Jim Henson and Kermit smiling at each other.

How Jim Henson Shapes Artistic Values

As a graphic designer, I pull inspiration from a lot of places, not just fellow designers or historical pieces. It may sound a bit philosophical for a visual career, but it truly is important to solidify your values. After all, graphic design as a whole is all about communication. One of my biggest inspirations when it comes to my values and being a creative is most certainly Jim Henson. This Friday, a new documentary about him is coming out on Disney+, so it felt like a good time to gush about him a little bit. 

A Legacy of Creativity and Accessibility

Now, whether you know of him through the Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, or any of the other properties his reach has touched, his work is universally known. I grew up watching Sesame Street, as well as Bear in the Big Blue House, and grew into loving his other work starting in high school. Once the Muppet Show was released on streaming, I watched the entire thing, and started delving into his other work like Labyrinth, Fraggle Rock, the Dark Crystal, and many, many more. I watched as many documentaries as I could about his work, because there was a certain authenticity that was so palpable that drew me in. One of my favorites that I go back to often is Defunctland’s docu-series on him, which you can watch here on YouTube. I recommend it!

Title card from Defunctland’s Jim Henson series.

Jim Henson, throughout his life, seemed a quiet, but driven man, who was nothing but creative down to the fabric of his being. The timeline of his rise shows exactly that. He valued sharing that artistic value to everyone he could. When it came to shows like Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, his priority to make education and morality accessible to all children throughout the world really stuck with me. One of my strongest values is that art, creativity, and education should be accessible to absolutely everyone. It’s one of the reasons Vincent Price is a figure I admire as well (but that’s another blog post). These values tie into the reason I love graphic design so much; the emphasis on the accessibility of both art and communication. This is partially why I find Jim Henson so admirable.

Vincent Price on episode 119 of the Muppet Show, 1977.

Punk in Nature

The other half of why I adore Jim Henson is that he is pretty punk in nature. From the very beginning, his puppets were all handmade out of household objects. Kermit himself was made out of an old coat and some ping pong balls. That DIY spirit is, well, cut from the same cloth as the punk movement. Jim continued that same value through his work of prioritizing his creativity in projects, and being conscious to speak to the middle and lower class. Sesame Street particularly was built from the need to bring education to those who were more disenfranchised. In fact, the show was first of its kind when it came to truly marrying education with television programs targeted for children. He also made sure to have a diverse cast of kids who appeared on Sesame Street, so the audience would be able to see real representation of themselves. Every time I reflect on these choices he fought for, despite some studio kickback, it’s amazing. Just purely amazing. This punk spirit of fighting to be heard, fighting for that authentic creativity, is something I try to channel within my work. Of course, I draw a lot of visual inspiration from the punk movement, but that self-made, scrappy ambition is something I pretty much live by.

The original Kermit puppet created in 1955 for Sam and Friends, currently at the National Museum of American History.

I identify quite a lot with Jim Henson when it comes to the way people describe him in person-to-person relationships. More reserved and quiet, but tied closely with his passions. He was kind and concerned with spreading his art throughout the world, as much as he could. He wasn’t willing to sacrifice the core of his work to please a studio, which is why I think so much of the work he’s done stands the test of time.

In honor of this new documentary, as well as today being National Creativity Day, I’ve created my own poster for Jim Henson Idea Man. Check out the full process of its creation on our social media!

*This post was written by a human named Alex.