The philosophy of aesthetics

An exciting new designer uses graphics as a means for critical inquiry

Published March 28, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

     (Erin Schell)
(Erin Schell)

This article originally appeared on Imprint. It's part of Print magazine's annual New Visual Artist series that profiles 20 of the most promising rising talents around the world in the fields of graphic design, advertising, illustration, digital media, photography and animation.

ImprintBy all accounts, Erin Schell was doing well. She had a good job designing book jackets for a large company. But there was one minor issue: “I found working for a corporation and having a comfortable job sort of soul crushing and meaningless,” she says. “But that’s just me.”

[caption id="attachment_283561" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption=""America ouf of ______," 2011"][/caption]

In 2009, Schell left her job and began teaching at Parsons and taking philosophy classes. Last year, she entered a master’s program in political philosophy. Examining the intersection of aesthetics and philosophy has been a way for her to reassert control over what she creates. “It was about trying to have meaning and autonomy in my own work,” she says.

Age: 29
From: Rochester, New York
Lives in: Brooklyn, New York

Schell’s interests have converged in the Occupy movement (she has contributed illustrations to the literary journal n+1’s Occupy! gazette and recently went on a tour of Italy discussing the protests) and in the New York Times’ philosophy blog, the Stone. Her collages for the latter ― Socrates in the clouds contemplating earthly delights; carnivorous animals dangling over a moral abyss ― use graphics as a means for critical inquiry. “It’s not just empty decoration,” says Aviva Michaelov, the art director of the Times’ opinion pages and Sunday Review.

[caption id="attachment_283581" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Illustrations for The New York Times blog the Stone, 2010"][/caption]

The depth of Schell’s work is apparent in an installation she created for a public library in Washington, D.C. In “Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown,” she gives a visual history of the changing D.C. neighborhood, drawing on three months of research and reporting. Old newspaper stories and halftone images come together in a rich assemblage of overlapping memories and histories. Mixing sharp politics with evident empathy for the people of the community, it’s exactly the kind of work Schell wants to do more of. “It’s the idea of storytelling,” she says.

“The question of: How do you foster a sense of community to shake people out of modern alienation?”

[caption id="attachment_283611" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Above and below: "Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown," installation at Washington, D.C., Public LIbrary, 2011"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_283621" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption=""Illuminated Memories of Tenleytown""][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_283601" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="Illustration for Guernica, 2011"][/caption]

See the other 2012 NVA winners:

  • Sang Mun
  • Erin Schell
  • Berton Hasebe
  • Drea Zlanabitnig
  • Casper Heijkenskjöld
  • Kelsey Dake
  • Jerome Corgier
  • Tracy Ma
  • Olimpia Zagnoli
  • Ryan Thacker
  • John Passafiume
  • Lisa Hedge
  • Jungyeon Roh
  • Dafi Kühne
  • Jing Wei
  • Caleb Bennett
  • Naz Sahin
  • Serifcan Ozcan
  • Brendan Griffiths
  • George Michael Brower

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2012.

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