Charles Eliot Norton Lectures #5

DATE - 1971

In 1970 Charles was appointed the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. The Norton chair is traditionally held by an individual who has made a significant contribution to literature, music, or the fine arts. The individual is asked to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard, which are open to the university community. The announced topic of Charles’s lectures was “Problems Relation to Visual Communication and the Visual Environment.” He delivered six lectures over a six-month period (October 1970 to April 1971), first at the Loeb Drama Center and then at the Harvard Theater, where the lectures were moved to accommodate the large crowds who came to hear Charles Speak.

Additional Information

Lecture #5 was delivered on March 29, 1971. The general subject of the talk, according to Charles, was “work.” Examples of work from the Eames Office and from the office of the architect Eero Saarinen were used as visual references. After a recap of the previous lecture, Charles discussed the place of “motive” in work, how to decide what kind of work to do and where to invest your energies. His advice: “Don’t take any job as a stepping-stone to something else…. By following these guidelines, you have a chance of bringing your entire experience to the jobs you do and avoiding a lot of misery.”

Charles also addressed the need to define the overlapping interests of the designer, the client, and society at large into a mutually shared, flexible, and ever-changing set of criteria that is modified as the designer-client relationship develops. 

Visual presentations included the National Fisheries Center and Aquarium film and slide shows Eero Saarinen, Tanks, and India. A group of slides called the Lota series, images of lotas (an all-purpose vessel used for hundreds of years in India for carrying everything from water to domestic goods) that Charles photographed in India, was also shown. 

A screening of the Lota slide show was the final visual presentation of the fifth lecture. The gradual evolution of the lota was used by Charles on several occasions as an example of the best kind of evolutionary design “process”. 

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