“Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.” – Anaïs Nin
This bumper sticker reminds me of an assignment I attempted to give my graphic design students, university sophomores and juniors:
Granted, redefining sexy is a challenging assignment in a culture drenched in images of women as objects and men as ravishing heroes, a narrowly limited visual culture that seems to make no allowances for the full range of human sexuality or authentic, rather than manufactured, desire. I am still working on answering that assignment myself.
What does sexy look like to you?
The question is both deeply personal and broadly universal, cutting to the core of our very being, what it means to be, for one cannot be without being a sexual being. Sex is a cut, what divides us, separates one self from another. Sex also unites, that imprecise union betwixt and between, a multiplication of pleasures and cells as well as divisions when sex produces a new being that comes into being in its mother’s womb.
Redefining sexy was not technically the assignment on the syllabus, of course. But when the departmentally approved curriculum includes an assignment to design a poster for a historic event, and your community outreach activities lead you to an activist who regularly travels to Haiti to voluntarily serve local communities there, and the previous semester one of your students had turned in a written assignment to tackle a social problem and suggest a design solution for it that included his personal opinion that “People living in drought conditions should just move!” and another of your students (at the college level, mind you) doodles an outline of Africa complete with a squiggle of Madagascar labeled with an arrow pointing to “Haiti” and your first semester while grading papers you discover not only deplorable spelling and grammar skills but also that ecstasy to this generation of college students means nothing more than a date rape drug, and your offer to introduce your students to typography with hands-on workshops in typesetting and letterpress printing at a nearby museum facility was rejected after months of administrative deliberating, and a previous semester your scheduling of visits to the campus anatomy lab in answer to the anatomy section on the life drawing syllabus was roundly scolded by the office administrator for not following the departmentally approved curriculum where the anatomy assignment for the students to pair up and take turns lying down on large swaths of brown Kraft paper to outline each other’s bodies with Sharpie markers and then fill in those outlines by drawing from a drawing of a skeleton reproduced in a poorly written and poorly designed and poorly printed college drawing textbook published by a manufacturer who makes a great deal of money selling textbooks reminded you of your kindergarten teacher’s assignment to draw a turkey by outlining your hand on a piece of brightly colored construction paper before coloring in feathers on the fingers and adding a waddle and beak to the thumb to take home to your mother to wish her a happy Thanksgiving and for her to pin up on the refrigerator for all to see, and you, it turns out, quite passionately believe that a university education ought to include teaching students how to think critically and that design should include critical thinking and not just producing cute posters with floral patterns commemorating events like Chernobyl or 9/11 or Auschwitz, and good teaching involves more than sitting nervously atop a high stool and reading aloud s-l-o-w-l-y word by word a four-page syllabus to a roomful of university students who stare dully at their computer screens or frantically at the bars on the windows set high up in the walls of the room flickering and buzzing with fluorescent lighting before more than a handful of them give up and nod off and the athlete in the corner drops his head on his desk and commences snoring audibly, and your activist friend offers not to simply give a presentation to your class but to bring with her a guest speaker who is a kindergarten teacher and thespian and activist and just happens to be visiting from Haiti that semester and whose time is limited and schedule filling rapidly, and despite the challenges of communicating across three languages during that initial presentation the one term common to English, French, and Creole French is also identified by your guest speaker with no more than her Haitian high school education as the root of Haiti’s problems not as might be expected deforestation or starvation or corporate greed, and this coincides with the conclusion of another guest lecturer, a Ph.D. sociologist from Berkeley also visiting campus that semester who identified war as a problem of masculinity, and the history of modern graphic design already provides ample examples from Switzerland of translating across three languages, and the one common term is sexy, now, I ask you, what would you do?
This is not a rhetorical question.
Reading is what sexy looks like to me.
I probably would not have chosen a modern serif face, in blue, on a white ground, but…
What is sexy to you?