What Inspires Me: Lazlo Maholy-Nagy

Posted by Maddie Derdiger in blog | April 18, 2017

Creative people all at one time or another find themselves facing a daunting task without inspiration to move forward. Often when this happens, especially while performing on demand for a job, we don’t have the luxury to step away and wait for the inspiration to come to us. Eventually, we resort to keeping a journal of inspiration, something we can turn to in a time of need to pull us out of a creative black hole. I have such a journal and this year I will be sharing bits and pieces of what inspires me with you. So, here we go.

Last year, I attended The Art Institute of Chicago’s Exhibition Future Present, and I found incredible inspiration in Lazlo Maholy-Nagy’s art, his words and his life’s work. A daring painter, notable sculptor, experimental photographer, filmographer, set designer, ad man, product designer, professor and above all; innovator. Maholy-Nagy’s contribution to the art world as a multi media artist was broad and profound.

I recalled Maholy-Nagy from college art history classes, so I expected to walk away from the exhibit being inspired and my creative bank filled to the brim with new ideas. Excited to write this blog about how Maholy-Nagy inspires me as a designer, I started doing a little extra research online about him to get some facts straight. Then, I came upon this quote and it changed literally everything.

“Designing is not a profession but an attitude. Design has many connotations. It is the organization of materials and processes in the most productive way, in a harmonious balance of all elements necessary for a certain function. It is the integration of technological, social, and economical requirements, biological necessities, and the psychological effects of materials, shape, color, volume and space. Thinking in relationships.”

My first reaction reading this quote: “Yeah, duh, I’m a designer, this makes perfect sense.”

However, I hadn’t even begun to unpack the implications of what he intended as “design.” After carrying this quote around in the back of my mind for a few days (meanwhile the world around me changing rapidly with the inauguration of a new president and a world in turmoil), my left brain finally caught up with my right brain; BOOM, it hit me. This quote doesn’t simply refer to the design of physical things. Think about it.

For those of you who don’t know about the Bauhaus, I don’t have enough time to give you a full history, but essentially the Bauhaus was a German art school that was born in the ideal that all arts should work in harmony design that grew into a philosophy about how design, form and function influences our modern way of life. As a student of the Bauhaus, Maholy-Nagy would of course not simply be discussing a medium; he would have been making a statement that extended to absolutely every aspect of daily life and even the very design of our society and world.

I could write an entire book about how this quote can dissect everything; from the unspoken social protocols we all follow as we ride the subway to the structure of our nation and the society that operates within it. But what I want to do here in this short blog of mine, is to call upon you, dear reader, to take a moment the next time you are standing in line at Starbucks to look at the menu. Notice its “economical requirements, biological necessities…shape, color, volume and space” and how those design elements work together to perform a function. Then take a moment to look at the people in line and those sitting or chatting in the surrounding space. Notice their elements, their “economical requirements, biological necessities, etc.,” and then think about your place in that line. Do you have a function? What is that function? How does that function relate to the larger function of our nation, our society? The realization being that you and everyone around you have a role in a larger process. We are simply an “organization of materials and processes” and in order to function “in the most productive way, in a harmonious balance of all elements necessary for a certain function” we must all consider our part, our contribution to a larger function, whatever that may be.

Think about it. It’s inspiring.