Smells Like Teen Spirit

So, this was the start of the second term of constellation. I was looking forward to this term a little more, after the first; not because I enjoyed the first term’s work, but because I knew I got a choice in what I did for the rest of the year, in terms of constellation.

The first lecture of this term had each 8 lecturers stand up and give a brief overview of each choice they were going to be leading for the term. After hearing them all, I decided to put Cath Davies’ Smells Like Teen Spirit first on my list, and was lucky enough to get it. I chose Cath’s option for a couple of reasons. In the first term, I found both the lecture that Cath gave on Dr. Martens boots and the study skills session about analysing imagery to be by far the most engaging of each, so I thought that this would be the option I would get the most out of. I also picked it because I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t good at reading into things. The majority of the time, I had approached my design work with the intention of making something look good. I had never thought that the meaning behind a design was as important as the look, and whenever my designs did include some meaning, I was rarely aware of it. By choosing this option, I was hoping to change this. To improve my design skills by adding meaning and no longer just making things look pretty.

Smells Like Teen Spirit was all about looking at subcultures. Each week, we would look at a set of images, usually all of a person or people form one subculture, and analyse every little aspect of the image/images, coming up with possible connotations for everything form the clothes that are being worn to the hair styles people are sporting, and even where the images have been taken. From this analysis and these connotations, we have learned and debated about many things. These things include identity expression, how gender, race, class, sexuality, youth identity and antiestablishment values are expressed visually and how subcultures recycle style and material objects and generate new meanings.

One of the most important thing I’ve learnt from this term is how to properly analyse an image. The way in which we’ve been taught to do this is through the three columns technique, also known as Cath’s columns. The three columns technique works like this: Quite obviously, you start with three columns. The first column is used for making note of every aspect of the image you’re analysing. The second is for possible connotations, from looking at the aspects in the first column. The third is for academic perspectives, theoretical underpinning of the possible connotations in the second. I’ve found this technique really helpful. It’s a really easy, quite structured and logical way of analysing something, and has really helped me with research for my essay. I wasn’t very comfortable with this technique at the beginning of the term, mainly because I found it hard to think of possible connotations, but the weeks of using it, lesson after lesson, has made me much more comfortable with it.

Over the course of this term, we have also learned what a subculture is, by looking at many different examples of them, covering most major ones. The subculture I found most interesting and most enjoyed looking at was the Hip Hop culture. I found it fascinating how many different connotations and ideas came from this style. Particularly how the Hip Hop scene managed to seemingly claim a brand like Adidas as their own. We established, as a class, that the people from the subculture originally wore Adidas clothing and shoes as a show of wealth. Although it was sportswear, you would have only ever seen the clothing pristine and clean and never being used for it’s intended purpose of playing sports. This is a great example of re-signification; changing the meaning of something by using it for another use. Another example of this that we were shown were the safety pins used by the Punk scene. Safety pins are made to hold two pieces of fabric together, yet Punks used them more as decoration, pinning them to their jackets, holding nothing together.

I think that choosing this option was the correct thing to do, as I believe it has helped me a lot. I have learned a lot about how to analyse an person’s or subculture’s style and how to try to figure out what each and every aspect of it means. I think this is transferable to my own practises and my own work, being able to find the meanings behind a design or piece of work. I also think that taking this option has help me in the of making my work. I’m aware that I now think about the meanings of what I’m creating a lot more than I did before, which I think is by constantly analysing imagery. I’ve found this has really helped my idea generation for my Graphics projects.

This term’s work and lectures have also given me an appreciation for style and subcultures. I still would say that I’m into fashion, but I have enjoyed finding out about a range of different subcultures and learning about the reasons they wear and act like they do. Now, after having done the research for my essay, which is based on the style and culture of Mods, I have gained a much stronger interest in Mod.


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