• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Matt Kahn Quotes and stories

Page history last edited by Birch Dwyer 6 years, 4 months ago

Matt, in speaking of the relationship between the photographer and the subject:

"i see you, i care about you, and i want to see you again reflected in a work of my own."


(Hands-down winner for most mentioned, in various forms):

"That's more challenging than making love in a hammock standing up."

"It's like making love in a hammock standing up."

"That's like trying to make love standing up in a hammock"

"That's like making love in a hammock, standing up"

"This feels just as awkward as having sex standing up in a hammock."


"I like what you did much better than what you said about it."


In comparing frescoes depicting heaven and hell:

"I'd rather go to hell than heaven because hell would be more interesting"


"when responding to high originality, be highly original, as opposed to admirably derivative."



"if you don't take risks, you don't get gifts!"


"if you don't knock, no one says 'hello.'"


"Design is the art form that is incomplete until it is engaged"


"That's art with a capital 'F'"


"Science and engineering make life possible, art makes it worth it."
(Not certain if this is Matt. Can anyone confirm?)

Stern advice to live by: "Never be satisfied, always be content." (to be accompanied by a twinkle in the eye)


Admiring the diversity of life: "Different strokes for different folks." (used as both a put-down and a thumbs up, at least once a week)


"I like it, but I wish you wouldn't wear those stupid T-shirts." (critique of one of Cory Bloome's project)


Clarification of quote referencing Cory Bloome: I'm honored and amazed to be referenced in the Matt Kahn quotation hall-of-fame. Strangely I can't recall what my work was that day, but I do remember the t-shirt:  Yellow with a cartoon graphic of a rubber duck.  My recollection of his comment: "What baffles me...(pause)...is how someone wearing a t-shirt so STUPID could design something so elegant."


"Styling is a virus"


"Style don't care who wears it." (Matt, quoting his aunt)


After a young woman approached Matt about ideas for a summer job in Design, "My dear, you couldn't make coffee at a design firm." around 1979...


"Everything matters!"


"Tell that to the board of directors" (in response to a student making excuses for numerous flaws in his design)


On art and design:

"Noise is sound that interferes with message."


"You might think if you don't work, but you'll certainly think if you do work."



"Design is the act of bringing the mind, heart, and hands closer together."

"stop, don't, stop, don't, stop, don't, stop, don't stop, don't..."


"Use design to   design"


"Don't ask "what is it?" Ask "what is i t of?"


...just one word: "audacious", used in lectures, critiques, and casual discussions.



In reference to topiary stylists - "their taste is in their ass."

To a student:  "you don't have enough taste to know you don't have taste."
To make the point that the user's frame of reference can be the
most important factor in how design is assessed:
"A rock can be the most comfortable chair in the world when you're in love."

About flowers: "I wonder what form we would take if it took a soft sea breeze to cause us to make love."
"Nature can reach out to you in very interesting ways. Don't build walls."

"Instead of shop problems, we have problems that need shop attention." - about the PRL


"Treatment is content, in all that we do."


"It's about soul."


"Our program is fluid.  If you find a dry spot, spit in it." - with respect to the JPD

"Creative disobedience"

"You can use design to speak, or we can sing... let's try it."


"All of you can speak through design.  Through this class, you've learned to sing.  I can't wait to hear your voice."


I recall a bit of a face off I had with Matt in art160 where he told me he hated the springy stool I made and that I should re-do it. I said, "but Matt, if it's so horrible, why was everyone enjoying it and having so much fun sitting and bouncing on it?" to which he responded, "because it's the only stool in the room."


"It's too loose - I want you to SUFFER." - said of my pencil sketch of lettuce


"Mille Fiore!"


Said with twinkle and smirk, "You're a naughty boy."


In reference to styling versus designing a product:

“Style happens when thinking stops.”

(Editor's note: This is reminiscent of the Charles Eames quote: "The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the problem.")


He apparently really liked one of my projects, and I was very proud of what he said, so I wrote it down word-for-word at the time.  He looked at the project, looked at the room with intensity, paused… then said “There’s no substitute for talent.”


"What are you doing after graduation?", asked Matt. "I got a job with Hewlett-Packard," I said.  "Oh what a shame," responded Matt.


"Never leave well enough alone."


“Let the constraints be the inspiration.”


“Let the design create the need.”


When a student does something Matt likes (at least I think it was when he liked something), he asks, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"


"Take it to the hilt!"


He said once about a design process diagram:  "Do you look at a diagram when you make love?!"

A young woman woman brought in a project, which she lit on fire (the project was about motion). After clearing the smoke and ash from the room, Matt sweetly questioned her about her intentions and concluded, "If you had invented fire, we would have said 'Wow', but you didn't."


A student's work was being critiqued and after Matt had pronounced sentence on it, I offered a constructive comment. He looked at me crossly and announced to the class, "Don't listen to him. He will only confuse you!"


I said something very abstract and art-school theoretical. I asked him what he thought. Matt's overly kind reply, "If you say so..."


"Design is in the details, and they are ALL details. "


matt would always say " ecco punto ! "  or "ecco" or "punto",  almost at random,

constantly in class.

"ecco" means  "here!" , or in this case " hey! , pay attention to this !"

"punto" means " he has a point there ! "


"Constructive disobedience"


One of my favorite was a 'negative' but eloquent critique of my work on a day when everyone was grilled, we (PD07) call it Black Tuesday.This was one week before final thesis presentation so all the faculty were frustrated with a lack of progress. I thought I had a breakthrough in a design for a (multi-surface) desk and presented a rough prototype in foam core.  He went on to say something like... " Next week on your way to Annenberg, I hope you fall down and land on your prototype, and you'll probably end up with a more interesting stool than what you have right now. "


"That is something your mom would like"


When there was a lot of set up required to experience an undergrad's work in Advanced Creative studies  "Your work just requires too much foreplay to enjoy".


"It's charming, it's witty, it's Italian!"


"Airport-Baroque style" (in reference to large postage-stamp McMansions)


"Service is the birthplace of wonderful form..."


"Italians have a way of not taking seriousness seriously."


"To protect is to promote" (in reference to fenders, and they must have been *some* fenders)


Bill Burnett: "Don't think of it as a grading situation." Matt Kahn: "Yeah, de-grading."

"They may not know that they noticed, but they will still notice."


When asked for more feedback about her work, the student was told;"You have to feed forward if you want feedback."  In other words, do something worth commenting on.


"You want feedback.  You've got to feed forward to get feedback."



"Call your parents and tell them they are wasting their money."

"Here's a dime, call your parents and tell them they are wasting their money sending you to (design) school."


I suppose it's not a quote, but it almost is with the accent: "Chiaroscuro"


This isn’t exactly a quote, but I remember Matt teasing new students about the way we ended up presenting our first few projects dressed in clothes that matched the projects’ colors...Most of us caught on fast, but some people couldn’t help themselves and kept doing it.



"When mining for silver we don't throw away the gold nuggets."



I recall that when Matt truly disliked something in Art 60, he'd tell the hapless Stanford undergrad that their artifact was "nice". Some got it, and some didn't.
"You have to beat tradition at its own game."


"Use design to design."


And if you can't be the artist you want to be... "pretend".....


"DON'T stay out of trouble."


After someone turned in a project representing "passion", he was said to have told this student something along the lines of, "Pick up your books, and leave this classroom. Go find your girlfriend and tell her you don't know the FIRST thing about passion."



"Just because a thing can be done, doesn't mean it should be done", applied
to student work, of course. 

And, "Be more judicious and less judgmental", applied to students, of

I remember during critique of someone's work he said "It just feels a
little stingy." Which I felt like was the beginning for many of us of
learning to play  "full out" when we do design work.

I also liked that he often points to the fact that someone had
dressed in a way to match their project, or built a self-portrait.

And there was the time he said of an idea I was working on "It's like a Christmas ornament that's been left up too long." 

And then there's the smile he gets when he knows that your work is
dead on, and he knows that you know your work is dead on, and
uncharacteristically he doesn't say anything. I think that's my
favorite Kahn quote - silence + his knowing grin.


"If you don't take risks, you don't get gifts"

(editor's note: this is a quote he often uses from a student he once had.)


"Never show a fool unfinished work."


said to a star student:

"Why are you going out with her?  She will never amount to anything."  (this star student was my boyfriend, and I was the student he was referring to.)




Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.