A journler of mythic proportions

I wrote about the recent revival of interest in Buckminster Fuller stemming in large part from a major show at the Whitney, and about my own small personal discovery about Fuller’s impact on the iconography of our day.

A second, and perhaps more important reflection came as I walked the halls of the Whitney’s fourth floor exhibition space and I spent some time looking at bound volumes of Fuller’s notes.

Fuller was a journler of mythic proportions. He not only lived by the rule of “think with a pencil in hand” he kept and treasured everything he had ever written. His latter work exploded in volume and was stored in cardboard boxes carted off to the care of Stanford University in a special Buckminster Fuller Archive (and which are being waded through in an archiving project). But before his output became unmanageable, he had his early papers bound in leather volumes, and the Whitney has four of these remarkable books on display.

As I looked at these thick spined collections of scraps of drawings, calculations and ideas, often on odd sized papers, some reworked and commented on over the years in strata of development, I felt tremendous inspiration. To treasure your own work so much as to keep it and care for it this way spoke not just to Fuller’s legendary ego (he once created a poster sized chart of the decade’s history plotted as a function of his own work) but to the power of a creative mind to collect, preserve and extend ideas. In a certain way Bucky was showing us that he was different. He was saying in a very tangible way, I am good and I am right.

Fuller’s recording for memorialization was just as important as his collection for refinement, and I thought of the collections of notes I had bound over the years, my daily jottings on strategic plan development, acquisitions, integrations, programs that succeeded and those that had floundered (which is a nice way of saying failed) all scratched on the graph paper I used as a personal differentiator from the lesser, non-strategist executives who wrote on regular paper or gasp on legal pads. Using graph paper was like showing a symbol of your otherness just as using a an RPN calculator, the the HP 12c, was a sign of otherness from any non finance people in the room.

At the time when I bound my notes I felt twinges of vanity, taking that material and having staff spend time combing pages into books. I can count on the fingers of one hand how often I referred back to them, and less how often I revised them. And while my non-work journals are still with me, those from Corporate Life were left behind, prisoners of confidentiality agreements, protected from becoming potential hostages of the world’s litigation terrorists. I wonder if anyone has ever looked at them since, and if they did if they could understand them. I wonder what I would learn if I went over than and reworked them as diligently as Bucky had.

In Fuller’s journals he drew his visions of a Dymaxion future, often on stationery imprinted with his name, and I realized that he too was separating himself and his ideas from the throng of his generation’s competing meemes. I also realized that as fellow recorders of our thoughts we share a dream to transcend our time, to link the work of yesterday with the, presumably better, work of today that will one day impact and improve tomorrow.

With that thought in my head I rushed home, popped open my Macbook, and added an entry to my journal…

As noted on the Stanford Humanties Lab web site…

His (Fuller’s) ability, if not compulsion, to record all his activities resulted in a vast archive of materials (estimated 1300 linear ft), including 4,000 hours of videotape and the huge Dymaxion Chronofile, in which he documented his life on a daily basis from 1915 through his death in 1983.   This extensive archive of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable minds was acquired by the Stanford University Libraries in 1999.

More on Fuller…

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  1. Alicia Eaton Lewis
    Posted March 15, 09 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Doug, Thanks for a great Saturday afternoon yesterday, in which we got a chance to get acquainted with you and your neighborhood’s Art Galleries! Stewart emailed me your site and I’ve been reading for a while now…I love it! What got me to the point of writing this now though…I’ve never blogged in my life…is the above bit about the “journler of mythic proportions”. Long story short, I started journaling in my freshman year of High School ( a lot of insufferable notations about “fashion” as opposed to women and drinking), continued the habit by choosing a college that promoted Conceptual Art, where we did more writing of our “ideas” than actually realizing them. Then I moved on to a well known Design Schools in Manhattan to study Environmental Design, where upon I encountered non other than Bucky! With all of that aside, the reason this is most interesting to me, at this moment, is because I just finished compiling a series of 12; 30’X40″ pieces that I did over the course of a year (2005) as a way of getting back into the habit of thinking about AND making art. The concept was to do a journal entry a day on a 4″x6″ piece of drawing paper and carve an image on a small eraser and stamp it over the writing to support as well as obscure the more private musings (and bad spelling). I’ve never thought of myself as having a huge ego or anything very earth shattering to say (so I can’t compare my tendency to do this entirely to Fuller’s) it’s just that, like him, I’m really interested in “the iconography of our day” – I just didn’t know the term. To me, it was just a personal yearning to preserve everyday “hand written stuff” as more and more of our everyday writing is done on line as opposed to on paper. I have also had grandiose “ideas” of learning the craft of bookbinding to preserve all my journals and our family letters sent and collected from around the world, etc. And yes, I too learned a long time ago to record all kinds of things in little 4″x6″ hard bound artists’ “black books”. Of course they get labeled, by the year, and lined up on the shelf and pulled out for reference every once in a while just like you know who. I guess, maybe I learned more from Bucky than I thought (thanks for the insight)!!! If you’re so inclined, I’d love to show you and Shannon my piece: “ON BECOMING 5O; a year of words encoded with images carved from eraser cuts”. Until next time, Alicia

  2. Doug
    Posted March 17, 09 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Hey Alicia,

    Thanks so much for your comment. It took me a while to appreciate the craft of journaling. I mean I’ve been taking notes all my life – random jottings, interesting ideas, facts I was sure I’d forget, and as I noted in my post, I was an inveterate note taker at work. But it was only recently that I realized what a great tool it was for my writing, that my journaling didn’t have to be the great American novel in miniature, that it could be just the notes on the worlds around me. It sounds like you have gone that great step farther and made it into your art. Having looked at a few pages of Bucky’s work I think he did the same thing you did (and that I am not) – turing your journals into their own art work.


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