In the last decade or so, there has been a noticeable shift in the direction of media and how we utilize and consume it. With circuits and transistors forging a sterile barrier between the artist and their art, many graphic designers have become increasingly jaded by pixel and print production via computers, opting for more hands-on trades like screen printing, letterpress printmaking, and most recently, sign painting. Additionally, with the growing number of grade schools erasing cursive handwriting from their education curriculum, I found it interesting that young designers, many of which whom are the last generation to learn cursive, have a fervent curiosity to learn the age old crafts of lettering and sign painting.
Similar to the purported death of print, handwriting has become something of an anachronism to many children. After all, the advancements of typewriters, word processors, computers, and now, smartphones, provide the ease and agility to create messages faster than traditional writing. Its act prompts the belief that prolonging an obsolete skill curbs our ability to move forward. Ironically, as the avidity to read becomes less and less compelling, there is a sense that society is reverting back to the age of hieroglyphics. Icons and ideograms become shortcuts for authentic metaphors of love or anger. Sending short texts and heart emojis satisfy a void a romantic letter might have filled decades ago. With a diminishing appreciation for penmanship, younger generations may not find value in continuing the craft of lettering. However, for sign painters, the act of practicing letterforms is not only a skill, an art, or even the basis of literal communication. It is the purest means of self-expression.
Learning foundations such as perspective through basic illustration, chemical development of 35mm film, or paste up production for a magazine spread, provide a cognizant grasp on the earliest, most essential understanding of each art process. It demonstrates a linear pattern of thought as our culture transitions from analog to digital, one medium at a time. Likewise, there is similar resurgence in audible media. Not only have vinyl records made a comeback, but another form of audio has peaked interest − podcasts. Podcasts are audio journalism, often containing consecutive episodes on a recurring topic, broadcasted digitally online. Podcasts such as the ever-popular Serial storyline have captivated millions of listeners simply through voice. Just like sign painting, it revives a simpler time of communication and entertainment.
Radio was an intimate medium permeating the homes of America, especially from the 1930s through 1950s. Some social commentators believed the power of radio would create a closer, more informed public, while others, like communications philosopher Marshall McLuhan, believed radio had the power to sway individuals to “irrational forces like fascism, communism, or even a corrupt and bankrupt capitalism.” Today with podcasts, radio is even more democratized as almost anyone with a recorder and an opinion can create their own storylines and intrigue listeners.
Just like the revolving door of fashion, the media of yesteryear always seems to come back into style. It may be in different formats, but there is always the desire to preserve a small part of history. Just like the glide of a brush stroke or the familiarity of an old story, perhaps if a tradition is passed down to future generations, something peculiar and marvelous will grow from it. Indeed, it already has.