October 27, 2020

Thoughts on Work During a Pandemic

My desk.

“It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to such despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation… We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing, and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are… we must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places.”

—Kathleen Norris

I have been working from home now for nearly seven months. When the pandemic started, I expected perhaps 3 or 4. At Each+Every, we have found ways to carry on our projects, and have been blessed to continue working. In this era, the nature of work seems to have been thrown into turmoil—many people have lost jobs, paychecks, homes, and more. Working from home has forced me to examine my own working habits, and has put in the forefront of my mind the quotidian nature of what I do—its dailiness and repetition. As a designer, much of my work is inherently visible: color, typography, image, and light combined together to be viewed, read, perceived. But much of my work is also invisible: the planning, sketching, understanding, kerning, or adjusting of line-height to create good legibility. I recently finished reading Detail in Typography by Jost Hochuli. As a Swiss graphic designer known for his book design, Hochuli outlines the mundane aspects of any designer’s job: understanding the art and craft of creating good line heights, using the correct ligatures and numerals in various situations, kerning individual letterforms or adjusting wordspacing to increase legibility, or the proper ways to add spaces before a semi-colon or a question mark. In many ways, the unseen and unnoticed aspects graphic design help to mark a person as thoughtful or careless in their craft (I am often the latter).

In the midst of a pandemic though, these things often feel meaningless in comparison to more visible and well-known “design for good” projects with big impact. There are other facets of graphic design which have been elevated in our cultural consciousness, too: brands seek our attention at every turn, whether on a billboard or on Instagram. Graphic Design studios (ours included) flaunt our successful branding projects, and a culture of critiquing and reflecting on which studios or designers worked on which project has become a sort of popularity contest. We elevate “radical” and “world-changing” work above others. It’s easy to equate impact and beauty.

In the Beauty of Everyday Things, Soetsu Tanagi considers folk art craft objects which fill our everyday lives. Tanagi views folk craft objects as things that are made for daily use; things that are common and ordinary, made durably and sincerely. He especially admires the unknown craftsman which made these objects. I think most importantly, he sees an inherent spiritual dignity in the work itself, and the craftspeople which remain unknown in the sight of those who use an object they’ve made. He admires the sacred nature of the work and worker, and points out the way in which ordinary people making ordinary things is its own sort of beauty.

In my own life, I often want to separate the secular and the spiritual. My secular life is my work. My spiritual life is my own walk with God and my interactions with my church community. And yet the reality is that these are inseparably intertwined—impossible to untangle. Work itself is stewardship of our world, and a way in which God will shape our own heart. We are becoming in the same way in which we are fashioning the things we make. In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren discusses the quotidian nature of the most mundane work: things like sending emails. Or perhaps for designers, something like setting margins and using the right quotation marks.

“Each kind of work is therefore its own kind of craft that must be developed over time, both for our own sanctification and for the good of the community. As we seek to do our work well and hone our craft, we are developed and honed in our work. Our task is not to somehow inject God into our work but to join God in the work he is already doing in and through our vocational lives.”

In these everyday moments we are being shaped—but our work does not define who we are. I hope that in 20 years that my work will grow better and better—but I also hope that I will be shaped into a better person in the process. When I was in college I read a lot of Brother Lawrence’s letters in “The Practice of the Presence of God.” Lawrence was a 17th century Carmelite friar, known for his active communion with God in the dailiness of his everyday work. Lawrence wrote, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

November 9, 2019

Objects: Found Shells

I continually find myself inspired by the work of Bruno Munari (1907–1998), an Italian designer and artist. During my MFA thesis studies, I often looked at the ways he was inspired by nature in his design works—whether observing “continuous forms” and replicating these in a lamp, or cutting up oranges and rose petals to see their symmetry. Munari is also known for his own found object collections, whether stones, shells, or paper. This summer, I spent a lot of time at the beach with friends and family. Whenever I had a chance, I would take walks in the morning and comb for interesting shells or driftwood. My son Arlo also found some great objects in the sand (and then I found them while stopping him from putting them in his mouth).

“When the artist observes nature... it is as if nature communicated, through the sensitivity of the artist at that moment, one of its secrets.”

—Bruno Munari

December 27, 2016

Place Into Words

Place Into Words was originally produced as a part of Kent State University's School of Visual Communication Design MFA exhibit titled “Surveys: A Design Exhibition Immersed In The Journey Between Earth and Mars.” I worked on this part of the project with Alan Walker and Jordan Kauffman. Our hope was to inspire, provoke, and stir a sense of curiosity and wonder surrounding space travel. To do this, we juxtaposed interviews we conducted on campus around the question "What do you think is the most beautiful place on earth?" with archival imagery of Mars. The result was a large scale project installation.

 


All Content © 2020 Alex Catanese. All rights reserved.