Jan Tschichold, poster for <em>The General</em> featuring Buster Keaton, 1927

Next semester I will be teaching “Graphic Design in Europe 1880–1945,” a course that is close to my research interests and one that I have taught on three previous occasions at Bard Graduate Center. This time, however, it will be significantly different because it is the first stage in a process that will lead to a Focus Project exhibition on the graphic designer Jan Tschichold scheduled for spring 2019. How will this process change the course? Well, to be honest, I am not sure. The content and aims will remain much as they were, because I feel the course is a fair representation of the major movements in graphic design in the period. But in one respect, it will be different. Although the exhibition will be over a year away, we will all know where this study is leading. I like to think that my teaching leaves avenues open for students to develop their own interests, and to challenge some of the received opinions that historians often present as facts. That is the whole point of having seminar style classes with small groups. On this outing, however, we know that the ultimate aim is to prepare an exhibition on modernist graphics in Central Europe during the 1920s. When studying the 1890s, for example, will we be looking for clues to later developments—a highly questionable approach to history, but one in which we all indulge. On the other hand, might there be a tendency to see everything in relation to our central concern (Jan Tschichold and German modernism), so that all interpretation becomes organized around a single model, instead of assessing each work on its own terms?

All I can say at this stage is that I do not know how the course will develop because it generally depends on how the students respond to different questions. If there is a danger of becoming too focused on the exhibition and developing an overly deterministic view of the period, perhaps the exercise of selecting and interpreting items for display will be a different but equally rewarding experience. This might be a case of swings and roundabouts—two types of teaching and two types of knowledge, each with an important bearing on our understanding of design and the decorative arts.

— Paul Stirton, Associate Professor