Richard Wilde is chair emeritus after a 50-year career at the School of Visual Arts. He was the founder and chair of the BFA Design department and chair of the BFA Advertising department. He has won hundreds of professional awards, including being a laureate of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame and a laureate of the One Club Hall of Fame. Richard has written several books on design education, documenting the work done in his legendary visual literacy class, in addition to publishing more than 30 books. The most recent publication about Richard is Honoring the Legacy of the Wilde Years by Graphis. Richard’s proudest achievement is that during the 10 years prior to his retirement, his students won more major awards than all other art schools in the US combined.
(Being asked to participate in this article, I must point out that I was chair of the BFA Advertising and BFA Design departments at the School of Visual Arts for 50 years, and my comments pertain to those times. I retired in 2019 before the pandemic began. I was so happy to learn that in 2020, SVA maintained its illustrative history of award dominance, and won School of the Year for the 7th year in a row.)
What was the process for selecting a student for your class? Were there certain qualifications? Concerning my visual literacy course, which I taught for decades, this class was a sophomore requirement for one term. Being that there were up to 300 sophomore students, 150 students were able to enroll each term. As the chair of the department, this allowed me to not only teach every student in the department but to also assess their work every week. I reviewed their work with a written critique but also showed the very best solutions to set a standard of excellence for the department. The class functioned as a foundational course for students who would eventually major in one of the six department disciplines: graphic design, advertising, motion graphics, interaction design, dimensional design, and interdisciplinary design.
What was a typical first assignment? One such project was called the Zen Project, which focused on discovering one’s inner self, being present where ideas arise, and developing a more intuitive and insightful process that enhances one’s capabilities at problem-solving. This assignment had 12 gridded areas within which students created images without predetermined ideas. This was an assignment of pure experimentation where students could bypass habitual thought and begin playing with imagery with the freedom of a child and allow oneself to enter a way of working in an unpremeditated way where unexpected imagery emerges. On a broader scale, this assignment allowed one to develop trust in one’s instincts and create a dialogue between emerging imagery as each new form was introduced.
How did you develop and raise your students’ visual and verbal standards? My focus was on heightening the image-making ability of each student to create original work. The advertising courses are the ones that focus on verbal as well as image-making skills, and these courses were required for most of the students in the department. In my visual literacy course, each week, the students were confronted by assignments that, at first, seemed unsolvable because they put students into the realm of the unknown. The struggle was what was needed in the form of questioning and pondering, and with sensitivity to what might present itself. The enemy is the baggage that we all carry in the form of preconceived ideas, which always leads to clichés and trite solutions. It was this very baggage, this learned robotic approach to making art, that this class tried to eradicate. Once students could grapple with these formal problems, this early success empowered students to take on more conceptually driven projects. What was carefully dealt with in each project was the balance between form (image-making) and content (conceptual thinking) that needed to be reconciled. Even if the students’ work fell short of the standard, and most projects required between 10 and 20 solutions, the rigor that was manifested also helped set the stage for greater experimentation and play.
Learn more about Richard Wilde here. See more from the School of Visual Arts here.