On Being Plain

Every once in awhile, I get a hankerin’ to be taken seriously. I’ll see a critical theory article that deconstructs one of my friends’ work and think, “Maybe I should be doing that kind of work.” Envy is a terrible and pointless emotion. But then, I remember our mission. When we started AdamsMorioka in 1993, we wanted to go the opposite direction. There was so much desperate work then that screamed, “I’m serious! I have no sense of humor. I am only intendsed to be understood by a select group of intellectual theorists.” Noreen and I wanted to be the Beach Boys, not Bauhaus (the band), Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Karen Finley Tracy and Hepburn, not Lenya and Weill, or Steven Speilberg, not Luis Buñuel. This doesn’t mean we’re anti-intellectual, or don't admire artists who push limits. We love things that are way out of the park. And we refuse to deny anyone the right to create whatever they desire. So,what does this mean?

Ed Fella said it best when he called our work American Pragmatism. It’s about being plain spoken and honest, not fancy and oblique. Maybe it’s because we’re both from the West and can’t think differently. We’re interested in speaking to the broadest audience possible, making life a little better for them, and treating every other designer with respect and dignity. We aren’t interested in excluding or demonizing others because they do work unlike ours. Everyone deserves to be celebrated and revered.

Now the funny part of this is that we both came out of a deeply theoretical education at CalArts. We can subvert, deconstruct, and pastiche with the best of them, but we do it with stealth. As long as the form is seductive, appealing, and aesthetic, we can pour in as much meaning  or contradiction as needed. But, we’re human. When someone at a conference says, “You’re so funny. Everything you do is so cute.” This feels minimizing and I’m tempted to do that oblique and complex poster of Noreen and I in the nude that nobody understands. Then I remember why we like plain and honest, something that has optimism and joy. So I leave you with these sentiments:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will Rogers

 “The world belongs to you as much as the next fellow. Don’t give it up.” — Rodgers and Hammerstein

 “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs. We've been having fun all summer long.” — Beach Boys

 “ET phone home.” —Steven Spielberg