Graphic literacy involves both rights and responsibilities with regard to reading and creation. Skill levels of both generally are very low in early post-modern times, far below verbal literacy. This is related to what is identified in the early new millennium as The Creativity Crisis in America. A 2010 CE Newsweek article on this crisis by P. Bronson and A. Merryman exemplifies the very issue covered in the text. The editing of the illustrations, and the illustrations themselves show a dull-normal level of graphic literacy. The title page (opening page) of the article and the summary page (concluding page) are reproduced in Figure CCa,b. The reader is invited to look at these with a discerning eye. On the title page (Figure CCa) we see The Creativity Crisis visualized as a set of unused, partially broken and diagonally aligned colored crayons. More details of the meaning of this opening illustration can be extracted from the figure (choice of colors, brand name label, etc.), but the trifling nature of the image and wasted space/opportunity to say something graphically important appears infantile in its conceptualization. The graphic capabilities of a human four year old (Gardner 1980) go far beyond this imagery. Did the reader have a right to expect more than a state of arrested development in the graphic design of an important article on the alarming decline in American creativity? Apparently not. Lack of creativity also seems to have been a guiding principle in the design of the bubble-graphic supporting the concluding page summarizing techniques that we are told really work to boost the creative process (Figure CCb).
Figure CC. The Creativity Crises. Newsweek 19 July 2010, pp. 44 & 50. (a) Title page, p.44. (b) Concluding page, p.50.
Is what we see in this Newsweek article on creativity just another expression of the cultural infantilization associated with post-modernity, or was something else happening at Newsweek? Is there more to this story? David Carr, in a New York Times piece published 7 June 2010, a month before the Bronson and Merryman article appeared, opined how “ill conceived Newsweek’s latest redesign” had been (p. B1). The magazine was up for sale, and Carr offered some advice as a “media equation” columnist on changes that might assure its future. His notions included “playful info-graphics,” and use of the “illustrators who make everything from Wired, Mother Jones, and gulp, even Time, seem like much livelier places” (p. B8). The editors of Newsweek apparently took his advice. Heartfelt photography aside, the graphics of public discourse in post-modernity had the appeal of eye candy and the literacy level of Mickey Mouse. Malpractice limited to magazines? Not really. In the economic crisis that punctuated that creativity crisis, it was said that the most popular medium, television, could not explain to the American people the deep causes of the malfunctioning economy because, among other things, derivatives could not be visualized. Climate change could be visualized, but educational graphic capabilities were not up to the challenge of visualizing the “cerebral” world of Wall Street. We have arguably reached the third and highest level of Jean Baudrillard’s successive phases of the corruption of the image. The crayons of Newsweek (Figure CCa) do not mask and pervert a basic reality (level one), nor do they mask the absence of a basic reality (level two). They bear no relation to any reality whatsoever.