Greetings, and welcome to Art 101, Introduction to 2 Dimensional Design! The syllabus for this class lays out the basic details for the course, including the description:
(For students with little or no experience in design for the visual arts.) Practices, concepts, history and aesthetic impact of two-dimensional design. The organization of form on two-dimensional surfaces; history of type and practice of lettering: integration of imagery and type; traditional techniques of illustration using pen and pencil as well as collage and assemblage. Documentation of theoretical and/or historical issues relevant to contemporary practice.
The syllabus also includes the course schedule, which is subject to change. The course schedule can also be [found here].
Though I am required to provide you with a syllabus, I will be primarily be using my website (this website) for most course materials.
As the above description makes clear, this class covers a lot of the basics about art and composition, but can also cover more specific things like type and typesetting, combining word and image (e.g. graphic design and layout), and illustration techniques. We’ll be touching on many of these things for sure. But this semester we will also be working within a special domain of the social sciences: agism.


Broadly defined, agism is descrimination against an individual or group based on age. For example, an actor beyond the age of, say, 50 no longer receives roles because the casting world deems her too old. Another example: a young college kid is deemed too inexperienced and immature to hold an art direction job. These are obvious examples with explicit outcomes, i.e. joblessness.


But what about instances of agism that go unspoken? What about the deep-seated and difficult to address attitudes our own society has for the elderly? Can you name a few? Do you perhaps have your own preconceptions about the elderly? Do you value their presence in our society, or are you annoyed by them? Something in between?


Whatever your feelings about agism, it is real and those effected by it are – by definition – treated unjustly. The art you create this semester for this course will center around issues of agism. We will be working with students from the Social Work department – people who are dedicating their lives to helping people who are disenfranchised, poor, sick, or our just unlucky. We'll talk with them, share stories with them, and learn how to practice the craft of visual storytelling with the research they provide us.


These social work students will in turn be working with elderly populations in the Bronx, asking research questions, trying to build a full, ethnographic picture of elderly populations here. One of the things they’re looking for? Stories.

Visual Storytelling

Our society has numerous tools at its disposal to tell stores. People carry around broadcasting tools in their own pockets these days, and social media platforms like Youtube, Snapchat, and Instagram elevate and amplify these tools, giving them a currency and an aura legitimacy that film and television are far too slow to provide. Given the immediacy of storytelling in our society, its really a shame that most of these tools and, more importantly, literacy of these tools is lacking in older populations. After all, older populations naturally have more stories to tell: real stories, with real stakes, real people, and real-world outcomes. But look on the television, or skim through your Snapchat stories, and I think you’ll find their stories to be woefully underrepresented.


Working with the Social Work department, we’ll be getting real stories from actual people with important stories. Not only can we learn about our history from these stories, but we can learn about the shape of the future.


So, I guess in a way this class is as much about storytelling as it is about visual composition and agism. It’s really all three!

Course Objectives

"So Dave, real talk: what are we actually going to do this semester?" Glad you asked. Here you go!

  1. Work with social work students as they research elderly populations in the Bronx
  2. Conduct our own research into understanding and visually conveying the stories of real people – in other words: storytelling.
  3. Create a collaborative class project in the form of a book.
  4. Learn to digest oral tradition into two dimensional compositions or sequences of compositions.

Course Text

I seldom require textbooks, but in this case I am doing you a favor by requiring Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. On the surface this classic book is an in-depth analysis of what makes comic books work. However, this book is really master class in the understanding the ways in which media – indeed all art – works. It has a bit of history, a bit of art theory, discussion of graphic design, and speaks volumes about the craft of visual storytelling.


A physical copy of this book can be purchased at nearly any bookstore for not a lot of money. I recommend buying it because it’s one of those books you’ll want to be in possession of after the apocalypse, or when stranded on a desert island…or, oh I don’t know... if the Revolution arrives, bringing with it the destruction of the Capitalist system that fuels our bloated energy-driven economy. 


Graphic Design Elements and Principles

It wouldn’t do you much good to learn the craft of visual storytelling without first learning the language. The Graphic Design Elements and Principles are at the very heart of this course, regardless of the subject matter we might be focussing on, or the what media or technology we are working with. So important are they, that I shorten their title to GDEP. So important, in fact, that I shall place them here, in their own special spot, where all can go and glimpse how powerful and ever-present these elements and principles are in our evermore visual lives.