Examining Excellence on the Anniversary of Charles and Ray Eames Posted June 20, 2017 by Marlow Hoffman
Charles and Ray Eames created an impressive amount of work during their decades-long partnership, much of it impacting how we experience and observe the world around us today.
The couple “changed the way the 20th century sat down” (The Washington Post, 1978); they created what critics still consider one of the most famous short films ever made; and, they curated the first interactive exhibition of its kind–a show so influential that 60 years later, it remains on view in Boston, New York, and, starting in October 2017, Dearborn, Michigan. Yet, these works only scratch the surface of Charles and Ray’s oeuvre.
How did the Eameses do it? How did they achieve such excellence? When Charles was lauded a genius, he replied, “Genius? Nothing. We just worked harder.” Likewise, if someone asked the duo the secret to their success, they’d reveal the “the trick,” but the trick always turned out to be creating study after study after study and model after model after model. In short, the trick was extraordinary commitment and unwavering dedication.
A more thorough examination of this idea surfaced in their narration of a 1967 3-screen slideshow, which they originally titled Excellence, and later renamed G.E.M. (Government, Education, and Management). The transcript is below.
A selection of slides from the 3-screen slideshow.
One can be sure that in the past when a man would rise to the point of producing work of great quality, it was not through any conscious attempt to excel but rather because he cared about what he was doing–he was committed to his work.
This has become something rare–because being committed means becoming involved and to become involved means giving something of oneself. It is only the rare ones today who seem to care that much.
Yet, that quality that makes for excellence–that commitment–is more important to us today on a daily operational basis than perhaps ever before.
The nature of the problems we face changes even as we work with them. We cannot tell from what disciplines or from what art the preparation for the next step will come.
We cannot fall back on the lore of the art because that lore does not yet exist.
There is, however, a tradition that is held in common by natural philosophers, explorers, pioneer woodsmen–anyone who in his daily life has been compelled to face new problems. That is a tradition of respect and concern for the properties and the quality of everything in the world around them.
To excel in the structuring of a problem we must be committed to a concern for quality in everything around us. We must learn to care deeply.
Sometimes it is also good to be reminded of the many areas where concerns for quality have been felt and of the worlds around us where quality and excellence can be perceived. In some cases they are quite sophisticated and in some they are simple and even naive–but in each case someone cared.
See this narration and other writings by Charles and Ray in the book An Eames Anthology.