• Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.


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  • Katsushika, Hokusai, 1760-1849, artist, [between 1804 and 1818] 1 print : woodcut, color ; 23.2 x 17.2 cm.
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As Little Design as Possible

Author: Phil Holcombe

This is the second in a series of posts examining the future of STEAM through primary sources. We’ll be looking at a number of works in the Library of Congress and other collections that illustrate key STEAM mindsets.The first post in this series can be found here.

As a rule of thumb in design, less is often more. A contemporary, everyday example of this can be seen in Apple’s work, a company well-known for its simplicity and restraint. But designers have been working to achieve “less” for decades. Contrary to one’s intuition, “less” is often more difficult to achieve because each decision carries greater consequence. In this post, we’ll take a look at two examples of a "less-is-more" approach from the mid-20th century:

Compared to most homes, Philip Johnson’s Glass House is quite unique: its design drapes glass over a minimal steel frame, eschewing privacy. It has no curtains, exposing each room to the outdoors (with the exception of the bathroom, thank goodness). Its open floorplan has no walls, allowing daylight to reach nearly every inch of the interior.

Located on 47 rural acres, Johnson’s design emphasizes the home’s relationship with the landscape, wildlife, and weather. While one can make a compelling argument that the Glass House is not a practical home, its simple use of geometry and respect for the land on which it sits are instructive. The design tells us that nature is what’s most worthy of our attention, and the home respects its site by receding into the background.

To create such a spare, airy aesthetic was a complex challenge at the intersection of art and engineering. For example, the Glass House had no means of concealing ductwork or insulation, so heating occurred through two radiant systems in the floor and ceiling. The home’s ceiling floats above the ground with nearly no support, and while it was replaced in 2017, it survived for 68 years without developing a single crack.

The Glass House is so compelling, in part, because of what we don’t see. Much of contemporary design continues to reference the restraint Johnson exhibits here.

This minimal phonograph and radio was designed by Dieter Rams and produced by Braun in the late 1950s. The majority of record players and radios from the time were ornate, highly-decorated objects, but Rams’ interpretation was just the opposite. Whereas record players often were disguised as furniture, the transparent Perspex lid on the Phonosuper exposes the platter, tonearm, buttons, and dials. The form intentionally and elegantly explained the function.

Rams’ products represented the pinnacle of product design: they were elegant, unobtrusive, honest, and thorough to the last detail. Many of Rams’ ideas about design live on at Apple, where Chief Design Officer Johny Ive often references his work in the creation of their products.

Under Rams, Braun products developed a reputation for exceptional design. In the late 1970s, after decades of work in the design field, Dieter Rams reflected more deeply on what makes a design “good”. He developed his Ten Principles of Good Design, an everlasting reference for all students of design.   

Rams 10 Principles of Good Design:

  1. Good design is innovative.
  2. Good design makes a product useful.
  3. Good design is aesthetic.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive.
  6. Good design is honest.
  7. Good design is long-lasting.
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible.


An exhibition of Rams’ work is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 14, 2019.

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What's Next for STEAM

Author: Phil Holcombe

For decades, much of the meaningful innovation advancing our economy has been associated with the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. But as knowledge becomes more freely accessible and technology expedites our ability to do nearly everything, future innovations will rely on a different skillset: creativity. This marks the first of a series of blog posts about STEAM education from the perspective of a designer and educator working with STEAM every day. I’m the Founder and Design Director of PlusUs, an interdisciplinary firm designing human-centered learning solutions for problems and purposes of the present. We work with schools to consult on matters of curriculum, learning environments, and communications. I also serve as the Program Director of a new design program at The University of the Arts focused on environmental consciousness and entrepreneurship. Throughout my career, I’ve been intentionally integrating art and design mindsets into learning opportunities around the world.

In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson argued that “creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”, an idea that underpinned the most popular TED talk of all time. Two years later, John Maeda became president of the Rhode Island School of Design, where he sparked a national movement by urging legislators to integrate art and design into the education agenda. Today, the importance of STEAM (an acronym that adds “Art” to STEM) manifests itself in multiple ways: maker education has become a physical representation of these ideas, with many schools investing in new makerspaces or rediscovering their existing shop space. And there’s real momentum behind integrating design thinking into coursework. Where I work in Philadelphia, the Charter High School for Architecture + DesignThe U School, and String Theory Schools have missions and pedagogies built around design thinking, where skills like prototyping, iteration, and empathy work are infused into all subjects, even state-tested biology, algebra, and literature. It’s clear that art and design are here to stay. So what’s next for STEAM?

I believe that we’ll continue to see art and design mindsets woven into curriculum, even in the most traditional schools. The ability to think like an artist or designer is about making interesting and unexpected connections, and as these mindsets become more deeply integrated, learners will begin to make creative connections not only within a particular subject, but across subjects. As this happens, we can expect to see the silos that still exist between many classroom subjects begin to dissolve. History’s great creators moved fluidly between fields because they thought in a way that transcended discipline. Leonardo Da Vinci was an engineer and an artist. Michelangelo sculpted, painted, and constructed. I fully expect the future to produce many more creators who think and work in this manner.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to hear Neri Oxman speak, a rockstar contemporary architect and designer creating work at the intersection of computation, fabrication, and materiality. Oxman’s work is mesmerizing, and rightfully in the permanent collections of prominent museums like the MoMA. I think she is a wonderful illustration of what this future may look like. And there are many others who’s creative practice spans multiple arenas that are often siloed: designer Karim Rashidcreates products, space, graphics, fine art, and more. Emily Pilloton is a powerhouse working at the intersection of architecture, environmental design, and education. Bruce Mau began his career as a graphic designer and transitioned to architecture, film, and organizational design. His worked received the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in 2016, the AIGA Gold Medal in 2007, and his Incomplete Manifesto for Growth is essential reading for anyone working in interdisciplinary spaces.

So rather than advocate for the deeper integration of art and design in our classrooms, this series of blog posts will champion the creative mindsets that must be integrated into all disciplines in order to stoke the meaningful innovation our education system and economy crave. To do this, we’ll look at a number of primary sources in the Library of Congress that illustrate these mindsets throughout recent history.  

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What Does 1923 Look Like?

Author: Cate Cooney

By now you've read news stories about works entering the public domain in 2019. This is very exciting! For the first time in 20 years, works published in 1923 will enter the United States public domain. Let's have a look at 1923, or at least a few of my favorites.

 Art/Music The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Batchelors, Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp  in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

William Carlos Williams Spring and All http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/books-that-shaped-america/1900-to-1950.html#obj11 can be quoted in full, or you could make a reprint of Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium.

Sing Yes! We Have No Bananas by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn to your heart's content!

Agnes F. Northrop;’s design for the Louis Comfort Tiffany Autumn Landscape Window is free to use and reuse. You'd want to credit her work of course. I wonder, did Tiffany give her the credit due?

Enjoy Suprematist art? Many works by Kasimir Malevich are now available, like this Half Teacup in the Cooper Hewitt’s collection. You can go see it in person once the federal government shutdown is over. Until then, feel free to download the image.

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Flight into Egypt was painted in 1923, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/16947 as was Picasso’s Woman in Whitehttps://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/488711

I did a search of the Art Institute of Chicago’s online collection and limited it to 1923. What a year! https://www.artic.edu/collection?q=painting&date-start=1923AD&date-end=1923AD

Think of all the works in the Library’s collections that are now free for use. This gorgeous photograph of the poet and journalist Solita Solano can be released now, as can Edward Weston’s stunning nude of Tina Modotti. However, we will have to wait another 6 years for the photojournalist Modotti’s own images. 1923 was a great year for photography.

Many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings from the Library’s collection will be available. 

A quick search for Drawings in the Library catalog, limited to 1923, came up with 1006 items. Photographs? 8,199. You might notice that I have not put any Library images in this post. That’s because up until a few days ago, the Library couldn’t make anything but a thumbnail accessible. I suspect it’s going to be a while before staff can make it all available online.

Have a look at 1923, what does it look like to you?

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Visual Stimuli that Constructs Communication

Author: SIlvino Alexander

Communication is paramount to the institution of culture.  Communication is not just the transference of information, language, and knowledge; it is the cornerstone of how individuals are brought together to form traditions, beliefs, and a way of life.  This essay investigates how culture, whether it is a large collection of individuals, or the sub-division of the former, can examine the content of communication, explore the importance of symbols or symbolic narration, and examine how educators could apply a cross-curricula pedagogical practice in the classroom.

Graffiti art is one element of Hip-Hop culture.  The art form evolved from individuals “tagging” or subjectively writing their names or other phrases on walls and other nondescript objects to creating large “burners” or murals on subway cars in New York City, and eventually blank stretched-canvases that would hang in museums.  The creation of Graffiti art was a direct response to young people in the inner city being marginalized.  The art form became a rebellious way to showcase artistic talent that would not otherwise be displayed in major art galleries.  Graffiti artists used the medium to communicate ideas to one another by creating styles within the art form that would only speak to them and others who were familiar with the practice. 

Juxtaposing the notion of an art form that was not taken seriously and looked upon with a negative connotation, Egyptian hieroglyphics has been lauded as one of the first art forms ever created.  The simplistic motifs and elongated design symbolism became the narrative of Ancient Egyptian life.  When one takes a close examination of the art form it could be considered an early form of graffiti.  A major difference between both art forms is the letter manipulation of graffiti as opposed to the production of symbols in hieroglyphics.  Also, many of the individuals that created graffiti at a high level during the 1970s and early 1980s came from a lower socio-economic position while the wealthy in Egyptian life commissioned the manufacturing of hieroglyphics to tell stories and express the establishment of customs and traditions of the civilization. 

When looking and discussing contemporary art design, the use of modern technology seems to mirror various aspects of both graffiti and Egyptian hieroglyphics.  The use of cellular phones has been revolutionary in the way individuals communicate with one another.  The procedure of text messaging when examined closely parallels certain aspects of both graffiti art and Egyptian hieroglyphics.  As with graffiti, the manipulation of SMS (Short Messaging Service) language while texting allows individuals to practice a form of short-handed slang when delivering messages. 

Many cellular phone consumers use emoji symbols in addition to SMS language to convey emotional communication when text messaging.  Sometimes the use of emojis is all an individual may use to relay information.  The use of this cellular phone application is very close to the symbolic depictions of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  Ancient Egyptians wanted to tell stories and express the traditions and customs of Egyptian life through their illustrations just like with emojis.

The use of a compare and contrast analysis of graffiti art, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and modern cellular phone technology can be beneficial for educators to use in the classroom.  This cross-curricular application has the ability to give educators a new platform they can use to help educate their students.  The installing of THAL (Technology, History, The Arts, and Literacy) can allow educators to apply literacy practices in the classroom using an art and history perspective while integrating the use of modern technology.  Just as with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), students can use THAL as an anchor or foundation for progressive education integration.  The pedagogical application of THAL would be from a qualitative approach, as opposed to STEM which seems to be more quantitative driven.

The ways in which individuals communicate with one another has changed over time.  Examining how graffiti art, Egyptian hieroglyphics and SMS language can define communication content through the application of THAL has the possibility to introduce innovative ways students can learn in and out of the classroom.

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Drawing Conclusions: Observing, Questioning, and Reflecting

Author: Cate Cooney


“Perception of the object is a process of transition from experience to judgement, insight to application.” –Gemma Anderson, writing on the process of drawing.

A friend of mine recently lamented that her gifted 6th grader was asked to draw a picture based on a book the class was reading. “How is that serious homework for middle-school?” Her question made me reflect on our Summer 2018 Courses, and to explain why the studio art component is important, even for non-studio teachers. Drawing is another mode of understanding. When we examine something to draw it, we observe it closely, considering all that we can see, trying to sort what we believe we see from what we actually see, and inferring things we cannot see. Perhaps this sounds familiar? Examining an object, scene or person to create a work of art requires of us the same questions and critical skills that examining a primary source does.

The teachers who participated in our City as a Primary Source course in August learned about Philadelphia in a variety of ways. They sat in an auditorium and had a slide lecture. They sat on a trolley and listened as scholars told them about what they were seeing outside their windows. They walked through city squares, narrow streets, up hills to belvederes, and wandered 18th century houses. They scrambled up an industrial staircase to a railway viaduct, now transformed into a public park. 

Some field trips involved listening, looking, and reflecting, but others incorporated creating from observation. During one session, we drew outside at the Philadelphia Rail Park. Another session had us drawing while walking along Broad Street, then incorporating those quick sketches with drawings from longer observation from the windows of the Kimmel Center, high above the thoroughfare.

Our drawings made us look carefully at what we thought we saw, either sketching quickly with pencil and folded paper on the street, or slowing down to try out watercolors in the park for a couple of hours. We observed, questioned our assumptions, and tested theories. We reflected, processed what we learned, and synthesized it into something new. 

The connection between drawing and understanding concrete objects is fairly straightforward. How does this process work when trying to understand something more abstract? I like how this teacher describes using drawing in her literature classes: Drawing: Another Path to Understanding. If it can advance understanding in literature, how about in the sciences, or mathematics? The Picturing to Learn project found that students’ knowledge of a concept increased when the student had to make a drawing depicting the concept (I recommend checking out the first drawing in the conductors and insulators section.) In this brief ArtNet feature, the late mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani talks about drawing as a part of her problem-solving process. 

In thinking about how drawing in particular and the creative process in general helps us form knowledge, I came across the work of Gemma Anderson. The article she wrote about drawing and mathematics with geometer Alessio Corti is available online from the journal Leonardo. It’s a weighty article, the gist of which the authors describe in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eWW_X9Gpqo

 All this research indicates that drawing is another form of learning, and that it can indeed be serious homework for a middle-schooler . How do you incorporate drawing in your teaching?

    • Rail Park
    • Drawing Broad St.
    • Drawing Broad St.
    • Rail Park
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