Giving my lecture on ‘Type and Image’ to a class of 70 engineering students today, as part of their Graphic Design module. I suspect that they want to hear about grids and typefaces so I have decided to challenge them a little.
I kick off with Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’ (This is not a Pipe), which is a classic if you’re going to give a talk on type and image. I know they are practically minded so I suggest they note the use of typeface. I work my way through the Margritte section of the talk and check the vibe in the room. The student nearest to me has hung his head and is staring, slightly melancholically, at the grey-blue carpet. I wonder if that’s because he’s tired or whether he’s sensed what’s to come.
Right at the front, several students have decided to sit on the chairs as they were placed when they arrived. This means they are all facing the wrong direction as the talk is taking place behind them, but rather than turning their chairs around they have decided to turn their necks as far as they can. I can’t decide if this is some form of protest or if they can’t be bothered to turn around. It definitely looks uncomfortable.
The talk is now flying along, only it doesn’t feel like it. I’m onto Martin Creed and playing ‘Thinking/Not Thinking’. I hear some laughs which give me hope that at least some people are enjoying this, but I can’t decide if they are ‘this is funny’ or ‘this is shit’ laughs.
I’m also noticing that all the work in my talk has been done almost exclusively by white men. Not that anyone in the class seems to be noticing though, they’re probably wandering why on earth they are listening to music and being quoted Gene Wilder. It all connects but I’m not feeling it somehow.
This must be how stand up comedians feel if they start the whole show off key, and nothing quite works… I’m arriving at Joseph Kosuth which is pretty dry, so I need to turn this around. I feel I am working my way into my talk more, which I’ve achieved by not focusing on my audience who seem mostly detached. I make a lovely bridge from an Alfred Hitchcock quote to the opening credit sequence of ‘David Brent: Life on the Road’. I look up in need of some positive feedback and realise I must start working my way towards the middle of the talk where I speak of grids, fonts, and typesetting.
Now, I’m on damage limitation: a 6-minute John Smith video ‘The Girl Chewing Gum’ –skip. Woody Allen’s subtitle scene from ‘Annie Hall’ –skip. ‘Creature Comforts’ why did I put that in? –skip. –no, play it in full, let’s entertain them at least.
OK, I’ve finally reached the bit about grids, fonts, typesetting, and I’m playing my short movie about Akzidenz-Grotesk, Haas Grotesk, Helvetica, Univers and Unica. I’ve won them back it seems, they’re here in the room once more, listening to my talk. The guys sitting backwards are curiously still sitting backwards though, looking at the screen that way. They look engaged, and I wonder if they’ve forgotten they are actually sitting the wrong way round.
The talk ends, so that worked out after all. Ben approaches me to congratulate me on the talk, which he always does, but he also always adds a passive aggressive comment afterwards. He says “Thank you … that second part of the talk was really helpful.” I knew this was coming, so I just leave it to linger for a moment which seems to unsettle him and he gets fidgety. He adds “The first part was also helpful!…” to which I respond ‘Great!’ and he responds “…I guess”. He seems both apologetic and happy after this, and walks off.
I promise myself I’ll never show Magritte to engineering students ever again, at least not in their final year. I ask if they have any questions and they want to know if the laser-printer prints double-sided, and how the ring-binder works. I had no idea we even had one.