Elliott Earls | Essays

The Sentient and the Bag of Meat

Dan Clowes, detail from Art School Confidential

Like the canary in the coal mine, there’s much that can be learned from careful observation of design school culture today. In education, students can easily be grouped into one of two categories: the Sentient and the Bag of Meat. The Bag of Meat, dead from the neck up leads Thoreau's "life of quiet desperation" and is the embodiment of consumerist attitudes towards learning. The Bag of Meat is deceptively quick with an excuse, stupefyingly slow with an answer, and terminally late to accept responsibility for the content and the character of their education. Life is filled with Bags of Meat. And though, by my estimation, and corroborated by the musings of Thoreau and Nietzsche, they comprise the vast majority of students, they are not our concern.

It is the Sentient student with whom we are concerned.

In most cases, design education takes place within the larger context of this thing called “art school.” Art school culture is a unique subculture within American education. In Art School Confidential, Dan Clowes claims to “blow the lid off a million-dollar racket” whereby Clowes carefully exposes art school as a cabal of snake oil salesmen, has-beens and hirsute poseurs. Well, I’m calling bullshit.

Just as the smash hit films, Superbad, Knocked-up and She’s Out of My League, resonate deeply in American culture because they portray a re-balanced universe of pathetic couch-squatting, disempowered male losers [1] who magically win the affection of overachieving super-females, Art School Confidential resonates deeply with all of those sleep-walking Bags of Meat, who see any knowledge beyond their immediate intellectual grasp as illegitimate. Art School Confidential is a mirror that legitimizes ones’ intellectual, spiritual and physical laziness. Like the law of gravity, there are simple immutable physical laws that govern the universe. [2] Chief among these laws is: knowledge is power. This simple inescapable truth undergirds what Sentient students in real art schools are working so hard to achieve. These students strive to achieve agency and real power through knowledge. Knowledge begets power. Power begets a higher level of self-determination. Self-determination begets a better life.

It’s in Design School, a sub-category of art school, where we can observe a persistent and all pervasive angst among the Sentient. This anxiety extends from graduate school at its highest level down through the ranks of the undergraduate journeyman. In simple terms, Sentient students are deeply concerned with the seemingly irreconcilable tension between doing meaningful work and the apparent mind (and soul) squashing concerns of the commercial world. This refrain among the Sentient is in deep contrast to the caterwauling Bags of Meat [3] who are obsessed with their G.P.A. or their potential “starting salary.” Just as Benjamin Barber suggests that fundamentalist Islam and unrestrained capitalism are locked in a dialectal death spiral, the Sentient student erroneously perceives meaning and money to be similarly at odds. This is a false dichotomy. The fact is, meaning has absolutely nothing to do with money.

Dan Clowes, detail from Art School Confidential

Clowes outlines two potential career paths for the art school kid. With this kind of pathetic attitude, what would you expect? It would seem far more productive to throw down with Busta Rhymes, “There never was a plan B.” Or to assimilate the kind of gangster-grind work ethic of 50 Cent. Come on kid, I’m gunna make something of myself “or die trying.” Clowes and Judd Apatow’s toxic ideology would have you believe that merit, meaning and success (yes, success) are the result of luck and the ability to talk a big game. Of course, verbal skills may be important, but I would posit the opposite. Merit, meaning and success are the result of the hustle, skill, knowledge, sweat and heart.

Jonah Hill (left) and 50 Cent (right)

The Heart of the Matter 

Draw a conceptual line through art school, trace it down through design school, and then extend it out into life. The real issue, the heart of the matter, is all about “bliss.” Joseph Campbell’s much maligned and misinterpreted concept extrapolated from the Upanishads:
           Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great 
           spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the 
           brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. 
           The word "Sat" means being. "Chit" means consciousness. "Ananda" means 
           bliss or rapture. I thought, "I don't know whether my consciousness is 
           proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being 
           is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me 
           hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my 
           being." I think it worked. [4]

The real issue regarding life and work is the struggle. The struggle to transcend our own limitations. The arrow through the heart of the matter is the desire to achieve higher consciousness, greater power and meaning in life and work. This happens not through the anti-intellectualism, entitlement, sloth and the general existential malaise that pervades our culture. Disaffection, ennui and nihilism are for the weak. The pathetic characters populating Clowes' art school landscape, and those they appeal to, are Thoreau’s great mass of men who “lead lives of quite desperation.” Campbell’s "bliss" is the eternal sunshine piercing the fog of this torpor. Bliss is the pathway that the Sentient struggles to remain on. Bliss, that feeling of being deeply at home in something, denies external pressure. It denies duty and expectation in favor of knowledge of self. It should have been a critical component of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is in fact, the primary mechanism enabling and leading to self actualization. It is akin to the Jesuit notion of magis, Latin for “the more.” Bliss enables and engenders magis. [5] In its simplest terms the concerns of everyday life appear to be at odds with Bliss and with self-actualization. [6] Yet this simply reflects a failure of imagination.

Apatow and Clowes are but two of a nearly infinite wellspring of sources, seducing the populace with the promise of short-cuts.They are pied pipers leading others down the primrose path of victimhood, they encourage the viewer to distrust fancy book learning and sweat equity. Go ahead park your ass on the couch all day and smoke some weed, somehow you’ll score a hot-chick with a great job. Oh, and if you don’t make it as a designer, blame your school: after all, those fancy polysyllabic words in those books were a con game anyway. Good luck with that and let me know how it works out.

Oh, by the way, next time you see Mr. Clowes do me a favor, and ask him how he likes working at the art supply store.


1. Typically there is a corollary to every theorem, and in this case it’s important to understand the Jonah Hill Corollary. It is true that super-females will mate with men who appear to be disempowered couching, squatting losers. But there are two conditions that must be met in order to achieve the balance necessary to sustain this relationship. First, the aforementioned male must be hilariously funny. And second (and most importantly) the male must be fabulously wealthy. This wealth is reflection of drive, intellect, cunning, power, social capital or family connection. The problem with Apatowian films, and the reason why they resonate so deeply, is that they specifically leave this critical element out. They are specifically about the disempowered finding the short-cut, taking the easy way out, living the impossible dream. They buttress the viewer’s basest instincts and laziest impulse.

2. Most foundation studies courses contain a two-dimensional design component. This foundation usually deals with perceptual psychology, color theory and highly formalist issues. Form making can be traced back to simple principles dealing with the physical structure of the human eye and how that interfaces with perception. This is not some highfalutin city-slicker bullshit a beret-wearing intellectual made up. These issues have an evolutionary function and are tied to our survival as a species. Coming to a deeper understanding of these issues bolsters one's ability to bring form-making under ones command — it gives one agency with regard to form. Ah, but obviously the art school snake-oil that Clowes is debunking refers to this thing called “Theory”: structuralism, post-structuralism, queer theory, post-colonial theory, linguistics, etc... The same issues are at play here but extend the conversation into what a work means. Struggling with Chomsky or de Saussures’ writings on the nature of language, as an example, do not make you a weaker artist. It makes you a stronger artist.

3. “I still say that you are overlooking the third type. I think you have bags of meat, robot sharks, and sentient beings. Robot sharks are quick with an excuse, like the bag of meat, but quick with an answer, like a sentient being. Robot sharks are aiming at a salary, but pretend to be concerned with meaning. They are the type that is most difficult to discern because the bag of meat has not, for the most part, the capacity to maintain the appearance of anything but a bag of meat; the sentient being cannot maintain deception for terribly long, because his conscience will not allow it; but the robot shark can mimic all the positive attributes of both when necessary. I think you could potentially acknowledge a third type and still make your concern the sentient being. However, as it is and as it will be misinterpreted regardless, the ultimate point of the essay does not REALLY hinge on these distinctions. The essence of your argument may be just as valuable for the bag of meat as the sentient being. But the design world is largely made up of robot sharks, so it may be a good provocative addition to include that type.” — Joshua Ray Stephens

4. Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, edited by Betty Sue Flowers. Doubleday, 1988, p. 120.

5. I plan to explore these ideas in much greater detail at DesignInquiry:JOY in June 2010.

6. At the risk of seriously undermining my position, our culture’s primary spiritual leader Deepak-Opra reminds us that we should love what we do, and the rest will take care of itself.

Posted in: Arts + Culture, Education

Comments [48]

It takes motivation, persistence, intellectual curiosity and—perhaps most of all—courage to find your happiness and build your own little version of reality. It happened for me when I finally stopped blaming others and took action. Real, genuine, sustained action towards my goals. My life—and my professional career—have never been better.

Quite simply, thank you for calling bullshit.
Jeff Ganger

Ditto to Jeff.

Thanks, Mr. Earls.

Excellent essay.

I think the one point I'd add is that none of your two (or three, if you include the excellently named robot shark) archetypes exist alone in a given person.

We all contain multitudes.
Matthew Hale

It's a movie. Not a documentary.

Laugh at it or with it. By ranting like this, you're giving it too much credit. Drop the cynical and pompous "art student" mentality and explore other possible reasons why this film was made other than just to "blow the lid off a million-dollar racket", which I find hilarious in it's description.

With that being said, I'll have to sit down and watch it soon. Until then, take a Xanax and don't bother calling b.s. on something the majority of your readers already believe. Preaching to the choir here.
Erik S

I confess: I can't tell if this is supposed to be a joke.

Earls opens the essay by calling "the vast majority of students" that he oversees brainless automata, then "calls bullshit" on Dan Clowes for saying pretty much the same thing. The only difference I can tell is that Clowes had the gall to lampoon the whole art school environment instead of just the students, and he did it as a cheapish gag at the end of a comic book. Earls tries to associate this with Judd Apatow's slacker hero movies, but the connection is a strain, to say the least. I admit I skipped a few paragraphs when I saw the name Joseph Campbell, but then I read that Dan Clowes "seduc[es] the populace with the promise of short-cuts." Really? I googled up a scan of Art School Confidential and looked for such a message, but found pretty much the opposite: Dan Clowes's complaint about his art school experience was that students were rewarded for being shocking and outrageous (e.g., "the tampon-in-a-teacup trick") instead of developing their talents and skills.

It's that last line, though, that makes me wonder if this entire essay is a put-on. Clowes is a very successful comics artist; I can't imagine any way in which he's "working at the art supply store". The statement is so nonsensical I had to read the essay again looking for hints. There's the bizarre footnote about "our culture’s primary spiritual leader Deepak-Opra" which may be sarcasm. The very presence of footnotes might be an attempt at McSweeny's-style humor. But even as satire I can't make much sense of that statement.

If it is a joke, congratulations. Zing. You got me. If not, and you do believe that the vast majority of your students are mindless Bags of Meat, well… You might consider working at an art supply store instead.
Dave H

As always with Earls, "ZING!"
John Francis

An important point of clarification. I specifically never said MY students were "Bags of Meat." Our studio culture is set up in such a way as to avoid that scenario.
Elliott Earls

Clowes' comics in no way glorifies the art school culture, it satirizes elements bred in todays art schools, and basically illustrates that any success in art school is the result of illegitimate shock art and personal opinion.

The main character's self deprecating attitude to his lack of success despite "good work" is purely used as a vehicle to emphasize the greater story: the hypocrisy of art school culture. It is this premise that differentiates it from all of Apatow.
Ayn Roberts

The emperor wears no clothes.

I think that the high faulting book learning you seem to be espousing is failing you, because your analysis of Clowes is completely off. Clowes is not against education, study and hard work - he's against art school, which is usually the opposite of hard work (especially when Clowes was in school in the early 80's), where an expensive education is more about "expressing yourself" than learning real skills, technique and receiving a well rounded liberal arts education. As an incredibly gifted cartoonist, Clowes exemplifies hard work, spectacular technique and thoughtful prose. His work ethic and insight is diametrically opposed to what he was getting out of art school.
Mr. McGinnis

MJ = robotshark

Jeff Ganger = Sentient
MAT = Ditto
Matthew Hale = Sentient
Eric S = Robot Shark
Dave H = Robot Shark
John Francis = "BOOM"
Elliott Earls = Sentient
Ayn Roberts = Robot Shark
MJ = Marshall McLuhan
Mr. McGinnis = Robot Shark
T = Bag of Meat


I must be 50 cent


At last, a label that sticks

@Mr. McGinnis

This is a funny statement you made: "I think that the high faulting book learning you seem to be espousing is failing you"

Do you mean "highfalutin"? EE's learning is failing him?

Also, you said, Clowes is "against art school". He is, however, a product of art school. Which I think is Earls' point when he says, "Oh, by the way, next time you see Mr. Clowes do me a favor, and ask him how he likes working at the art supply store."

Clowes is a product of art school and he can not erase that fact. He also can not claim that he would have been successful without art school.

Lo and behold, Clowes is neither:

1) "working in retail sales in an art supply store"
2)"a Paste-up artist".

p.s. MisterMcGinnis, I love your illustration work. I'm rather surprised you had such a negative reaction to Elliott Earls' article.

Yeah, I meant highfalutin, sorry.

Clowes is not the product of art school - he quit because they weren't actually teaching him anything. His incredible cartooning skills are self taught.

My negative reaction is because I think EE is talking more about a mediocre movie adaptation than the Dan Clowes comic. Clowes's work is the OPPOSITE of what EE is saying. Dan Clowes's Art School Confidential is reacting against the lack of structure and academics at art school. He left school and made a career where there wasn't much hope for success, as an artist AND a graphic artist. His whole career path is about merging art and commerce, it's not about being a victim.

Times have changed and you can get a BFA studying comics now - you couldn't then. However - academics are still paltry at most art schools. At least they were at mine, where I studied cartooning.

Also, thanks, PTO!
Mr. McGinnis

@ Mr. McGinnis

I'm not actually talking about the mediocre movie adaptation. I'm referring to the actual comic. Without writing another essay, my problem is not with the quality of Mr. Clowes considerable body of work on a formal, structural or conceptual level. Actually I acknowledge and appreciate much of it. I do howevre have a considerable problem with a culture of abject irresponsibility. We are bombarded with a constant stream of anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge, anti-responsibility messages. Among many other things - and as part of a far more nuanced conversation - I'm suggesting that (a good) art school ain't bullshit and that knowledge is power. As a matter of fact, knowledge is nearly the only true road to agency and towards self-determination. Mr. Clowes work furthers my rehetorical aims.
Elliott Earls

OK, but I'm not sure how anything he does is anti-intellectual. That sounds bizarre to me. I'm not sure there's a more intellectual cartoonist working than Dan Clowes. If anything he leaves art school because, as he sees it, it's the shcool environment that's promoting anti-intellectualism and anti-responsibility. He didn't feel he was learning anything in that environment.

I don't think his characters are particularly nihilistic - but I do think they often represent intelligent people who are exhausted (maybe cynical) by the stupidity of culture (and art school). This is part of a long tradition of underground cartoonists - pointing out the freakshow absurdity that we call society.
Mr. McGinnis

For the love of God. your essay reminds me why i hated art school over analyzing, taking things way to seriously, freaks. like the other guy, above my eyes glazed over at the mention of Joseph Campbell.

get over yourself and find your sense of humour. you must have left it back at the art supply store between the arches paper and pastels.
Mrs. Eaves

@Mrs. Eaves

Your bag of meat is starting to stink up the room. The prototypical "bag of meat's" eyes always glaze over at the mention of Joseph Campbell.

I'd suggest that perhaps a more fitting handle for you is "Honey Glazed Ham".

The most pertinent idea brought up in this article is the reality posited by the Apatowian. Apatow's films depict our generation as comprised strictly of consumers. The success of this school of thought means that our identities are almost entirely informed by consumption of mass media, products, drugs, packaged experiences (including college educations), and most pervasively people. People have become commodities to be consumed. We collect friends like a baseball cards on Facebook.

The danger in self actualizing as nothing more than a consumer is in the accompanying passivity. The paradigmatic figure of the stoned couch potato isn't just waiting to score a hot chick, he's waiting for anything that might arise as the content of his life. Our generation is fucked if we don't realize that waiting for bliss to arise as something to be consumed is a faulty base level assumption about existence. The rapture articulated by Joseph Campbell is an experience to be actively pursued and experienced in motion, not possessed like a DVD on a shelf.

Our social media pervasively perpetuates passive self-positioning. We follow each others' lives by consuming each others' media - reading updates, viewing photographs, watching videos, and listening to songs created on Macbooks. Our lives are contained in glowing rectangles - real estate governed by commercial and consumer ideologies. The space outside of mass media rectangles - i.e. the air in a room between two people - has become too ambiguous and frightening to be explored.

We are ignoring an exploration of unfiltered reality and defaulting to edicts of brand identities, living with the mindset of a stylist creating an image for a band. The way that a PR firm packages a band has become the same way we approach the discovery of ourselves and interactions with others. It is no longer the human soul in each other that we address with the words we write or the things we do, but rather the abstract public envisioned by a marketing campaign leader. Here we imagine the stoned Apatowian college student, regardless of his major, sitting atop his throne.

I love this post. The saddest part about this post is that institutions tend to reproduce themselves. I know a lot of meat head students who are that way because they were taught by faculty who are similarly dead from the neck up. In fact, I teach alongside quite a number of such meat heads (and robot sharks).
Self Preservation

@ mrs.eaves.

funny, you sound more serious than EE does. resentment of your own education seems to buttress his points exactly.
Sophia C.

I think the Earl's argument is refreshing and on target when he says, "Clowes carefully exposes art school as a cabal of snake oil salesmen, has-beens and hirsute poseurs. Well, I’m calling bullshit."

It is beside the point to argue whether ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is good or bad, right or wrong. The truth is that it HAS become all too comfortable of a position for laymen to claim that art institutions are corrupt money-grubbing hustlers.

Apatow or Clowes don't believe the hype, but when the masses accept their sound bytes as a voice crying out in the wilderness we have a problem on our hands. In particular, that stale joke pictured above, "Remember the only piece of paper less valuable than one of your paintings is a B.F.A. degree."

This perfectly sums up the issue to me, with one hand we wish that the school could confer greatness like the Scarecrow's brain, but on the other hand we claim that its powerless. Its such a cop out for personal discipline. Its so much easier to believe that the broken system is letting us down, instead of taking responsibility for our own level of involvement.

I reiterate that the issue with Clowes's or Apatow's works comes when people DON"T get the joke: excellence is not simply a function of luck or scheming.

Art school can be a moving experience. It has been so far for me. But only if one is an active agent in that experience. The thought of "Well, what can my school do for *me*?" and placing all power on the institution is the problem. I know I am totally preaching to the choir, yada yada. But the fact is, this stuff spills outside of art schools into many other things. I'd love to ditto PTO, Seanmillsartist and AO for the most part. Growth (intellectual, formal, etc.) is a necessity of survival. Passivity is incompatible with this state of mind.

The ideas of anti-intelllectualism that permeate through politics and otherwise boggle my mind. Those who decide they have "thought enough" have lost their eye of the tiger so to speak. And while they are vaguely twitchy (for what I am not sure), they never realize the truth that in swapping thinking for laziness, you are truly chucking the will to live out your window. I don't wanna be no meat bag. No sir.

Love this overall. It made me think of this- psyched when this article came out a couple years ago in the New Yorker- talks about the Apatow movies...


I do think they are good though (funny...), and i think there is a lot of truth in them... There are a lot of women out there who do want to take care of/baby the slacker guys, and men who dig it. Which is fine if it works for them, but as a woman who is not super "together", but IS funny and smart, contemporary romantic comedies make me feel like I'm never ever going to get laid again.

Anyway..., being a grad student in an art school, I think it's great. But I think sometimes people take it too seriously-probably in an active response toward traditional artist stereotypes (these are definitely responsible adults here, not nihilistic, sometimes to a fault... I think taking oneself TOO seriously can get in the way of the work...).

People also seem to overestimate the short term (2-3 years- the growth they expect to achieve) and underestimate the long term good and bad (professional contacts, loans, friends, lovers, skills, continuing dialogue, etc...).


Yes, A.O.! The real hurt is that this mode is incarnated/proliferated/reinforced in our contemporary design. It takes courage to experiment with truly effectual alternatives--today's designer herself is at stake, and people are more fragile than the ideas usually treated any creative process. It will certainly take something absolutely radical to break through sedative consumption.
Kai Mazurczyk

you preach but don't teach.
your rants raucous rest in peace,
along with your cynical view of art schools
labeling freaks and bags of meat.

who says the couch potato stoner
should be destined to be a loner?
weed makes his stress regress,
smoking it wont make him a gomer.

AO hit the nail on the head
by saying our social skills are dead.
but this is the world we've created
it takes a brave soul to get up out of bed.

this intellectual blogshit is a result of design education
we hide behind our words and break down communication.
everyone wants to look the part, thats not art!
finding flaws in others has become an infatuation.

a unique design perspective is something school can give
I'm an art school student and I know how to live.
just don't blame the school when the student doesn't learn
a society of misplaced morals makes the mind work like a sieve.
Henry Jones

As my painting professor, Ray Yoshida always said loudly while walking around the class "Many are called few are chosen".
michelle hauser

As a 2-time loser (BFA and MFA from art schools), Clowes' comic has always cut 2 ways. In a twisty way, it affirms a core Earles message: cut the bullshit—though Clowes definition of uncut crap is narrower than Elliott's. As a comic, Clowes has to paint with a broad brush (sorry) and deliver stereotypes. And truth is many art students monotype themselves by being brain-dead with buzz words (meanwhile, it's telling that an inability to draw is a damning aspect for Clowes—how old school art!). For me, "Art School Confidential" is ultimately an prime example of Revenge Literature of the Traumatized Art Student, right up there with Chip Kidd's Cheese Monkeys. Such sensitive souls, such seething rage....
Kenneth FitzGerald

I appreciated the article. It made me smile and briefly think and for a time, resonated with my own prickish view of the world. I do have to admit that my undergrad experience (not an art school) featured an array of kids in between Earls' two camps, while my current grad mfa program is more extreme in its categories (and the undergrads here even more so). For the same reason that I enjoy Apatow films, specifically Knocked Up, I won't dissect Earls. The point is, students should think. They should be taught and encouraged to think. Earls' references are in that direction. I'm cool with it even if I think he's misinterpreting Apatow and his crew who basically believe life is awkward and awkward is funny.

The challenges of being a designer definitely include facing your soul, an issue well-documented and frequently discussed. If we want students to develop their skills in the context of that discussion, I think we need to deliberately integrate it more fully into the education system. Art School Confidential agrees with an argument for increased dialogue within art schools. In other words, if we all agree that we can be designers who produce beautiful, effective, meaningful, and conceptually valuable work every chance we get, I believe we should start emphasizing those qualities in Art Schools from the beginning.

This article reminds me of one thing I didn't like about my ('Fine') art school experience: a kind of pleased with itself use of knowledge, rather than a situation where the accumulation of knowledge is a means to make work which can speak to people for itself (to all kinds of people, not just those already in possession of a wide knowledge base, or are those people all just lazy bags of meat?).
I agree that our contemporary culture generally seems to congratulate an unthinking and lazy attitude. However, this is a rather simplifying and in effect polarizing article for one which promotes rigor and thoroughness (but perhaps that is what this format or audience calls for and not the author's fault).
S Marshall

I guess that I am unfortunately a somewhat lazy 'sentient' at this point. But I do think that intellectual knowledge has it's limits and should be emphasized as a means, not an end, as a tool for communicating with one's audience rather than distancing oneself from them.
S Marshall

@Mr. McGinnis
04.30.10 at 03:15

According to Wikipedia (which is not infallible), Clowes did finish his B.F.A. at Pratt.
Which, as was pointed out, makes him a product of art school.

Hmm... thats true. He might have felt better had he chosen a different school.
Mr. McGinnis

I strive to be a 50 Centient.

what's happen,I just want post a comment

I'm surprised that no one--apart from AO, maybe-- wants to talk about "bliss", which I thought was the point, and the most intriguing part of Elliott's post. Is bliss an escape, aligned with a Romantic idea of the Sublime? Or could it be something that permeates daily life, our creative practice? Looking forward to hearing more from you Elliott, at DesignInquiry next month.

Elliott said:
"Bliss, ...should have been a critical component of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is in fact, the primary mechanism enabling and leading to self actualization. It is akin to the Jesuit notion of magis, Latin for “the more.”
AO said: "Our generation is fucked if we don't realize that waiting for bliss to arise as something to be consumed is a faulty base level assumption about existence. The rapture articulated by Joseph Campbell is an experience to be actively pursued and experienced in motion, not possessed like a DVD on a shelf."

@ EE

In response to:
"...They are pied pipers leading others down the primrose path of victimhood, they encourage the viewer to distrust fancy book learning and sweat equity. Go ahead park your ass on the couch all day and smoke some weed, somehow you’ll score a hot-chick with a great job..."

In your attack on the Apatow films, I think you have overlooked their message. They are not glorifying the weed-smoking, vegetating idiots but rather satirizing and warning against that lifestyle. If you'll recall 'Knocked-up', The only way Seth 'scores the hot-chick' was by getting off the couch, staying sober and taking responsibility.
Terry Gross

The last comment was somehow missing my attribution, apologies.

"I understand that both Mr. Apatow and Mr. Clowes are beloved artists so it comes as no surprise that the vast majority of the comments relate to a defense of their work. And while my issue with their work has to do with the subtext, NOT with the craft, or quality of their artistic output. In other words, their own behavior seems to be the exact opposite of the subtext of the works I site.

However to my mind theses issues are all a red herring. The essay was consciously crafted as a polemic not to foreground a discussion regarding the merits of Mr. Clowes and Mr. Apatow, the essay was written in order to setup a discussion of what one SHOULD do. That is, take responsibility for the content and character of ones' life. Strive for self-actualization... and take action. With that in mind I accept responsibility for the discussion the post has engendered, however at the risk of over-simplification my point was really all about responsibility, action, work and heart. To my mind these issues appear to be the elephant in the room."
Elliott Earls

@ Terry Gross

" The only way Seth 'scores the hot-chick' was by getting off the couch, staying sober and taking responsibility."

Clearly I saw a different film. I think it's nearly impossible to understand "Knocked Up" as satire not because I'm a humorless bastard, but rather because at it's core it advocates a world view that is consistent with it's main motif. The film is funny but not satirical.

"if a goofy guy like you had sex with her, I feel like I had sex with her too!" - Jonah Hill's character in Knocked Up.

Seth "scored the hot chick" by slipping one past the goal keeper when Katherine Heigel was drunk. Hence the name "Knocked up." Regardless, if we understand the premise of the film from your perspective and take your supposition on face value, it still cuts directly to my point. From this perspective the film encourages the viewer to understand Love primarily as an external transformative force that is bestowed upon a passive recipient. What I am suggesting is in some ways the opposite, Love is a verb. It should be primarily something that one does to another, not something one receives from another. We are not powerless losers transformed by benevolent beauty, rather we are transformed by our choices and our own actions.

"They are pied pipers leading others down the primrose path of victimhood..." Again, that's one of the many reasons why the film resonates culturally.
Elliott Earls

What do you think an artist cares about?
Does he think all day about fine wine and black-tie affairs and what he’s going to say at the next after dinner speech?
(at the Cranbrook Academy of Art)
He lives only for that narcotic moment of creative bliss.
A moment, that may come once a decade or never at all.

Do those of us who understand that meaning has absolutely nothing to do with money—also know the difference between the artist and the aficionado?
Carl W. Smith

Mr. Earls, I really respect you as a design student, but this was a really discouraging article to read.

I agree with the sentiment that we should strive for creative bliss and self actualization, but disagree with your methodology in getting people to do so. I don't think blowing off steam and venting your frustration at society's ineptitude in a polemical rant puts your intellectual abilities to their best use. Even though it was an entertaining and somewhat gratifying read, the only people who are going to take away something positive from it are the people who already agree with you. The rest of them will be resentful and put off. Especially about the whole (I'm guessing intentionally unsubtle) categorization of art students into brain and protein groups. Most people I know are a mix of the two, me included. We are all striving in our individual way to contribute and do our best as human beings and design practitioners. Really, we are.

I trust that you don't treat your intellectually elite students at Cranbrook with such contempt. Why would you treat the rest of us that way?

@Carl W. Smith

You really have no idea about Cranbrook if you think we are sitting around at black-tie affairs. That's a joke. It's more like sitting around in blood, sweat, and tears.


We have discussed this topic at length with Elliott at school, and he demands from us the same as he does from himself and the world at large. It's not special treatment or expectations, and it's not his fault if people can't rise above those. It's not with contempt that he treats the intellectually elite (thanks), but with utmost respect. It's not flippant to anyone, especially us, to have a dog in the fight and be polemic in discussions. In fact, I would be more insulted by inaction and a shrugging of shoulders.



”What do you think an artist cares about?
. . . He lives only for that narcotic moment of creative bliss.”
-Daniel Clowes (screenplay - Art School Confidential)

Yes. It was just a joke for Elliott.
I thought it would be fun to write a direct quote from the Daniel Clowes screenplay - Art School Confidential. Then I added the bit about (the Cranbrook Academy of Art.) Please pardon my dry sense of humor. I enjoyed reading this piece and watching the movie, having survived Art school in the early 1980’s with all of the Abstract Expressionists. Fortunately one of my teachers was Rudolph de Harak and I feel in love with design. You are lucky to work with Elliott.
Carl W. Smith

If you are going to cite Maslow's Need Hierarchy, I think it is worth pointing out that this blog posting serves as an illustration of Douglas McGregor's addition to Maslow's work in the form of Theory X and Theory Y.

"Bag of Meat" (Theory X) is focused on physiological needs and safety and security needs... i.e. getting good grades so that a job with reasonable is achievable

Sentient (Theory Y) is working upwards through social needs, esteem needs and finally self-actualized needs.
Michael Browers

Hi EE-
One note. Existentialism is not nihilistic. It is the recognition that freedom is the ultimate goal for self, and that one of the means by which to attain this freedom is through action. Committed, responsible, aware, awake action. It is not defeatist by any stretch of the imagination, and it is the exact opposite of the couch potato. Existentialism is unfortunately yet another often misquoted significant contribution to society and the individual.

Jobs | June 14