Milton Glaser’s three posters. Images via the School of Visual Arts
Milton Glaser, legendary graphic designer and creator of the “I Love New York” logo has brought his art to the New York City subway in a series of three posters created as part of the School of Visual Art’s (SVA) ongoing “Underground Images” ad campaign. Last week, three new works of his were debuted across subway stations, each as he describes, “a direct counterpoint to President Trump’s attack on humanity.”
Glaser has been one of many prominent graphic designers who has contributed work to this project, peppering the city’s subway system not only with simple ads about SVA, but works of art meant evoke reactions, designed to be digestible for what Glaser explains is the city’s complex audience of old, young, literate, and illiterate people. For the past 50 years, SVA’s current and former faculty of designers including Paula Scher, Ivan Chermayeff, George Tscherny, Mirko Ilic, and Edel Rodriguez have been prompting New Yorkers “to think big, take chances and never stop learning.”
One year after the presidential election, the time to think big and never stop learning has only becoming increasingly important. In an accompanying video (below), Glaser reflects on his career and what it means to create and share this kind of profound and influential work.
“I have an objective with these three posters—although it was implicit in all the other earlier posters—that is, the role of design and art are basically roles that also include social engagement. Not only personal vision or personal talent or personal insight or genius but also an activity that makes people feel that they are involved in something together. It’s kind of the counterpoint to Trumpism, which is ‘me for me,’ and it’s a sense that we’re part of a larger system, humanity itself. These posters [go] one step further as the threat to that idea becomes more evident with Trumpism.”
To Glaser, art is a collective experience, much like how humanity is a collective experience. The world is not a place for individuals to destroy and change on their whim because it suits them. The posters each proclaim a simple and pointed message: “Give Help”; “To Dream Is Human”; and “It’s Not About Me, It’s About We.”
Glaser understands what it means to share simple messages relatable to all. Following the attacks on 9/11, he debuted a poster proclaiming “I Love New York More Than Ever” with a black stain on the lower left-hand side of the heart representing the tragedy in Lower Manhattan. The design conveyed in simple words represented the power art and design have in bringing people together, and its ability to foster a deep connection among all kinds of people. In this case in particular, the deep connection among all New Yorkers.
Give Help: “That one is an attack on that which is becoming increasingly clear: Trump’s real contempt for Puerto Rico, or for people of color, and for anybody in trouble who isn’t white and rich. This poster—a submerged home, and a beautiful quote by Oscar Wilde, conveys that kindness is worth more than the grandest intention. We’ve got to deliver on our promise to help our fellow Americans,” explains Glaser.
“To Dream Is Human. That’s a bit of an abstraction, but it applies to something quite specific—Trump’s attitude towards immigrants. He refers to them contemptuously as Dreamers and to [their] deportation, that we may throw them out of this country. My attempt here is to transform the worddream, which is used pejoratively by Trump, into an aspirational word. To dream is human; the most, perhaps, important aspect of humankind is the ability to dream.”
“It’s Not About Me, It’s About We. All art ultimately is about collective experience, and ‘art makes us better’ is a reality that I truly believe in. It is the [antidote to] the narcissism and selfishness that exists in human nature. So [this] is a direct reflection of Trump’s attitude toward the world, where everything is about him. Again it’s an attack on this narcissistic, selfish atmosphere that Trump has managed to create. This is an attempt to compensate for that. In the way that art appeals to the most generous part of the human spirit, this is an attack on the most selfish parts of the human spirit.”
The designs of these three new posters channel Glaser’s “agency and commitment to justice using art & design to inspire social engagement.” Keep any eye out in the subway for these works and take the time to reflect on the ideas. Hear more from Milton Glaser in the video below.