- Graphic designer Milton Glaser spent a lifetime creating iconic brand identities. Yet his first priority always was truth.
- Camille Brown is known for integrating African American social dance traditions into uniquely modern choreography.
- Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Wolfe mines history to create her innovative experimental compositions. But it wasn’t a given that she would be a composer—her first love was the written word.
Camille Brown is an award-winning choreographer known for integrating African American social dance traditions into contemporary dance. Her accolades include a Tony nomination, Guggenheim Fellowship, Obie Award, and Bessie Award.
Raised in Queens, NY, Brown attended the well-known Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (subject of the film, TV show, and musical Fame) and the University of North Carolina. She danced for innovative choreographer Ronald K. Brown before founding her own company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, in 2006. Brown’s trilogy on race culture and identity—Mr. TOL E. RAncE (2012), BLACK GIRL (2015), and ink (2017)—won critical acclaim on tours across the United States and earned her a 2013 Bessie Award and a nomination for the same prize in 2016.
Brown also choreographs for theater and opera. She received a Tony nomination in 2019 for her work on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy and a Obie in 2020 for choreographing a revival of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.
Julia Wolfe is an innovative contemporary classical composer known for her work with New York–based collective Bang on a Can and her wide-ranging solo output. Her work has been performed by orchestras, chamber ensembles, and choral groups around the world. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2015 for her oratorio Anthracite Fields.
Born in Philadelphia in 1952, Wolfe studied music at the University of Michigan. After earning a masters at Yale School of Music, she founded Bang on a Can with David Lang and Michael Gordon (her husband). The group is best known for its Marathon Concerts—informal daylong presentations of contemporary classical music.
Wolfe’s interest in labor history informs many of her pieces. Her Pulitzer-nominated Steel Hammer (2009) tells the story of railroad worker John Henry. Anthracite Fields (2014) celebrates the history of coal mining in Pennsylvania. Her avant-garde orchestral work Fire in my mouth (2019) was inspired by the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire.
Wolfe is a professor of music at New York University.
Milton Glaser (1929–2020) was a preeminent graphic designer, best known for his iconic “I ♥ NY” logo.
Glaser’s parents were Jewish Hungarians who immigrated to the Bronx, where he was born and raised. He studied at the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan (now the famed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School) and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He and three classmates from Copper Union formed esteemed design agency Push Pin Studios. The firm’s signature colorful aesthetic can be seen in Glaser’s covers for the Signet Classic Shakespeare series and his 1967 poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair, which sold over 6 million copies.
In 1977, the state of New York hired Glaser to design a logo to increase tourism; the designer came up with and sketched his iconic image in the back of a taxi cab. He was also co-founder and former president of New York magazine, and part-owner of Brooklyn Brewery, whose branding he created in exchange for equity. He died in 2020 on his 91st birthday.
- Art & Design
Welcome to Articulate, the show that explores the big ideas behind great creative endeavors. On this Articulate, Living Legacies.
The 90-year-old graphic designer, Milton Glaser has spent a lifetime creating iconic brand identities. Step one, he says is getting himself out of the picture.
Milton Glaser: You always start with that audience, with the receptor for this information, and then raise the question, what you want, how you want them to respond.
Camille Brown is known for integrating African-American social dance traditions into firmly modern choreography, but she is first and foremost a humble and curious student.
Camille Brown: There’s a beauty in not knowing because once you open yourself up and give yourself a break, then I think that’s when you actually start discovering things.
And, Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe minds history to create her innovative experimental compositions, but it wasn’t a given that she would be a composer. Her first love was the written word.
Julia Wolfe: Writing music was something that was beyond words. It seemed completely mysterious but also kind of was really magical.
That’s all ahead on Articulate.
Milton Glaser is in the business of elegant, eloquent solutions and chances are that even if you haven’t heard his name, you do know his work, but Glaser is more than a graphic artist for hire. In many cases, he’s a partner to those he helps depict. In 1968, he co-founded New York Magazine and was its President and Design Director until 1977. In 1985, long before the craft beer movement was in full flow, two young Brooklynites, Steve Hindy and Tom Potter offered him equity in their brewery in exchange for his help with branding. Today the Brooklyn Brewery is a billion-dollar business. His model has been copied all over the world.
Milton Glaser: And they make good beer.
AJC: Which was important for you, I’m guessing?
Glaser: Very, yeah, if it was lousy beer, I don’t know if I could’ve done it.
Milton Glaser is a rare champion of truth and advertising in theory and in practice. He’s written extensively on the topic of artistic persuasion and the power of propaganda.
AJC: Are there differences between just that sort of soft playing with the truth of advertising versus fascistic propaganda? Are they just degrees of the same messaging?
Glaser: Well, once I think you obliterate the idea of truth being a key element in communication to others, there’s no difference.
And though Glaser has long rallied against propaganda, his best-known work could be perceived as just that. In the 1970s, New York was dilapidated, dangerous, and demoralized. The state grasping for a way to stop people from moving out of the city commissioned Glaser to create a visual rallying cry. It worked far better than anybody could’ve predicted.
Glaser: Well, you know, I don’t know what makes it powerful. I mean of course, the mystery of what we do is a deeper mystery to ourselves very often than anybody else. The mark itself is very complicated and represents three puzzles within the mark. One is the “I” is a complete representation of a word. New York is a symbol for a place, which is represented by its initials, and the heart is a symbol for a feeling, which basically has trouble finding language. So, there are three little shifts of perception and what we know is that when that perception occurs, things stick in the mind more. So, by the act of solving a simple puzzle, you ensure a certain degree of retention, and I guess if I were forced to guess that that’s why it stuck around. I did it in 1977. Who in the world would expect something like that to still be around? You walk into Chinatown, you think it’s—
AJC: No, it’s still alive, alive and well.
The state of New York owns the logo, making it their job to pursue thousands of copyright infringements every year. Now in his 90s, Milton Glaser still lives in the city where he was born in 1929 to a pair of Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, who modeled a fierce dedication to learning and an unwavering work ethic.
Glaser: My father went to work in a tailor shop, a dry-cleaning store, and he went in every day at seven o’clock to start the coal-fire that heated the store, and he left at eight. So, he was used to working 12 or 13 hours a day and I know that that’s in my head. I never think about it, but I know that the example of this man going to work, working, fulfilling the day, closing the store, the next day back.
AJC: Six days a week, probably.
Glaser: So, I know that that kind of model of endless work, which was probably characteristic of his parents and their history and memory somehow embedded itself in my brain.
AJC: It’s also a very immigrant response.
Glaser: Very, yes, precisely.
AJC: But I know that parents of new Americans, first-generation Americans, will often say, they’ll say one of two things, what your mother said, “You’re in America, you can be anything.”
AJC: The other side of that coin is, “We suffered a lot so that you could be born here, don’t blow it.”
AJC: Did you ever hear that?
Glaser: Yes, I mean, not even, maybe not explicitly but inferentially. There was always the thing. You have the opportunity for a great break, don’t blow it. I mean, that was certainly part of it, and, also, it’s interesting that you say that. In the neighborhood, which was largely Hungarian, Eastern Europe immigration, largely Jews, the idea of education was so powerful that I would say that nine out of ten of the kids went to college, and that’s from the implicit thing that, “here’s an opportunity, don’t blow it.”
Glaser: Of course, school was free then.
Glaser attended Cooper Union School of Art then earned a Fulbright Scholarship that took him to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, where he absorbed the nuisances of Italian style. Years later, he would be commissioned to return the favor by Italian brands including Vespa, Olivetti, and Campari, and what makes Milton Glaser so sought-after the world over isn’t a particular aesthetic or style, but an overall ethos.
Glaser: I start with what is to be achieved. So, if I objectified it, I would say, what’s the most essential thing you want to do? What do you want to communicate to this audience, and consequently, who is this audience? What do they like? What do they want? You always start with that audience, with the receptor for this information and then raise the question, what you want, how you want them to respond. But without that, there’s no sort of professional life. I mean, it’s not making paintings.
Today, Milton Glaser remains unconcerned with expressing his own deepest thoughts and desires. He says he’s happy to stay productive.
Glaser: The most important thing in my life if I had to eliminate family, is my devotion and interest in making things. Making things is satisfying. It is the search for the miraculous. What you wanna find is something that only existed in your mind and then suddenly there’s this object.
AJC: What do you hope for now?
Glaser: Not much left to hope for. I mean, I’m now at the brink of 90, holy Christ, 90! Whoever thought, I love that line, if I thought I was gonna live so long I would’ve taken better care of myself. I hope to be able to go on a little while longer, make things. I work almost every day. I shorten the day by a half hour to 45 minutes because I just can’t sustain it anymore and during that time, I hope I can make something that is strong and I fail now more often. I fail in completing the tasks. So, I can do part of what I used to do, but I don’t have the physical drive very often to carry it to completion, but I accept that as the consequence of being an old man. I mean, you get to a point where it’s hard to press through.
AJC: Here lies Milton Glaser. What’s the next line?
Glaser: He made some beautiful things.
AJC: And he loved New York.
Glaser: And he loved New York.
The award-winning choreographer and dancer, Camille Brown, has spent decades exploring African-American social dance traditions. Her TED Talk on the subject has been viewed more than a million times. And Brown believes her gift for dance has been passed down through generations.
Camille Brown: Sometimes fighting against oppression is not necessarily using your words. It’s also using your body too. Movement has always been a part of the African tradition. So, when you look at the Middle Passage and how the culture of the African people, they attempted to strip them of their culture, but somehow it was still living in their body and we call that a blood memory. That idea of movement being a way of expressing ourselves is something that is traditional and it’s a heritage that continues to be passed down. It’s just something that is innate, in black people specifically. So, you’re tapping into something when you’re moving your body that I believe is very spiritual.
Brown believes in doing thorough research to inform her projects. Take the dances she created for the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Once on this Island, the show exploring multiple Caribbean cultures.
Brown: It gave me an opportunity to tap into West African, Afro-Haitian, and Afro-Cuban, and I worked with Maxine Montilus, who is an Afro-Haitian, Afro-Cuban consultant, and I have had African dance training, but I just wanted to kind of immerse myself even deeper into this because I found that it was a tremendous responsibility and we were in rehearsal and while we were doing the session, I stopped her, I said okay, “When you come to the show, you’re not necessarily going to see these exact steps because it’s not about us cutting and pasting, it’s about me knowing and understanding the origin” so then I can apply my choreographic voice to that and riff on it. You have to do the work in order to honor the culture and I am really committed to doing the work but also honoring my choreographic voice.
Brown founded her own company in 2006. Camille A. Brown and Dancers is the outlet for her most personal creative expressions. Some of its best-known work, a trilogy about identity that began in 2012 with Mr. Tol E. rANCe uses film and spoken dialogue to explore black stereotypes throughout entertainment history. Then came 2015’s black girl: linguistic play, a meditation of Brown’s own childhood growing up in Queens. And in 2017, the acclaimed conclusion, Ink, a celebration. But for as purposeful, powerful and self-assured as her work appears, Camille Brown is constantly questioning herself.
Brown: I feel like I am the most fearful, doubtful person that I know. I’m always questioning something I’m doing. I’m second-guessing. I’m terrified every time I walk in to a room for the first time, terrified. I don’t know if I’m gonna, like oh no, I’m the wrong person. They’re gonna find out I’m a fraud, oh no, I’m not gonna know, and what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to not always know what you’re doing. I think there’s a beauty in not knowing because once you open yourself up and give yourself a break, then I think that’s when you actually start discovering things and that’s the beauty for me about choreography. It’s the challenging thing, it’s scary, it’s stressful, but there’s also beauty in finding something and I think part of that is just letting yourself go and let yourself be in the moment.
Julia Wolfe never thought she was going to be a musician, much less a composer, but destiny had other ideas.
Julia Wolfe: It hit me like a lightning bolt. Music really grabbed hold of me.
That was in college where she was studying labor history, and unlikely as it seems, she would go on to make a lot of music about this topic, but before any of that could happen, the young Julia had to accept that her mode of expression would not be as she had expected, the written word.
Wolfe: The first thing that struck me was that writing music was something that was beyond words. So, I’ve done a lot of creative writing, written poetry and some plays, bunch of prose. This is something that was very familiar to me and very comfortable and suddenly I was confronted with this idea of writing music. It seemed completely mysterious, but also kind of just really magical and as a young woman in college, it also was like, I was reading a lot about people doing things and I thought, that’s fine, but I actually want to do something, actually want to make something. So, a composer, it really is the act of creation. You’re starting from nothing, from scratch, and you’re constructing this thing, this architecture of sound, and I just got the bug.
The bug would take her to New York City, where in the summer of 1982, she met two young composers, David Lang and Michael Gordon. Both became her collaborators in the avant-garde music collective, Bang on a Can, but from the moment they were introduced, she sensed a special connection with Gordon, now her husband of 35 years.
Wolfe: I was living in Ann Arbor and Michael was living in New York City in the loft where we live now with one of my friends from college. He was a photographer, Peter. He was like, “Hey, you haven’t come to visit me, and plus my roommate, he knows everything about everything you’re doing. He’s a composer and he’s a vegetarian.” Whatever it was, it seemed like a match for me. So, we went out for breakfast to Leroy’s Diner and I was mostly asking him about, he had just finished the program at Yale School of Music. I was kind of asking him, well, how was that and I’m trying to figure out my next step, and basically, I was like, I had my dulcimer slung over my arm and I was pretty green at this whole thing and I just liked him. That was just it. I sat at the diner and I don’t even know if I noticed my food, but I thought, oh, this is such an exciting world, but also I like him and he did say, “You have to meet my friend, David Lang,” and the next day, I went to New Haven where David was finishing up his studies and I sat with David for hours and he played me all kinds of cool music. So, it was a day later.
AJC: That’s astonishing, 48 hours in the life.
Wolfe: Yeah, these two people that totally changed my life. I left that trip to New York and particularly with my conversations with Michael feeling like anything is possible, anything is possible. It’s an incredible feeling to have inside and I didn’t have that before. I was waiting tables and working with a really fun theater company. I had a collective of women, we started a theater company. It was all really, really fun stuff, but this idea of creating these pieces that was a little bit more of a challenge, I just felt anything is possible and it was a life changer.
The trio quickly discovered that they shared a passion for innovation, a desire to create the future rather than merely be a continuation of the past.
Wolfe: We were all really interested in what haven’t we heard before, where are we going, we don’t know where we’re going. Those are kind of really important attitudes as opposed to, I mean I think you can be an artist and tend to look more backward. Like I am from this tradition, and I’m carrying on the tradition. We usually think we’re taking out a hatchet and going, we’re breaking this up, we’re kind of getting out the chopping our way—
AJC: Or just smashing the timeline and starting it again.
Wolfe: And in a certain sense, we’re following a tradition of people doing that. There’s a great American tradition, in particular people kind of being renegades and going their own way and we were all three very drawn to that kind of idea, the spirit of innovation and breaking new ground.
One of America’s greatest artistic renegades, John Cage, was an early fan of Bang on a Can’s weekend-long experimental concerts or marathons, during which an eclectic mix of compositions are performed one after another. All audience members are encouraged to listen casually, to come and go as they please over the 24+ hour-long shows. John Cage would become an enduring supporter of these dense, day-long feasts of sound, a high compliment from the composer who famously convinced the world that silence could be music.
Wolfe: I called, I don’t know where we got the phone number even, but I called him on the phone and he answered the phone. I was like, “Hello Mr. Cage”, and he’s like, “Yes”. I said, “Well, we’ve put together this 12-hour happening of music and we programmed your piece. It’s on very late at night,” and he said “Tell me a little bit about that.” So, I explained all this music back to back that normally wouldn’t have even been in the same zip code area, let alone the same venue. He’s like, “hmmm, interesting,” and he showed up. It was kind of amazing. I think because it looked different and it was covering some kind of different ground. He insisted on buying his ticket at the door. This is a little bit of a fight because composers don’t have to buy their ticket and he won, he paid for his ticket. He stayed for about four hours and then left before his piece was performed, and he came every year. He came to every marathon until he died.
The annual Bang on a Can Marathons continues to this day. 2020 will be their 33rd, but apart from the group, Wolfe has had an extraordinary career in her own right that has included a series of highly-acclaimed works that explore and expand upon her early interest in labor history. Steel Hammer retells the tale of John Henry, an African American railroad worker who attempted to prove his prowess by competing against a drilling machine. He won, but immediately died of a heart attack from the exertion. Then there was 2014’s Anthracite Fields, her Pulitzer Prize-winning piece exploring coal mining in Smalltown, Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. And then, there’s her latest work, Fire in My Mouth, a work for symphony orchestra and chorus drawn from historical accounts of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146, mostly immigrant women, in New York City in 1911. The piece imagines their conditions, long hours in a massive hot, loud, an ultimately unsafe work space.
Wolfe: I’m thinking about what that sound would’ve been like on the garment-worker floor, a huge loft with all the machines going. There was no real recording at the turn of the century, at least that was so accessible, but there are many descriptions of walking in and the roar of all the sewing machines. So, when you think about sound and orchestra and the kind of volume you can get, how do you make the orchestra sound like that roar?
Today, Julia Wolfe and her long-term collaborators are still obsessed with innovation, seeking the new, the fresh, the transformative.
Wolfe: We stay young in that way and very fresh, even as we grow older. It’s kind of how you stay alive, really.