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Mar 01, 2022

An Unreliable Narrator

Jessica Helfand

About this video


When Ralph Waldo Emerson published his most famous essay, Self Reliance, in 1841, it was in the aftermath of the calamitous financial collapse of 1837. His positive vision for the power of individualism and personal responsibility was issued in a climate filled with panic and uncertainty, and at a time, much like today, when the values of society and humanity were in the process of being reformed.In her latest book, Self-Reliance, (which includes Emerson original essay along with twelve of her own) Jessica considers these ideas in the context of studio practice. What does it mean to be generative? How do you introduce—and sustain—a dialogue with your work? And how does close observation lead to deeper discovery, greater humility and broader perspective? Jessica shares current examples from her own studio practice, helping us interrogate our assumptions about our work, ourselves and each other.


Jessica Helfand

Jessica grew up in Paris and New York City and received both her BA and MFA from Yale University, where she taught for more than two decades. A founding editor of Design Observer, she is the author of numerous books on visual and cultural criticism, including Scrapbooks: An American History (2008), Design: The Invention of Desire (2016) and Face: A Visual Odyssey (2019). Her most recent book, Self-Reliance — a typographic reflection on Ralph Waldo Emerson classic text accompanied by a series of essays on studio practice — was published this spring by ThamesHudson. The first-ever recipient, in 2010, of the Henry Wolf Residency at the American Academy in Rome, Jessica has been a Director Guest at The Civitella Ranieri Foundation, a fellow at the Bogliasco Foundation and an Artist in Residence at Caltech.