Sunday, December 30

Can fine artists find inspiration in design?

By guest writer Shayla Perreault Newcomb

In the past designers have found inspiration from fine arts. Can fine artists find inspiration in design?

Last winter I got the intense desire to collage squares of paper onto canvass. Squares, squares! There was no going around it. My work up until then had been curving lines, so perhaps I just wanted a change. I try not to argue with my sub-conscious. Perhaps if Jace hadn’t seen it, I never would have put together where the inspiration came from. By accident I realized I’d been using elements of a project he’d been working on advertising the Shediac Lobster Festival. It had the look of a yellow and white gingham tablecloth. Lots of squares of yellow and white with lettering all through it. For some reason I had to process it into my version.

My big secret is that for years I’ve intentionally used design for inspiration. Designer, Tricia Guild, has always worked with colors that “thrill me to the marrow.” They’re joyous, fearless and yet sophisticated. Tap into a talented designer’s color scheme and you have the pulse of that generation. The colors that speak to us most right now. Trends in color can be a fad, but often they reflect communal desires and needs. Of course, copying designers doesn’t work. Copying anyone doesn’t work. It only leads to frustration and constipated art work if not drawn from authentic inspiration.

Also what goes in, is what comes out. We have plenty of design magazines around the house, and I like to read them. They have a touch of edginess, they understand today’s people, and they’re outstanding in quality work. I still haven’t found a fine art magazine that I really like. Some are a touch too crafty with holiday themed collage projects, others I find depicting what I feel are cloyingly sweet and overdone subjects like realism kittens, and then you have the Canadian art selection. The landscapes from Quebec which I like, but don’t identify with. Not to mention that there seem to be plenty of people doing the same thing there. Or I could choose from putrid corpses, avant-garde (I suppose- in a way hasn’t it all been done?) images of alienation and hostility, or installment art. You can’t help but think when you see it and it feels good to think. Still, I’m sorry to say it, fellow artists, but I understand those who won’t buy it for their living room. I strongly believe there is a place for any of those kinds of art. It’s just not my path and so far the design magazines are the closest thing.

Whole movements in world art follow design principles, and make statements about design and advertising in our culture. Still, sometimes I think I see fine artists exhibiting an air of superiority towards designers. If that’s the case I have a theory to propose that some may find prickly. Could all modern fine artists be influenced by design?

More modern fine artists are influenced by design than would claim so since our society is born of it. I think we can agree that design is used in ads to sell more than products. It sells ideal values, goals, identity. Ads tell us who we should be. They shape our attitudes, which in turn affects our behavior. It can find a way into most statements whether conscious or unconscious, including the rebellion or rejection of it. An investigative journalist said that “The more we are bombarded by advertising the less we notice, and yet, almost certainly, the more we are affected.” He also reports that when people are asked how effective they feel advertising is, “most agree that it works, but not on them.” People tend to feel that everyone else is vulnerable, but they are not. “Alone, it seems, they are immune.”—The Want Makers

Given the powerful effect designers have on the art scene and society, I’d like to quote Bill Bernbach, one of Madison Avenue’s greatest innovators, “All of us who use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can elevate it.”

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Tanner Christensen said...

Really insightful article Shayla, thanks for sharing this!

I especially liked your closing quote by Mr. Bernbach, not only is it an extremely powerful statement, it's very true.

Juggling Jason said...

Or as someone once put it, when life hands you lemons...