Wow. I have been completely absent for a month. I've just been enjoying not doing anything at all, but I'm starting to get bored with it. I'm planning on jumping back into my art, and updating this blog (I have tons of work to put up, I've just been too lazy to photograph it!).
For now I'm going to share an article written by Lucas Durham, a graduate of my school. I found it in a 2008 copy of Abstraction, a yearly publication put out by the joint efforts of faculty and student from the Academy. This piece spoke to me in a very direct and personal way, and I know many artists feel the same way. Take a moment to read this (very well-written) article whether you're an artist or not, it might open your eyes a bit!
Here’s a scenario that’s all too familiar. Maybe you can relate. I’m hanging with a bunch of friends home from college. Someone outside the old gang – someone’s girlfriend, a parent, or worse, a friend of one of your parents – begins the icebreaker chatter, “So guys, where’s everyone going to school? What’s your major?” The flow of the conversation is predictable:
“I’m studying engineering at University of Illinois.”
–– “Impressive!” The head nods in affirmation.
“Notre Dame, Pre-med.”
–– “Nice!” The gaze looks admiring.
“Harvard for Law.”
–– “Wow! I’m sure your parents are very proud.” The voice is enthusiastic.
“I go to the American Academy of Art in Chicago. I’m studying to be an artist.”
–– “Oh… well… isn’t that… nice…” The air hisses out of the balloon.
As the speaker’s eyes flood with confusion, self-righteous judgment and pity, I watch them struggle to find the politically correct words to change the topic. I know full well that they are dying to blurt out those damn questions, “What the hell are you going to do with that degree? How are you going to make any money?”
I should be used to these reactions. They started as early as second grade. I always answered, “artist,” when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. Adults would nod indulgently with the expectation that I would “grow out of it.”
By middle school, the career advice began. Comments always related to making “real” money in a “real” job for a “real” future. At the end of my senior year in high school, my honors classes’ teachers pressed their opinions about my academic potential. They tried to steer me toward a liberal arts education. They were confident that I would come to my senses and change my art major to something more worthwhile during my first year in college.
Providentially, I grew up in an environment that nurtured my creative passions. During high school, I was also introduced to professional artists and designers who were associates of my parents. Those experiences generally help me to deflect the cynicism of well-meaning, but clueless individuals, but the continuous stream of negativity can be exhausting.
It’s unfortunate that peoples’ perceptions of art seem to have been arrested during their pre-school years when they dabbled in finger paints. And careers in art? Ingrained prejudices revolve around the “starving artist” stereotype. Their fixation with moneymaking capabilities leads to other unspoken assumptions:
“How hard can art classes be?”
–– What a sloth. Art classes equal craft classes. Popsicle sticks anyone?
“Art is not ‘real’ work.”
–– Sitting in a gray cubicle staring at a computer screen for 40 years is.
“Famous artists are all dead before their work is recognized.”
–– You’ll be sponging off your parents or spouse for the rest of your life.
Granted. Grunt work by artists laboring in design layout, illustration, and various other branches of media help produce this impression, but people’s shallow perceptions turn it into a permanent mold. I have to remember that the mindset that defines artists as losers springs from the minds of the uninformed, under-educated and uncouth.
Those superficial views are breathtakingly ironic. Since the beginning of civilization, artists have been a subtle, but undeniably, dramatic force in people’s day-to-day life. Art has shaped cultures and helped define societies. According to anthropologist, Dr. Nigel Spivey, in his documentary series, “How Art Made the World,” art was the main source of conquering and maintaining structure in ancient societies. It was through artistic propaganda that kings were able to persuade the conquered subjects of newly occupied territories that their new leaders were near-deities. It fostered the belief that it was in their best interest to be cooperative.
Even in today’s society, everything people encounter, at some point, has been influenced through an artist’s eyes. Marketers have estimated that we view at least 30,000 messages each day. Every contact, whether through a graphic, color or type font, springs from a visual source. Product designers invent and refurbish products. Advertising images influence our purchase decisions. Illustrators, designers, and animators breathe life into the stories, ideas, and philosophies of others. Graphics chisel political opinions. Landscape and building architects, as well as, industrial designers enhance our environments and literally construct the world around us. Through the centuries, artists have even designed the icons of the gods we worship. The stamps of artists’ souls on the psyches of civilizations are limitless.
Artists see “the big picture” beyond the narrow confines of thought embraced by the masses. Too many people are bound by the “tyranny of shoulds” – they should stifle nonconformist passions for more acceptable pursuits; they should have acceptable moneymaking professions; they should live out their lives in acceptable cookie-cutter patterns.
Artists see and experience the same world differently. Holistically, artists help shape the world we live in. We stimulate and influence peoples’ perceptions. We control the hearts. The minds follow.
That kind of power demands the responsibility of every artist to continually broaden horizons, to bring new ideas to the table. Comic artist, R. Crumb, said it best, “We’re bohemian. We don’t subscribe to the standard bourgeois values; we see the possibility of life being open. Things are open-ended.”
Every piece that artists produce have the possibility to challenge and open new realms of thought. It’s mind-boggling, but artists have the power to change the world, culture, and history through expressions of their mediums, even through one single piece.
People reading this article might say that my passion for art makes me melodramatic; that I exaggerate to mitigate my insecurities; that I over-romanticize my vocation. Fellow art students may even laugh and remark, “It takes years to build up skills and reputation. No one could change the world with a single painting, especially an art student. It’s just not possible!”
Incredibly … it has been a reality.
In 1971, an advertising design student named Caroline Davidson fashioned a logo for an accounting teacher at her university. He paid her a measly $35 for her time and effort. Over 35 years later, the Nike swoosh is the one of the most recognizable, sought after, and worn symbols worldwide. It represents a sub-culture; it represents the United States; it represents money.
The swoosh is just one of thousands of images we see everyday. And an artist or a team of designers imagined and created every single one of them. That fact may not be acknowledged or even recognized by many people outside my discipline, but it gives me satisfaction and encouragement to know that we artists and our influence are pervasive. We have the potential to change their world … and they won’t even know it.