Thursday 6/14: Marian Bantjes and Summer Valentines (That Aren’t Valentine-y)

Marian Bantjes’s TED talk was fascinating. Bantjes’s modus operandi is to involve the ego (in the sense of “self,” rather than “arrogance”) in graphic design, in opposition to the traditional view that graphic design’s goals should be defined by the client rather than the designer. By making her work more personal, she believes that she’s more able to make it compelling, sustaining, and universal. Given the success she’s had in creating beloved campaigns that often go viral, it’s hard to argue that she’s wrong about tapping into universal themes by way of the self.

Bantjes also points out that ornamental images are seen to detract from the seriousness of text in modern Western society. This is a somewhat obvious statement: it’s a trope to show a stupid or anti-intellectual character complaining about the lack of pictures in a book. Still, speaking only to one way of understanding an idea (the left-brained, verbal way) cannot help but make a message intellectually poorer. That’s worth considering.

She also speaks about the valentines she sends. In the past, she’s done varying levels of personalization, from making 150 unique valentine designs for her entire mailing list to sending the same fragment of a fake love letter to everyone. You’d think that the completely personalized valentines would seem more intimate, but the love letter is very immediate and hits that perfect balance of universal applicability and semi-uniqueness that astrologers and copywriters live for. Surprisingly, it works.

For the next project, I’m going explore what makes a valentine a valentine, and then create an object that subtly says “This is a valentine,” using unusual materials. The goal of this project is to create a strong sense of unity between the text of the valentine and the images used in order to evoke some message; the message does not have to be “I love you,” and the recipient of the valentine can be anything or anyone.

The first known Valentine message, written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his captivity in the Tower of London. Source: BBC

I’ll admit, I got excited when I first saw “Summer Valentines” on the syllabus. I’m one of those vile people who love Valentine’s Day, even when I’m single. Valentine’s Day mainly involves ritualized craft projects and candy. Yes, there are some bloody, bloody stories behind it: St. Valentine was executed in all of the varied versions of his story, and the first known valentine message was sent by a prisoner of war in 1415. But, as they’re practiced today, Valentine’s Day is like Easter, but with the torture and capital punishment deemphasized—what’s not to love?

So, what is the bare minimum required for a thing to be recognizable as a valentine? The Duke of Orleans didn’t fuss over the color pink or pictures of hearts, but the combination of old-fashioned handwriting and 15th century French makes the content a little hard to decipher.

The least valentine-y Valentine’s Day cards I can think of are the pre-made sheets of cards intended for elementary school boys to give to their classes. They’re no-frills, rarely feature hearts or the color pink, and virtually never get more romantic or emotional than “You’re cool!” (or, in the case of these Transformers cards, “You’re a strong ally”). The color red is common among these cards, but that’s a commonly-used color in most of these franchises; these Batman cards have virtually none of the color red. What makes these valentines seems to be that they’re cards given around February 14th that directly address the receiver and say something positive to them.

When Professor Ruby asked us to think about our associations with valentines, my first thought was of this Old 97’s song:

This is my favorite of their songs with Murray singing lead, mostly for these lines:

True love, I knew, some thought of leavin’ you.
Bad thoughts I had, when valentines were due.

I love the image of valentines being “due,” like tax forms or homework. (I suppose that valentine cards technically are a sort of homework in certain elementary schools—and in this class, now that I think of it.) There’s a pervasive notion in American culture that Valentine’s Day is an annual audit of one’s romantic worth: one’s romantic status on Valentine’s Day is construed as being more important than on any other day. That’s the only way to make sense of this movie‘s existence, anyway. From a more data-driven standpoint, dating websites see a statistically significant uptick in registrations in the weeks between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, and some claim to see an increase immediately afterward.

I think I’d like to do something blending some sort of government or medical form with a valentine. I love the idea of playing with the overseriousness of the holiday.

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  1. Pingback: Bees, being and blogging « Visual Thinking

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