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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 29, July 18, 2010, Article 17

OPINION: TIM SHUCK ON COIN DESIGN BY COMMITTEE

Tim L. Shuck of Ames, IA writes:

"I wrote an opinion piece on the CCAC's new coin design subcommittee. Coin design seems to be in the news lately, and with my experience in design (though not coin design) and growing interest in medals and medal design (for which I 'blame' Dick Johnson), I wanted to post some of my thoughts on the issue."

Here's an excerpt from Tim's CoinLink article. -Editor

The CCAC is on a mission to improve the designs of U.S. coins. As the first bold step to accomplish this goal, they established a subcommittee. Seriously.

Along with the new Subcommittee on Coin Design Excellence, the effort also produced a ‘visual definition of design excellence’, which includes an image reference guide of 25 U.S. coin designs and 39 world coin and medal designs, and a helpful list of 17 characteristics of design excellence. The latter bears repeating in entirety (as quoted in Coin World):

  • use of texture and pattern
  • meaningful negative space
  • thoughtful relationship of negative to positive space
  • stylization
  • ethnical influences
  • allegory and symbolism
  • detail yes, crowding no
  • use of perspective
  • used of forced perspective
  • minimal layers
  • harmonious, restrained type styles
  • clarity
  • interwoven images, not busy collages
  • contrast of texture and smooth
  • fluidity
  • subtlety
  • relevance of obverse to reverse

Ok, pop quiz. In 25 words or less, describe precisely what any three of these list items mean, as applied to coin design, and discuss whether that item is or is not currently identifiable on any U.S. coin. Points will be deducted for the use of jargon. Bonus: show which items in the list are more or less the same as other items in the list.

The 17 characteristics are intended to be “a benchmark to inspire those who design U.S. coins to be more innovative and creative.” Though “not trying to blame anyone or point fingers”, and noting that “we believe we have some wonderful artists and don’t doubt their talent at all”, it is the work of these same artists with which the CCAC seems to find fault. Were I a current Mint coin designer I would be skeptical of the CCAC’s non-finger-pointing assurance.

This endeavor seems to be an attempt to quantify the answer to the basic question of “What is good design?”. The implication is that good design will happen if all 17 guidelines are met. Oh, and by being inspired by the 39-item reference guide set. Certainly there are principles to which good design adheres, but can excellent creative results be summoned by following a list? It seems obvious to note that design appreciation is subject to the experience and interests of the viewer. Great art for thee is not necessarily great art for me.

The Subcommittee on Coin Design Excellence is a classic bureaucratic response to a perceived problem: create committees, study the issue for awhile, create guidelines, apply guidelines, have a bunch of meetings, and then congratulate yourself for solving the problem. Or, possibly, bemoan the fact that people aren’t listening to you. The reality of such efforts is that the process often becomes more important than results.

Tim adds:

"Donald Scarinci posted a response on Twitter, wherein he said "Excellent CoinLink piece is correct that art by committee never works, but in a Democracy there is no other way." A surprising statement, and one that I strongly disagree with, given that the coins of the early 20th century that the CCAC holds up as being excellent design were produced under a democracy."

To read the complete article, see: Great Coin Design, by Committee (www.coinlink.com/News/commentary-and-opinion/
great-coin-design-by-committee/)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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