Saturday, December 1, 2007


David Lance Goines started out as a student of classical languages, reading ancient texts in the original Greek and Latin. After being arrested and expelled from his university for participating in student protests in the 1960s, Goines found work as an apprentice with a nearby printer. Soon, Goines was combining his classical background with his own good taste to design posters that were both beautiful and interesting.

Goines also drew upon his classical studies in a series of witty essays (on subjects ranging from miniature golf to the Italian Renaissance artist, architect and philosopher Filippo di Ser Brunellesco).

Despite Goines' brilliance and erudition (or perhaps because of it) he had a completely unpretentious view of art, which I love. He described his work as follows:

I find it useful, when asked what I do for a living, to say that I am a printer and graphic designer, and leave it up to the questioner to decide whether or not I qualify as an artist.

* * * *

A plumber would not dare to call himself a plumber unless he were qualified in the opinion of others to do plumbing, and had experience and credentials to prove it, and actually got paid good money for his work. The same is true of an automobile mechanic, elementary school teacher or newspaper reporter. You can't just call yourself a college professor or medical doctor and expect anyone to take you seriously. You need to have something to back it up. The term "artist," unlike "electrician," or "dog trainer," neither conveys qualification, nor is it specific enough to shed much light on what a person may actually do.

* * * *

I am a competent technician. I give value for value. I am an honest workman, and I do not want people to think that I am a con-man.... therefore I do not call myself an artist. I create flat, representational objects---books, illustrations, posters, stained glass windows, greeting cards, wedding invitations, wine labels--in return for money. I'm glad that people like what I do, because that means that I can go on doing it. I like what I do, and consider it a privilege to be able to make my living doing it. But, I am not, at least in twenty-first century terms, an artist. I'll leave that to those who have no idea at all of what they do, or who they are, or where they are going, and must, for want of any other word, call themselves artists.

Goines did have his own views about the merit of different kinds of art. Here is his funny take on the "seven deadly arts:"

Just as there are Virtues and Sins; just as the Letter killeth and the Spirit giveth life, so are there Arts that prosper humanity and arts that are a pain in the neck. The Seven Deadly Arts are:

Science Fiction Poetry
Performance Art
Bell Ringing
Liturgical Dance
Experimental Film and