The Corporate Artist and Designer

12 12 2010

Today, the nexus of money, commodity and culture has erased any significant difference between design (the applied arts) and fine art. The long standing definition of design as a service performed strictly for a contracted purpose is no longer adequate. Likewise, the idea that fine art is supposed to be (or even can be) strictly an expression of the artist’s vision is dubious and in the practical sense was never really true.

As evermore painters, printmakers, photographers, sculptors and designers, with their newly minted BFA and MFA degrees, emerge from the university, they are smacked with the need to make a living. After spending, 20, 30 maybe even 50 thousand dollars getting their degrees they want to make them pay, they are eager for an art/design career—to get into the “business.”

Artists have always had to contend with the market. If they were to do more than amuse themselves they had to secure patronage. In western society that once meant the church or King. Today the art market is a swirl of corporate and private collectors, museums, dealers and online selling. The concept of art-making has been overtaken by art production, marketing and branding and this has encouraged artists to adopt a calculated and scripted approach characteristic of following a “design brief.” The contemporary artist does a market analysis, and shapes their work accordingly.

So today the designer and the fine artist swim in the same ocean—our capitalist/consumer society where everything has its price—where every thing is a commodity, including reality. The large mural painted for the lobby of the corporate headquarters is as much a part of the corporation’s image and identity as is its logo and stationery system and both the painter and the designer will have been commissioned/contracted to do their part.

Ironically many designers want to be seen as artists. They want their work to be as self-expressive as they perceive the work of the painter to be—to display a personal signature—a brand. Likewise, many artists are willing and eager to make pieces for corporate clients according to the client’s terms and specifications, as if working from a design brief.

© 2010 Michael Maurer Smith

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One response

4 01 2011
shoreacres

As always, there are words here that are applicable to my own endeavors, and they shine a light on issues I confront on a regular basis. I was especially caught by this:

The concept of art-making has been overtaken by art production, marketing and branding and this has encouraged artists to adopt a calculated and scripted approach characteristic of following a “design brief.” The contemporary artist does a market analysis, and shapes their work accordingly.

About once a month, someone says to me, “If you’re going to spend all that time writing, you ought to make money from it”, or, “You need to write for publication in the real world”. And of course every “writing group” in the world brings in “experts” who say, “If you want to get published, you need to do your market research, find out what people are reading, and write to the market.”

Well, maybe. But I keep thinking about an almost-elderly night watchman in a Dallas museum who said to himself one year, “After all these years of looking at paintings, I believe I’ll make some myself.” And he did. And he found a gallery owner who hung his work, and he had some buyers, and then some more. And pretty soon he was painting full time.

Why not?

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