Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Designing the campagana, or, notes from an antediluvian blogger

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions
When working on graphics for upcoming exhibits I am often reminded of where I come from. When you grew up using a slide rule rather than a calculator, some things (like blogging!) just don’t seem to come naturally. Not to say we didn’t make it to calculators, it was just that my first one was a huge beige model that my high school classmates dubbed the DeSoto.

Again, like the DeSoto, my first foray into computer graphic design was on a General Electric machine that was the size of a small refrigerator. The crude shapes that acted as design elements reminded me of my childhood Colorforms. The only slot my roommate and I could get for lab time was 3 am. We slept out in our studio and chugged coffee at 2:45 am. It was hot stuff.
Technology is still hot stuff. In fact now I do all my design work on a machine that often seems to know more than I do. America’s Rome: Artists in the Eternal City, 1800-1900, our feature exhibit at Fenimore this year, was laid out on a computer; graphics and design elements all composed on the same Mac G5. Now I am working on a map of the Roman Campagna and am impressed at how the Mac and Photoshop seem to be holding out on me – holding back on some secrets that will make this the map that will unlock the glories of the Roman Campagna to our visitors and link the paintings to those romantic names – Tivoli, Frascati, Nettuno, to name a few. The green and yellow ochre fields, Roman ruins, peasants, and waterfalls that the 19th-century painters found so intriguing. How to connect the names and images in a way that will make them easily accessible to the visitor is always the big design challenge. Sometimes the tools are more sophisticated than their driver and we all have to play a little catch-up.
In the end, the results will exceed what was created with the slide rule, or the DeSoto, or the GE. The new technology can lead to amazing ends. Who knows where it may take the map and I.

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