Milton Glaser (born in 1929) is among the most celebrated graphic designers in the
United States, best known for the I Love New York logo, his Bob Dylan poster, the DC
bullet logo used by DC Comics from 1977 to 2005, and the Brooklyn Brewery logo.
Born in 1929, Milton Glaser was educated at the High School of Music and Art and the
Cooper Union art school in New York and, via a Fulbright Scholarship, the Academy of
Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy. He co-founded the revolutionary Pushpin Studios in 1954,
founded New York Magazine with Clay Felker in 1968, established Milton Glaser Inc. in
1974, and teamed with Walter Bernard in 1983 to form the publication design firm
To many, Milton Glaser is the embodiment of American graphic design during the latter
half of the 20th century. His presence and impact on the profession internationally is
formidable. Immensely creative and articulate, he is a modern renaissance man — one of
a rare breed of intellectual designer-illustrators, who brings a depth of understanding and
conceptual thinking, combined with a diverse richness of visual language, to his highly
inventive and individualistic work.
Throughout his career, Glaser has been a prolific creator of posters and prints. His
artwork has been featured in exhibits worldwide, including one-man shows at both the
Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His
work is in the permanent collections of many museums. Glaser also is a renowned
graphic and architectural designer with a body of work ranging from the iconic logo to
complete graphic and decorative programs for the restaurants in the World Trade Center
in New York. Glaser is an influential figure in both the design and education
communities and has contributed essays and granted interviews extensively on design.
Among many awards throughout the years, he received the 2004 Lifetime Achievement
Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, for his profound
and meaningful long-term contribution to the contemporary practice of design.
Glaser's work is characterized by directness, simplicity and originality. He uses any
medium or style to solve the problem at hand. His style ranges wildly from primitive to
avant garde in his countless book jackets, album covers, advertisements and direct mail
pieces and magazine illustrations. He started his own studio, Milton Glaser Inc. in 1974.
This led to his involvement with an increasingly wide diversity of projects, ranging from
the design of New York Magazine, of which he was a co-founder, to a 600 foot mural for
the Federal Office Building in Indianapolis.
Throughout his career he has had a major impact on contemporary illustration and design.
His work has won numerous awards from Art Directors Clubs, the American Institute of
Graphic Arts, the Society of Illustrators and the Type Directors Club. In 1979 he was
made Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and his work is included in the
Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Israel Museum and the
Musee de l'affiche in Paris. Glaser has taught at both the School of Visual Arts and at
Cooper Union in New York City. He is a member of Alliance Graphique International
Glaser is best known for his poster designs. He studied and worked with the painter
Giorgio Morandi and is an articulate spokesman for the value of ‘commercial art.’ In this
interview Glaser talks about poster as a piece of art.
Q: What is the commercial/artistic/social role of a poster?
A: If we mean by ‘role’ a pre-existing, intrinsic function, the poster’s role is to convey
information from a source to an audience, in order to move that audience to an
amplification or change of perception that produces awareness or an action. When a
poster has a commercial intention, it obviously intends to convince an audience to buy
goods and services. The artistic role of any poster is more difficult to ascertain.
Depending on your definition, posters do not have to be ‘artistic’ to be effective. (i.e. be
successful in its ‘roles’). It is far more important for posters to be effective than artistic.
The aesthetic part of poster making has more to do with the objectives of its maker than
the requirements of form. Because of the poster’s historical relationship to the world of
painting, and by virtue of its physical size, the poster seems to offer more opportunities
for the designer to do artistic or imaginative work than many of the other areas in which
he may be working. In addition to the significant function of informing and motivating
the public, the question of the poster’s social role is a more subtle one. Does society
benefit from experiencing works that have ‘artistic’ merit and which are well made?
Without beginning to define those evasive terms I would have to say yes, although I
would be hard pressed to prove a case. To add to the ambiguity, it should be noted that a
well-made object does not have to be well made.
Q: What do you think of the old-fashioned term ‘commercial art’ (vis-à-vis ‘graphic
A: Design seems to occupy a place between fine art ad craft, between aesthetics and
commerce, beauty and persuasion, novelty and familiarity and so on. Obviously, the
emphasis between the polarities changes in response to the specific problem, and the
intention and talent of the designer. The term ‘commercial art’ is a simplification and
seems to eliminate the inherent conflict. For this reason I prefer the more ambiguous
phrase ‘graphic design.’
Q: Is money a corrupting influence in poster design?
A: Perhaps in one sense: when financial risks are greatest, clients tend to be most
conservative. The fear of losing a significant amount of money can have a chilling effect
on one’s sense of adventure and imagination.
Q: What is your view of the poster and its relation to ‘high art?’
A: When does ‘high art’ meet ‘low art?’ At this encounter, is everything above the line
‘art’ and everything below ‘non-art’? What shall we call the material below the line craft,
applied art, commercial art, decoration? Who invented this question? Who is served by
the distinction? Does it matter? The search for ‘high art’ is a theological issue, like the
search for the true cross. The culture priests attempt to protect the world from false
religion or faith, a never-ending task. I have a modest proposal; why don’t we discard the
word ‘art’ and replace it with the word ‘work?’ Those objects made with care and
extraordinary talent we can call ‘great work’, those deserving special attention, but not
breathtaking, we call ‘good work’. Honest, appropriately made objects without special
distinction we name ‘work’ alone. And what remains deserves the title ‘bad work’. One
simple fact encourages me in this proposal; we value a good rug, a beautiful book, or a
good poster over any bad painting.
Q: Does mass reproduction diminish the value of posters (i.e. does the value in
matters of the visual depend on the uniqueness of masterpieces)?
A: I seem to be getting terribly Talmudic, but it depends on one’s definition of value; the
most significant value of any work or design is in its effect on the world. Mass
reproduction is one way for these words to be seen and experienced. Of course, this has
nothing to do with the selling price of scarce objects. In the first case we are talking about
the value of art in a cultural and historical sense, in the second we’re talking about the
manipulations and illusions of the market place.