15 minutes with Timothy Goodman
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published March 22, 2015
- Portrait by Mo Mfinanga
Living and creating out of New York City, Timothy Goodman is a designer, illustrator, and art director that fosters vulnerability into his work. A graduate from the School of Visual Arts, Timothy’s career has contained the ability to work at the exploratory design firm, Collins, and Apple Inc. where he assisted in integrating Apple’s visual language. Above all, Timothy’s creative hunger lies within the potential to share experiences with his work, which has yielded experiments such as 40 Days of Dating, a project with over 10 million unique visitors.
Mo: How are you today?
Timothy: I'm alright. There's a lot going on, work-wise.
Mo: What's going on, if I may ask?
Timothy: My whole life right now is like a personal project, which is great. I think because I didn't grow up with money, I'm always a little worried. No matter how much money I have, there's always a little bit of me going, "You're doing so much personal work, but there's more client work you need to do because you need that income."
Mo: What do you think when you hear people say that they're fearless?
Timothy: I think that's bullshit. I think that everybody has fears.
Mo: I think we all have a voice in our head that tells us to not do the things we want to do. We're fighting against those but's, should's, and could's. So, how have you silenced dogma in your life and how do you continually silence it now?
Timothy: Wow, we're really getting to it! [both laughing] I thought you were going to ask, "How'd you start?"
Mo: That's already on the internet, Tim!
Timothy: Well, I've been saying this Lena Dunham quote lately. She said, "Sharing your personal stories is a kind of activism. When you share something that is kind of personal to you, you can potentially connect to other lonely people in the world." I really subscribe to that. That's what we [Jessica Walsh] did with 40 Days of Dating and with our new experiment that we're in the middle of right now. That's what I'm doing with these Instagram stories that I've been doing for the last six months, called Memories of a Girl I Never Knew.
Timothy: I come from a traditional graphic design background—went to school at SVA, teach there now—but people want to box you in, especially as a creative person. People measure themselves by where you're at so they can know that you're right there and that they could define that. You're so-and-so, and this is your name; this is what you do; this is where you are; this is your status, and now I can measure myself against you and I could do whatever I want. That's bullshit, there's no rules. I'm interested in breaking out of those ceilings through these personal experiments, writing, and a bevy of things like that. It's interesting as a designer, because many think that I should just be doing logos, brand identities, and such.
Mo: There's a part in our heads where intuition is ignited, and then there's an area where our messages—how we communicate—are located, but those two aren't aligned, which makes it hard to convey our messages. So when we say why we like our spouse, we mention that they’re beautiful and smart, but there's so many people who are beautiful and smart, right? Our why is so hard to convey so we just rely on our what.
Timothy: I think that the best things in life can't be described with language.
Mo: And that's good because when you're sharing those experiences that are hard to convey, then that creates a connection, I think.
Timothy: Yeah, and on the contrary, when you say that when we list those attributes when we talk about why we like someone, that still doesn't completely define your feeling inside. To contrast that, you can say that it didn't work out with someone who was great because I have this and this and I'm like this—I'm a catch! Well, something wasn't working for them, you know. Even though, on paper, all those things are great, you can't really define that. It's like trying to define love. How do you even define love?
Mo: You can't quantify emotions and that's what a lot of people try to do. To a certain degree, we measure by perception.
Timothy: People don't realise that the body has intelligence. Your body has intelligence; your emotions have intelligence. People try to be rational about this stuff and think it through. There is intuition, as you said. There's an essence to why we connect to certain people and why we don't connect to certain people. Why do some people like Kanye West and why do some hate him? He's so polarising, so there's either something you identify with or don't.
Memories of a Girl I Never Knew
Mo: I want to talk about some the challenges you had in your childhood and some you face now.
Timothy: It's hard to say because you have to put it all into perspective. Like, I didn't grow up with a lot of money, and I didn't grow up with my biological father. You could say that, that was a challenge or that was a hurdle I went through. I mean, you could say that or you couldn't. A lot of other people have it far worse, of course. I don't think it's about them being challenges as much as it's about it defining who I am.
Mo: The word 'challenges' carries a certain connotation, but one can look at them as opportunities.
Timothy: For me, I barely graduated high school. When I was 17, I was this horrible high school student who smoked weed everyday; I barely graduated and I couldn't even get into the state school, Cleveland University. I started painting homes and through that process, I really started to understand what I wanted and thankfully I had this amazing mentor who pushed me. I was able to face myself in the mirror. I think I was able to be objective about what I wanted and where I wanted to go. I didn't know how that was possible, but I didn't care.
Timothy: I think the biggest thing about overcoming challenges is having audacity. You just have to be able to say, "Fuck it. I need to make this happen for myself or I want to make this happen by any means.” As cliché as it sounds, you have to really dream. When I was graduating high school, people thought I was going to be a manager at the local CVS, [laughing] because that was as far as you could see me going at that time. I didn't even think about what I would become.
Mo: So when did you work towards thinking about what you would become?
Timothy: When I was painting homes in Cleveland, I worked for a guy named Dave for four or five years. He pushed me so hard that he would make me cry. He could’ve fired me over and over again—I was that bad. He used to say, "Everyday is your first day." So, for some reason he kept me on. He was hard on me, but there was a tough love kind of thing and I stayed through that. I swallowed my pride and was able to learn a skill. He had this great business and family, so I was able to see that as a template, because it was something I didn't have growing up. And through that, I was like, "Wow, I can do that too if I was serious, developed work ethic, and determination." Through the course of that, I took community college classes in Cleveland. Two years later, when I was 23, I moved to New York.
Timothy: This girl I was dating at the time said I had Kool-Aid dreams about moving to New York and trying to become a designer, but you do have to dream a little bit. People don't want you to dream.
Mo: Is it because they're not dreaming?
Timothy: Probably, I don't know.
40 Days of Dating Promo
Timothy: [Jean-Michel] Basquiat said that he played the primitive. There is something about what we need and want.
Mo: Well, what do you think you generally need and want in life?
Timothy: Human connection. The ability to connect with someone through my work is one of my biggest joys as designer and human. I do it therapeutically but there's an amazing two-fold. For instance, I release these stories, which is therapeutic because its kind of airing your dirty laundry. But then to see the reception from people is therapeutic as well, because while they feel like I'm inspiring them, I'm being inspired by them. I feel connected as if we're having a dialogue. That's the biggest thing I'm interested in.
Mo: I think as creatives its important to invest in people because they can invest in you.
Timothy: You realise that without an audience, nothing is seen. You have to somehow be in contact with your audience.
Mo: What ignited the reasoning for you to do Memories of a Girl I Never Knew?
Timothy: That little project would not exist without 40 Days of Dating, because it allowed me to tear down a wall that I was no longer interested in having up as a designer, or as a human. It allowed me a certain capacity of vulnerability. On a practical level, Jessica and I have a certain audience now that we didn't have before. It's interesting to share that, because if I didn't do 40 Days and I just started putting these out, maybe that wouldn't resonate with people as much. I don't think I'd be sharing at such a vulnerable level had I not done 40 Days. It really allowed me to be open and honest. However, it was painful at times to see negative comments and to put so much out there.
Mo: Did you and Jessica think about doing it at the same time? Or did one push towards the project more than the other person?
Timothy: We had been really good friends for years and always bonded over our opposite relationship problems to make fun of each other. We had been design peers and good friends who really respected each others work. We were going to Miami's Art Basel with some friends and she was heartbroken about a guy who she dated, and I was feeling kind of weird because I was dating too many people at once. [laughing] We both thought of just doing a project about this. Like, how can we learn more about ourselves?
Timothy: The thing with doing the experiment and setting all the rules was that it held us accountable. If we just did it, we wouldn't have gone through with it in the same way. Having those perimeters allowed us to stick to the project.
Mo: The project is one of the best examples of vulnerability that I've seen. Not only are you letting yourself out there, but you're executing it in a beautiful manner. It's one thing to do it, but another to execute it well.
Timothy: Yeah, thanks. The thing is, is that we had no budget or publicist. We just poured all our heart into it and had asked favours from friends. We used our tools as designers and art directors to create it. I don't know if it would've gotten as far if we were just psych majors; it would've been just some bad Tumblr page. But maybe it would've still been interesting. I don't know.
Timothy: With the Memories, I already had a certain capacity of sharing my vulnerability. So, I came up with this idea—and it weirdly wasn't just an idea, because there was this girl I really liked and it didn't work out, which bummed me out. So, I started writing every morning—I never wrote in my life before—and running, too. I was writing and it just poured out of me, just filling documents with experiences I had. I looked at when my relationship issues started and where it went wrong. And in some way, I was trying to work it out. So, yeah, I just started posting them for fun and a therapeutic release.
Mo: Didn't you just do an installation of one?
Timothy: Yeah, I had an exhibition of them in a store called Colette, in Paris—it's an amazing concept store. The owner, Sarah, has essentially made a hybrid of art, fashion, and technology.
Mo: I know we touched base about Dave, but were there other mentors in your life?
Timothy: I'm a big believer of having mentors. I always tell my students at SVA, like, don't worry about where you want to work as much as who you want to work for. Even now Jessica and I learn from each other, because we challenge each other. As a creative person, it's important to have someone who is going to challenge you, either directly or indirectly. Because of the fact that I didn't grow up with my biological dad, I've always latched on to older guys who can teach me something and who I would, in return, break my back working for them.
Quotes on Shit
A side project from Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman adds vibrancy to ordinary objects.
Mo: What have been some of the most important things you've valued in your life?
Timothy: I'm a big Winnie-the-Pooh fan and he says, "To the uneducated an A is just three sticks." That's something I love because it makes me think about the fact that there's no rules for anything, and there's a million ways to look at one thing. It's important for me to have a quality of openness in life; a quality of wonderment and curiosity. That makes me happy and it brings some sort of meaning to my life. I'm big on having a work ethic in life, because as cliché as it is to do what you love, you should figure out how to do what you love. I come from a hard working blue-collar background, and most people I grew up with don't love what they do. In likeness, we can't always do that. I had to go through college, debt, and experiences. For me, I approach design as a practice, not as a profession.
Mo: Just to spread that notion, you should garner the thought of there being a never-ending finish line.
Timothy: Yeah, life's a process, right?
Mo: Exactly. There's no end result.
Timothy: Even an end result. What does that even mean?
Mo: It reminds me that in your formative years, you're always filling in your curiosity.
Timothy: Yeah, exactly.
Mo: I really try to instil the notion of chasing your curiosity. When I came here to visit New York, I thought that would be shooting images on every single block, but I found myself trying to absorb experiences and distilling a balance of having memories and moments.
Timothy: Yeah, when you go to bed at night, do you ask, “What did I do today?” Like, you can go through the list of what you did, but what do you really remember being there for? What moments gave you the feeling as if you were having sex with someone you're in love with, or the kind of feeling of being chased by a dog? Those are the kind of moments you have when you feel the most alive because all your senses are on. How do you turn the ordinary into the specular? You're not going to always have whatever those heighten moments are, because they're usually not happening for the 24 hours of your normal day. So, how do you find connection with your environment? How do you get another layer of life? Turn the ordinary into the spectacular and go to class.
Mo: I'll take out the class part. [both laughing]
Timothy: Play the game, man, but you don't have to if you don’t want to. When I was in high school, like I said, I didn't do anything. That's actually where my graphic design career started. I would steal passes from school and I would replicate them on Microsoft Word at the time. At one point, I had skipped Spanish class 28 straight days. [laughing]
Mo: Last question before I let you go. What's the purpose of your work?
Timothy: I think the purpose of my work right now is to find connection; it's trying to connect to someone on an emotional level through my work. That's what we did with 40 Days of Dating and that's what I'm attempting to do with Memories of a Girl I Never Knew. With my personal and client work, I want to make someone feel something. How can I make someone laugh or cry? How do I make someone connect to their own story through my own story? How can you be provocative of your work? So many of our stories, fears, and habits are universal. So many of us have experienced the same thing.
Mo: But so many haven't shared that.
Timothy: Maybe not yet, but that doesn't mean you can't be inspired. I think to inspire or be inspired is to understand how to relate. And I'm interesting in making things, man. We all have an opportunity to leave a little mark on this world. That's what I'm interested in—making shit. Putting work out in the world regardless if it fails or succeeds. Just try to go for it.
- I can't explain just how much Tim has been a supportive person in my career and it was all thanks to this little conversation we had during my first NYC visit. Tim's such an inspiring person who's determined to not only do the right thing, but to inspire others to do the same.
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