” said Veronica. “And I wanted to have a degree and go to University, like them. So I started studying at Adelaide Central School. I later taught at RMIT University. I found a community within the design department there but eventually, the universities became quite commodified. (The sense of community) was lost as we were all forced to do (autonomous) PHD’s and separate from one another, distancing ourselves from that community. With Old School New School, it was about bringing it back to the way I was taught at Adelaide Central School. No bigger than 20 students to a class…lots of research and hand making…and creative energy.”

As for her own practice, Veronica described herself as an avid multidisciplinary. “I am an ethnographer, illustrator, publisher, graphic designer and educator. I have just written, illustrated and published, ‘What the Hell is Your Problem? A Kit for Uptight White People’. The kit tells stories about people using pictures. It’s a visual essay about exclusion. I believe we as white people exclude people who are different. The kit asks us - why are we so uptight?”

Following some delicious snacks and bustling chitchat, I sat down with Veronica, her five students and guest critic of the night, Desktop Magazine Editor, Bonnie Abbott. The final assignment for the semester was entitled, ‘Inspire Me’. The premise of the assignment – to use what inspired you to inspire others; A pretty simple task, one might have thought. However, with the inundation of inspire-based blogs and Pinterest pages trawling the Internet these days, inspiring someone with true authenticity (held in longevity) can be a rather sizeable feat.

The first student, Elena, began her presentation with a cue for us to talk amongst one another casually. After some time, we were asked to pair with someone we gravitated towards naturally. All pairings were then given a set of ten cards in an envelope. These visually considered cards allotted us with topical reference points including, ‘Where did you grow up?’, ‘When was the last time you cried and for what reason?’, ‘Ask me a personal question,’ and my favorite – ‘Tell me about your mother.’ Lucky for me, I was paired with Veronica and was told wonderful stories about her childhood, her hopes for The School and the colour of her current underpants (green, in case you were wondering). Following this discussion, the student concluded her presentation by reading aloud the subsequent passage:

No Man is an Island: Project Disclose

About three months ago, I moved from Sydney to Melbourne to study here at OSNS. I left behind my family, friends, partner, a very peculiar pet cat and the only place I’d ever known as my ‘home’. It was a very spur of the moment decision and I didn’t think too deeply on the challenges I would face. How hard could moving out of home, nay, and moving cities be?

As the weeks rolled past with one unsuccessful junior application after the next, and a growing sense of disconnect from the people I knew and cared for, I found myself sinking into a very dark place. I felt inconsolably sad and worst of all, completely uninspired. I desperately felt like I didn’t belong. Things were not going to plan at all.

When we were given the inspire me brief, I finally realised what was going on. I hadn’t managed to make any real connections here in Melbourne. I was missing the intimacy found in relationships that only time and shared experience could form.

Through this hardship I have come to realise and value the innate motivation that inspires and drives us all – the need to belong.

Through extensive research on the theory of belonging, Elena was able to derive that a new relationship between two people is, “…likened to a narrow and shallow wedge. The wedge must drive through three layers in order for intimacy to develop. The first layer is the superficial layer (small talk), and provides little personal information. The second layer is the intimate level, where participants increase the breadth and depth of their conversations and share more personal details. Until, in its final state, the wedge reaches the very intimate level where extremely private information is shared.” Using visually refined, hand-derived objects, Elena was able to draw the group into this wedge-like experience. With each task, we were able to gather information about a person and peel their internal layers back like an onion. The more fervently we participated, the more personal reward we received.

Sarah brought to the table a completely different experience entirely. Her inspiration project was based on connection formulating from the result of creative collaboration. She started by asking the group to pick out a brown bag from a pile with idyllically hand-written quotes on them. My bag had upon its surface the poignant quote by Pop Artist, Keith Haring, ‘Drawing brings together man and the world. It lives through magic.’ Inside each bag was a set of pens. The final element of the project was to find an object inside Veronica’s house and to draw it. So, standing altogether in front of a two-meter long piece of paper, we set a timer and began drawing our objects. Every minute thereafter, we were asked to move along to someone else’s drawing and add to it. The final product was a collaborative artwork drawn in the stylistic approach of a child. “This project was about throwing away your inner judge and letting your hand and eye connect,” posed the student. Unbeknownst to us, Sarah had asked us to draw collaboratively on the paper as though a child would have approached it – openly, expressively, organically and quickly, leaving little time for self-judgment.

Joyce’s presentation involved food. The good kind – the home-made kind. Each participant was placed in front of some paper, pencils and a plate. We were then provided a hand-baked chocolate and cinnamon bun and a store-bought comparison. Joyce explained to us that her inspiration grew from hand-making foods with love and care for others. She believed that if one cooked with love in their hearts, the person eating that food should be able to noticeably receive that labor, inside the food’s texture, taste and smell. In eating both the hand-made and store-made buns, it became evident that Joyce’s personal philosophy was held in truth. Following this task, each person at the table was given a different object to interact with. Explained in the form of stories, we were told that these objects represented sources of personal inspiration for Joyce. The sources ranged from music in an ipod, to her art journal, to home-made Mochi (Japanese sweets). Using these tools as entry points for finding our own inspiration, the final task asked us to write a personal letter to ourselves, which would be posted back to us at random in the future. Using sound, taste, touch, smell and sight as methods of engagement, each person was able to share in Joyce’s personal experiences. In addition, we each were able to use these sensorial experiences to artistically create a new experience of our own – on paper.

Zanin found inspiration in books. “I love books,” She started. “I love book ends, I love book paraphernalia, bookmarks, book paper, book spines, book notes. I love the feeling of hugging a book; I love its perfect huggable size. I love owning a book, of it being yours to keep with you and keep forever. I love… everything about books.” Her enthusiasm was delightful. It spoke of a passion held closely from early childhood and a passion inevitably permitting great personal growth. “I grew up in this small, no-where suburb in Victoria,” Said the student. “We didn’t have much money, so I stayed there through all the holidays and so forth, and I read books. Every time I read these books, I realised that the world was bigger than Moonee Ponds. I lived in Moonee Ponds until I was about 25. I lived in this place and I knew the world was bigger than it. I knew, because I read books. I was anything because I read anything. I put my hand in the author’s hand and I carried their story like it was my own story.” The source of inspiration was immensely clear for Zanin and she transversed this inspiration to us by delivering a set of hand bound and transcribed books to the group. Although, they were not books in their entirety. “These books contained the first paragraph, a random page in the middle and the last paragraph of a book,” Explained Zanin. In a bookstore, you pick up a book and you skim the front and end of the book to see what it might be like. These elements matter, but it’s the bits in-between that make a story…that stuff in-between is…endlessly inspiring.” After reading a few books aloud, it became clear why the nature of a story was so profoundly inspiring to Zanin. Above a book’s innate ability to transport a mind away from its tangible surroundings, its true power lied in its ability to parallel life. Such as in life, it is not the beginning or the end which defines a story (our story), it is all of the stuff in between - the messy stuff, which creates a journey worth investing in, (a journey worth living, the journey of life).

The night completed with the final presentation by my infinitely creative friend, Timothy Rodgers. His project was presented in the form of a small booklet, entitled, ‘The Things That Move Us’. This booklet included three stories by Tim’s friends, wherein each story was coupled with a hand-drawn illustration that Tim had produced via means of inspiration. Each story spoke of a person’s treasured possession. These objects were not special by any means, apart from the fact that they meant something in particular to their beholders. Tim’s booklet inquired as to why we as people hold particular resonance with some objects, and not with others. “Why do we own a lot of things, but only give value to some of them?” He questioned. In telling our own stories about objects we had brought along to the presentation, the group was able to surmise that our stories had commonalities. Most of us valued our objects because of the unconventional way in which we had acquired them. We told stories of receiving a present that wholly represented our self and personal interests; of acquiring something tasteful to keep in a house filled with distasteful objects against out will; of receiving a present from a father who doesn’t give presents; of finding a Mexican bird that belonged to a grandmother we hardly knew. Together, we leant that we each had wrapped our stories inside our objects and in doing so, had given them an element of worth.

But what about the objects we do not hold dearly? “I am also interested in whether all objects have stories,” posed Tim. “I wonder why we are inherently unsentimental about some things, and what it means to discard of an object with a story. I have therefore included a set of illustrations of hard rubbish in my booklet. I also think about objects that bring us bad memories,” Continued Tim. “I think about, for example - dust, throwing things out, losing precious things, moving, clutter, memories in boxes, using things then forgetting about them, finding things all over again…” At a time where the mass production of objects has allowed Western society an abundance of things, Tim’s queries into what we own and why we own it is poignant.

Today, I believe we place less value in our possessions. Gone are the days where our possessions were predominantly handmade, (our shoes hammered by a leather cobbler, our dress sewn together by our mother). Most often, we do not know the person who made our goods and we have little-to-no connection with the story describing how that object came to exist. Perhaps this is why we rely heavily on stories of how we acquired our objects and why we have kept them; We price our items in sentiment. Those objects that tie us to our humanity, we hold dear and those that do not, we discard.

When arriving for the ‘Inspire Me’ presentations at Old School New School, I evidently expected to be inspired, yet not in a way that would leave me feeling a sense of unwavering uplift. Whilst I would not be able to take what I had seen and pin it on my Pinterest board, I had been inspired in a way that was personal, authentic and heart-felt. Through the platform of design, I was able to not only connect with the student’s practicing methodologies, but to reconnect with my own methodologies as well. Veronica Grow wished to focus on ‘old school’ learning methods at Old School New School. Ultimately, I learnt this was because this tended to the creation of work rooted in honesty, impulse and above all, reason.

Old School New School

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the novel ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Now, I don’t know about you, but I read this novel and, as Elizabeth discusses in this TED talk, I fell into the category of ‘people that didn’t really like the novel’. I very much so enjoyed her personal courageousness to search for a solution to her problems and to do so with utter individualism. However, as a read element, I found the novel to be too much in the style of a chick-lit adventure. Although I respect the novel for its ability to grasp avid readers of chick-lit, I was not a reader of that sort. So why do I like Elizabeth’s current TED talk so much (and the rest of them, for that matter)? Because she explains that I don’t need to like her writing. Getting someone like me to read her novels is not why she writes. Success and failure parallel each other, argues Elizabeth, and the driving force behind why one works at their skills everyday should not be defined by outcomes. Approval or disapproval from others, when it arrives, is flattering or disconcerting. But it is also fleeting. So why should we work vigorously at out talents? In this talk, Elizabeth will tell you why -