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


Is This a Painting?

23 04 2010

Is this a painting? It has a frame—in this case the edges of the square. It has color and marks that show deliberate drawing and gesture and which suggest texture and depth. Likewise, it shows evidence of design and aesthetic considerations in its making. However, what you see here was done on a computer. The original exists as pixels, as binary code, as a computer file.

Lap Lavender © 2009 Michael Maurer Smith

It is a common prejudice that digital paintings (if they may be called that) are less legitimate than paintings made using traditional materials and tools. Many people hold that “real” paintings must be made using paint, applied to a surface. They believe paint is only color pigments suspended in a binder which allows it to be spread with a brush, knife, stick, finger or some other tool.

But must paint be a physical substance—something that can drip, glop, gloop, color and stain. Must it have a distinct odor and viscosity? Or is paint whatever permits color to be applied in a painting-like manner—something that will result in an image that can be viewed by the artist and others?

Many people would argue that a real painting must be physical—that it must it be in fixed form on paper, canvas or board—something that can be hung, bought, sold or traded?

Of course a painting done on a computer can be printed. It can even be printed on canvas and have a real varnish applied. The problem is the thorny issue of what is the original? Is it the original file or the first printing of that file? If multiple prints are made of the original file are they all originals?

The fact is today’s computers permit pressure sensitive and gestural applications of line and color. One can draw or paint using one’s finger on a touch screen or using a stylus or mouse. And compositions can be built up using multiple layers and the equivalent of electronic glazes and transparency.

So, is it really painting if the painter doesn’t use paint to make the painting?

What is your opinion?

© 2010 Michael Maurer Smith