Designing Woman: Muriel Cooper

An interview with Muriel Cooper, prominent designer and Media Director for M.I.T. Press, about her career and about the prospects for women seeking employment in the arts. Filmed as part of hte series "Career Counciling for Women in the Arts."

01:05Copy video clip URL Title card. Designing Woman: Muriel Cooper. By Pat Lehman. 1975. 

01:12Copy video clip URL Muriel Cooper, the Media Director for M.I.T. Press, sits at her desk. She observes that, because there are so few women allowed in her field, she has “been a token woman a lot.” High percentage of women in art school versus those who are given jobs in design. 

02:26Copy video clip URL Cooper discusses her job as Media Director for M.I.T. Press and her background as a designer and teacher. The differences between working in advertising and working for an institution like M.I.T. Press.

06:12Copy video clip URL The contrast between being an administrator and being a single artist working on one’s own. Learning to let go of her defensiveness about her designs “in order to accomplish more.”

07:20Copy video clip URL Cooper’s aim at M.I.T. being “to affect mass communication on a basic, direct level – the visual aspect of it – and also to influence content through visual terms. ” Choosing to come to M.I.T. Press for the challenge, but also because a book is so much more lasting and having more value than the usual freelance design work in advertising.

09:58Copy video clip URL Being a woman in the business world. Being conscious of salary discrepancy but not of overt discrimination. Cooper thinks her salary is likely in the top 2% for women in the United States, and that she can’t complain about her own situation but that she is very aware of widespread discrimination in publishing and design.

12:49Copy video clip URL What makes her want to accomplish things. Musing about possible deep psychological motivations. Trying to learn “to achieve less, with less effort.” She agonizes a lot over her work, she says.

14:10Copy video clip URL The productive and counterproductive aspects of agonizing over her work too much. Treating administration “like a design problem.” Learning about the nature of design problems through experience rather than through training or education.

16:02Copy video clip URL What she would have done differently: “I would have gone into analysis, instead of therapy.” The camera pans to Cooper’s shoeless feet, which are propped up on her desk. 

16:48Copy video clip URL The dangers of mishandling power. Learning management not through explicit training but through experience making for a more humane administrator. Her path might have been simpler, she speculates, if she hadn’t rejected so much dogma about management and so much of management/administrative culture. “I wouldn’t classify myself as a hot-shit management person.” 

19:38Copy video clip URL Holding a sandwich in her hand, Cooper talks about “female competitiveness,” joking about Freud and about penis envy while eating a “hero sandwich, not a heroine sandwich.” She muses about people thinking of her as “a ball-breaker” and “out to castrate all the men around you” because they’re threatened by her. She thinks that’s “probably a crock of shit that can be disposed of as easily as this sandwich” but that it’s something that women need to be wary of. 

21:37Copy video clip URL It being an exciting time in art: “I’ve always liked frontiers, and I think this frontier is breaking.” Being on “the threshold of synthesizing a lot of human capabilities,” with art being the place where they are brought together. 

23:35Copy video clip URL “If you want a career, you just really have to care a lot!” Whether women have to care more and “break your ass” more than men.

24:48Copy video clip URL Advice for women: “Know yourself best. Allow yourself to fail. And at the same time make yourself do better every time. And don’t kill yourself because you’ve screwed it. And learn as much as you can every time you fail. And, finally, find out what’s best and focus as best you can. And, I guess, most of all be honest in what you do and how you behave.”  Being scared but also knowing that other people are scared and not letting fear define your choices. 

26:30Copy video clip URL The mistake of thinking that “life is gonna be happy.” What she’s learned from being a teacher. As the tape comes to an end, Cooper takes a big bite of her sandwich and jokes “now we can actually talk!”

28:45Copy video clip URL End of tape. 




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