Making the world a better place starts with what we see, what we see in the things we see, and what we make for others to see.
I want to see God in 2014.
An ambitious New Year’s resolution? Perhaps. But bear with me before you assume I’m going to do anything drastic. I don’t want to meet God. Not just yet, anyway. But I do want to see him. And I hope more people will join me in the effort.
However you perceive God to be, let’s collectively assume that he is the metaphor for all things good. In a visual world, God is good design, the aesthetic flare that gives life and meaning to what we see. God is good storytelling, wrought with humor, intrigue, and inspiration. God is the nuances in rhythm, in word choice, in color, and in meaning that move a bad design to good and a good design to wonderful. God is the lasting effects of what we see and hear and feel, the things that are done well, for the right reasons, and that encourage us to do better, to do more, and to appreciate the life we have and the moments that fill it.
God is, as German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously declared, “in the details.”
God is not, by contrast, cheap entertainment, shoddy or hurried architecture and design, poor and racy storytelling developed to generate fame and revenue. God is not in ugly media and design, however we might interpret that word.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if people and organizations felt an obligation (morally, not just legally or monetarily) to share far more uplifting news stories (there are, despite what the major news networks might advertise, good things happening in the world), produce far more inspiring cinema, and create far more visually appealing and worthwhile information?
As a self-proclaimed “visual communication guy,” I have an ambitious resolution to see God—to see the good in the world—and to encourage others to help produce it. In the nuances of life’s news (the stuff that inundates our media but wouldn’t be considered a top headline), in other words, I want to see far less of Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball and far more of Ashley Monroe’s post-it notes telling people they’re beautiful. I don’t need to see another explosion-rich, human-killing and racist Lone Ranger; I don’t need to see CNN using their homepage to promote Brittney’s Spears’ wardrobe malfunction; I certainly don’t need to see Business Insider advertising stories about how much female porn stars make; and I don’t need to see more religiously-charged, insult-driven billboards. And, as a college professor, I also don’t need to see any more half-hearted, poorly designed materials. God is in the details, both in content and design, even in the smallest things we produce.
When I look to see God, I want to see more 13-year-old cancer survivors accomplishing their dreams on YouTube; more Pursuit of Happyness films that encourage us to be a little more; more works of art and architecture like the “Tulips” sculpture in Las Vegas that make us want to pause, reflect, and enjoy; and even more traditionally mundane communications, like research reports, designed for a much more holistic user experience that makes us want to indulge in the information.
I see God in all aspects of beauty: human life, in nature, in good graphic design, in intricate architecture, in inspirational storytelling. I see God in my wife’s beautiful face and the smiles on the faces of my three children. I see God in the wonder of the natural world. How could anyone—anyone—deny a greater power when taking the time to be imbued by the very diversity and visual miracle of nature? The remarkable symmetry of a baby’s face and glowing blue eyes? The mesmerizing curves of a Japanese Maple? The marvelously placating reflection of a serene glacier lake? And, of course, the mind-blowing cuteness of nearly every baby animal. I see God in the creativity of a vibrant Milton Glaser ad, in the genius of a Frank Gehry architectural masterpiece, and even in a Bauhaus-inspired Apple computer. In see God when I see effort in creating something beautiful, something that makes people feel better about themselves and the world in which they live.
Any communication we produce—whether it be a television commercial, a billboard, a music video, an online news site, a full-length film, or even a drab business report—has content and a message. The details, however, affect how we emotionally respond to that message. If God is in the details, we leave the communication feeling inspired, positively charged, and eager to create similar media. If God is missing in the details, we leave feeling empty, bored, confused, dumbed-down, or angry.
It’s the details that affect the way we perceive the world. Either God is in the details, or his counterpart is. And I prefer to see the former.
What we see in the media and the world is like what we see in a new home. Without details, a home is a functional living space but nothing more. There is content, but no message. But add in some details—some art on the wall, some color, some music—and a message begins to emerge. God enters the message when what we put into it is meant to uplift, strengthen, support. God leaves when we don’t take care of the message. When details turn to scuffs, worn out carpet, and art and media that is degrading, God disappears.
In our media, something rather unfortunate has occurred over the last couple decades: God has been removed from the details. We still get our most important headlines in the news; we still get amazing cinematographic accomplishments in the movies; we still get advertising and products that we love to watch and buy; shoot, we still get entertained. But we also get inundated with ugly details—with bad design, poor storytelling, and degrading smut. And most of us don’t do much to clean it up. We assume and consume it as a natural progression of the ages.
In 2014, I want to promote seeing God more. Whether it be in the simple design of our business reports or in the content we so willingly consume on TV and online, God must be in the details. It is my goal to promote the best content I know how.
And, with a concentrated effort, maybe we can all see God a little more in 2014.