An Interview with Milton Glaser


From the May 1980 Issue of Rudra, published by Shree Gurudev Rudrananda Ashram

I met Rudi when he had a gallery in Greenwich Village on Greenwich Avenue about 1964. I had known him for many years as an art dealer. I used to go to his shop with my wife mostly to buy Christmas presents. More often than not, that was the only contact we had.

One time I went to his store and he asked if I would like to come to class. I said, "sure." I came to one of his classes and it was the beginning of a long and very important relationship for me. 

Rudi was always able to engender special relationships with every person. He had an extraordinary capacity for that. I would say that the most significant thing about him, as a teacher and a human being, was that he was willing to accept you on whatever basis you wanted to be in the relationship. If you wanted to be his slave, he'd accept you as a slave. If you wanted to be a student, you were his student. If you wanted to be a friend you could be a friend. And his capacity for not parochializing people or demanding one kind of relationship was a special gift.

I learned a tremendous amount from Rudi; he enriched my life enormously. In one sense, I was never a student of his. And it was a demand that he never made of me. I would come to class when I wanted to. Our relationship developed into a true familial relationship. I really felt he was my brother on some level. And I'd like to think there was a mutuality of dependence and reward in the experience of being with him. It's very rare that you meet gurus that have this particular capacity. Because most gurus demand only one kind of relationship. They're very uncomfortable with any other. But Rudi had this extraordinary capacity to deal with everyone on their own terms.

He could deal with somebody who came off the street just wanting to buy a piece, a question of straight business. He could deal with businessmen who had no interest or concern about questions of spirituality. He could deal with people who were totally involved in spiritual work of a different kind and had no belief in his manner or system. He could deal with other people's skepticism. He never attempted to make relationships one dimensional or ideological.

We were very close and I saw him regularly. Although sometimes weeks would pass and I wouldn't see him. I suppose what I really learned from him, more than anything else, is the nature of illusion in the world and how not to be caught in it. 

Rudi's house was spectacular. The old broken down brownstone looked like some kind of slum. You'd go in and there was this place of incredible treasure. Things you only dreamed of...hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sculptures, rugs and artifacts in this seemingly broken down wreck of a house.

I was always astonished in Rudi's classes when you'd receive the same lecture whether you'd been going there for fifteen years or whether you'd come in for the first night. That form was something I didn't understand. How could there not be such a thing as advanced classes or beginners or intermediate people? Then I realized that the nature of what he said was so simple and profound that you'd have to hear it over and over and over simply to begin to understand it. The meaning would change constantly. Not in terms of what was being said, but in terms of one's capacity for understanding. It really didn't matter if you were there for fifteen years or fifteen minutes. It took that long to begin to hear what was being said.

To some extent, I pattern my own teaching after that. Although in the case of teaching design, it's a little different because there is a discrete body of information that people have to have or else they're totally powerless. But, generally speaking, I put together classes where the  range of skill is varied from beginners to very accomplished people. I use the class as a self-teaching mechanism, without the idea of having to already have reached a certain level of accomplishment before you press on to the next. That idea of a teaching form came directly from my experience with Rudi. If you create the right kind of information, people will receive out of it what they are ready to receive. Once you begin to realize the class as a self-teaching system, then your view of what teaching is, or can be, changes tremendously. I certainly owe that to Rudi.

My fondest memory with Rudi was when we used to take ten people, jump in a car and go to Chinatown and just eat ourselves blind. He was a great eater...or just sitting in the shop, doing nothing, watching him pull people in from the outside. He used to pull them in through the door. He'd need a couple of thousand dollars to meet a payroll and people had stopped coming in. He'd say, "I need three thousand dollars today, let's sit here for a while." And people came in and gave him three thousand dollars.

Like many things in life, I don't really understand the effect Rudi had on me, but these kinds of changes do not yield to the mind. I know that my life isn't the same. There's a change of substance...I don't conceive of myself or my life in the same way as I did before I was with him.

Michelle Valentino