There’s a new show opening, it seems, every week at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). New shows bring new expectations for “never been seen before” work—which any self-respecting artist or designer knows is a wonderful but rarely attained ideal to chase. Of course, the fortuitous discovery of a new material, new fabrication technique, or new conceptualization technology does happen, but not every day. What happens every day is a lot of practice. Hundreds and thousands of hours of practice.
So when I walked into the RISD Jewelry + Metalsmithing department’s triennial show and saw everything you can imagine that is small, large, nano, macro, leathery, shiny, sparkly, and drippy hanging on the walls or resting on plinths, I was struck by three identical pencil sketches. Pure expressions of the desire to depict something perfectly with limited tools, their goal wasn’t to achieve originality but perfection.
And yet even with this goal, in the three perfectly rendered drawings from Professor Mielle Harvey’s class, originality—born from the artist’s perspective, intention, and chosen tools and materials—shines through. This is part of what we at RISD call “critical making”—the constant dialogue of hand and mind that makes objects with true meaning. I contrast this with a similar exercise done in the computer science curriculums, making your first program print out “Hello World.” Everyone’s program outputs the exact same thing: Hello World. No matter how quickly we write the program or how we position our hands while typing or what color our keyboards are, the same output occurs with 100.00 percent accuracy.
The analog world enables incredible fluency of expression and personality—and the arts enable the full gamut of the perceivable human experience. As president of RISD, I’m excited every day to see what can be made in ways that have little to do with technology and everything to do with physicality and humanity. It’s a world that I say hello to . . . with joy.
John Maeda is a graphic designer and computer scientist, and president of Rhode Island School of Design since 2008.