AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

16 March 2016

Simplify.


In the spring of 1962, Inge Druckrey, a tall, blonde student from Germany is sitting at her desk in Armin Hofmann’s graphic design class at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. She is drawing lines with a pencil in a workbook, a pad with a special fold-over cover that contains lines that one could slip underneath the tracing paper. These are the last two hours of a nine-hour class. It is meant as quiet time, a meditative time designed to let the students relax and think about nothing but controlling the marks: uniform pressure, length, and alignment — evenly spaced vertical lines, horizontal lines, diagonal lines, circles and half-circles. It is a language that appears to only make sense to a few. Mark after mark, page after page, two hours go by in silence, but for the collective sound of graphite in contact with the paper’s surface and the occasional turning of a page. With her long, slender hands she makes these marks with joy, precision, and the appreciation for this gift. She is beginning to see.

This is the start of her quest to become fluent in the magic language of form. She became an expert, a master in composition, drawing, handwriting, calligraphy, letterforms, and spent most of her life devoted to teaching others how to see. The film called 
Teaching to See is about Inge Druckrey’s journey, which she dedicated to essential sight and insights. The film finds its gentle, persuasive pace through the editing and camera work of the young, Russian filmmaker Andrei Severny, a storyteller deep in his psyche, and from the insightful observation by Edward Tufte, the producer and her husband, who suggested that the film be “reduced to verbs.” That is, actions, not labels — gestures, not histories.

Inge Druckrey has been a passionate devotee to what Tufte calls “forever knowledge,” that indispensable understanding that one carries for life. She became the first European-trained designer to bring this way of knowing to the United States, first at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1966. Philadelphia College of Art follows, then the Yale School of Art, and finally, The University of the Arts — with some other stops at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Hartford Art School in between. Shortly after her retirement as professor emerita from The University of the Arts, where she had taught until 2010, the idea to create
Teaching to See was born. Her steadfast belief is that elemental principles of form shed light on the essence of communication. At a screening of the film in Reykjavik, Iceland, a woman in the audience intoned, “I wish I could put you in my pocket so that you could teach me to see!”

The film celebrates what we are missing in this densely textured world that we inhabit. Just when we thought we had things figured out — seeing this film — we are quick to realize that we have been overlooking an indispensable gift, but one that can be sought, earned, and cared for. If only we knew how to see as intensely as she does. To simplify, to work and learn in a slower, contemplative way that allows us to feel and perceive, unhinged from any burden save for the deep knowledge of what is exactly before us. If only we had the opportunity to be guided by someone like Inge Druckrey. In the film, many examples appear and are not explained in detail — but it’s enough. One intuitively senses the care and thoughtfulness in their creation. Contrast, tension, and a sense of resolution are key to the most artful endeavors from music, to poetry, to painting. One wonders what would happen if architects or musicians took her class — for that matter, anyone in the arts.

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Inge Druckrey: Teaching to See ...

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