Angus Robertson Graphic and Media Design
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the currency of design/art, and the exchanges that exist both within the creative industries and across into other industries. Through some great conversations and observations on how exchanges are made, it has caused me to question the motivations behind being the ‘creator’ and the ‘consumer’ .
Working as a Studio Assistant for artist Lakwena, I have seen project commission enquiries ranging from small scale personal commissions for artwork for someone’s home or for a gift, to gallery exhibitions, public sector projects and to international commissions for corporate companies. With this, there comes payment of different sizes, and shapes. Whether this be sums of money, promise of ‘exposure’ or just a shared interest in the goals and message of the project varies job to job. And so, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where the line is drawn between financial gain and artistic integrity.
’Selling out’, is a term thrown around within most fields where the artist must decide between financial gain and creative integrity. Unfortunately, the case often is that you must make some sort of compromise in order to pay your way. I’ve learnt that most of the money lies in work for large corporate organisations who perhaps don’t value individual style and ideas as much as delivering their own message. Something that Lakwena and I discussed, is the idea that often corporate commissions aren’t looking to collaborate in a way which values the artist as a contributor in terms of concept, ideas and themes, but uses them as a tool to deliver their own message. Perhaps the organisation has picked up on a particular style and sees this as a fit for their brand, and so wants the artist to mould this style to fit their own vision. Further to this, I have observed the way that artists are often used as a currency of their own within corporate organisations. Through using an artist for their campaign/product, to them this represents something ‘edgy’, ‘thoughtful’ or ‘individual’. But rather than actually represent these qualities, the aim is really to give an impression of being this way. We of course see this enacted on many other levels, big brands wanting to appear in touch with issues affecting minority groups (e.g making adding the rainbow pattern to their logo to appear supportive of LGBTQI+ issues). This of course operates on a different level completely, but is along the same train of thought where companies are drawing from various sources to gain cultural capital. This takes me back to my original point, it is necessary to be aware of and mindful of compromises that must be made in order to participate and engage your work with the wider world whilst making a living from it.
Furthering this idea through my own experience, on a much smaller scale and with far less impact. In a previous placement I recently finished working with, I was left at times feeling like I was there as a technician/art-worker/tool of sorts. My ideas weren’t really what I was there for, it was more my capacity to undertake their own vision and message and create work in large volumes/at speed. I fully understand that largely an intern is employed to do low level tasks and that this is to be expected, however it definitely caused me to consider the value of our time as creatives.
All cynicism aside, in November I was very lucky to join Lakwena in Paris to assist on the painting of a 17 metre long mural commissioned by Match.com for their '#lovewithnofilter' campaign. Regardless of opinions of working for big brands, this was a really great learning experience in the logistical aspect of a creative project which requires meticulous planning and preparation in order to execute well. And of course no complaints in a free trip to Paris!
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