Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do You Respect the Art of the Artist?


I suspect that most of us would never think of telling a neurosurgeon how and where to cut on a loved one. Instead we'd probably pray for and respect the expertise, professionalism, and yes, art of the physician. We want that same kind of respect with our own work. If your work is professional shouldn't you get that kind of respect? But how often do we boss the hair stylist? How overly involved do we get with cake decorators and interior designers? Do we respect the home plans that were designed by the architect? or do we ask the builder to take out this wall or change the size of that window? And what about the wedding photographer? Do we respect his/her ability to do what we saw in his/her portfolio? I guess what I'm saying is do we ask artists to do what they're good at or do we try to force them to do something they aren't comfortable with?

When I was illustrating for magazines and advertisements I was constantly amazed that there was often little or no respect given to my ability to create what the art director saw in my portfolio! I was so bothered by this lack of respect that I decided to try not to perpetuate this injustice. I found myself often telling the hairstylist, "Do what you think would look good on my head" (not that there was much hope anyway :) At nice restaurants I would ask the server to bring me what the chef was good at. Other times I've actually asked the chef to surprise me with what he/she would cook for him/herself.

 I guess I was rambling on in class one day about my thoughts on this subject and one of my very committed students took it to heart. Lee VanNoy Call who's work appears above and her husband Tyler found themselves at a Macaroni Grill one night. They asked to speak to the chef. A very worried looking culinary artist showed up and asked what they needed? Tyler spoke up and said, "I would like you to create whatever you like for me because I respect you as an artist and I'm confident that while I might not love what you come up with I'm sure it will be an enjoyable culinary journey apart from the normal path I usually take." (Or something pretty close)

The chef was dumbfounded. He couldn't speak. Finally he had to ask Tyler to repeat his request - after all he had grown accustomed to being treated like a drone, an order taker, a worker bee - certainly not as an artist and especially not like a surgeon. We profess to love art but how often do we allow artists to express their creativity? It's funny but when members of my family want to try my boxed leftovers from a restaurant they never ask what ingredients are in it - but when I cook for the family they always want to eliminate the very ingredients that were in my boxed leftovers. Have we become control freaks when it comes to art?

So the chef was overly careful to ask, "Are you sure you just want me to come up with something?" -and he did it repeatedly. Tyler met his concerns with multiple reassuring words - yes - yes and YES. So the dumbfounded chef retired to the kitchen. When their orders were brought they got a VIP treatment. (this, from a restaurant chain) The chef proceeded to explain what he had made. What ingredients were used. How they were used. Why they were chosen and so on. He was proud of what he had created and he wanted to share it. During the meal he re-appeared to find out if they were enjoying their meals - they were! It was a wonderful meal as they reported to me.

When they were finished he told them dessert was on the house - another off menu creation he made just for them! It too was amazing and a testament to the desire that artists have to give gifts to aficionados. The artist was surprised that his art was appreciated. The art appreciators were surprised at the overwhelming desire to please them by the artist. Why were two artists so surprised by something that should be very common?

If you give respect for artist's art - you might get respect for your art.  

Lee does some really cool DawgArt besides her illustration work - she was also accepted into the Society of Illustrators student show with the piece above!

16 comments:

  1. Like this post a lot!

    I'm pretty long in the tooth and I am sad to say that since the 80's when designers and illustrators were afforded a little grudging respect by the "suits" we worked with, we have since been relegated to the role of "Computer Operator" in their eyes. "Uppity tantrum throwing - damn - she's right again" Computer Operator in my case!

    I think many people in the industry will heave a huge sigh of relief when the last of us dinosaurs who still remember the days when designers were supposed to have any say in the choice of colour, font, overall design, shuffle off this mortal coil and the Suits can happily continue to make uninformed, colour blind, plain stupid decisions about everything unhindered.

    Sorry, hit a nerve! I just wonder why on earth someone looks at my portfolio and decides to pay my freelance rates then over rules every choice I make on a complete whim of their own. Why are they paying me if they don't respect my judgement and experience? Yes, the client's taste has to come into it but I get so sick of the bodged mish mash of half executed ideas that get green lighted .... seriously, the trash can on my Mac is like a gallery of lovliness in comparison!

    .... then, about 6 months later when the stuff didn't go down too well with the buying public, they come back and ask me to take those original designs out of the trash and dust them off... all is well for a few weeks then the complacency starts creeping back in and the opinion of 'that guy in sales' and the girl who runs the sandwich concession in the lobby suddenly hold more weight than that of the designer!

    Sorry.... I will go and sit in a darkened room somewhere and calm down ;o)

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    1. I'm glad I hit a nerve Yve! I think that talking about this issue is the only way to make any real changes. It won't happen from my blog post alone and I'm sure other people are talking about it - but ideas spread and the more people get frustrated the more chance we have for change.

      In some ways I think we've done it to ourselves. Artists in general are probably less outspoken by nature and thus less likely to stick up for our opinions. One thing I've really tried to do when working with clients is to ask them to qualify the changes they ask for - not in a confrontational way but by creating a discussion. Example: "So you would like me to change the T-shirt color on the little girl to green - is there a reason for green? Because if I make her green she might blend into the background grass." Rather than just say, "ok" .

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  2. Great post. I love the restaurant story.

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    1. Thanks jay - I did too - I think Lee and Tyler are great role models for their actions!

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  3. I enjoyed the restaurant story as well.

    I think what we're seeing is the trend that "everyone is a designer/photographer/creative." (Even if they're not.)

    Today, individuals want to participate in the design of most everything.

    Heck, last week my Dentist proudly showed me the postcard that "she designed." It wasn't so good (pixel-art pulled from god-knows-where) but she was thrilled to have done it herself. And for her, "just okay" might just be "good enough."

    In any case, I worry that our road as artist/illustrators is going to continue to have to compete with amateurs who want to control the process and the product.

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    1. I see all this too - I'm not fearful because I believe that in the end the great work will stand out and get noticed. This is why it's ever so important to be extremely creative while improving the craft. We're going to see much more self published products in all industries so game on! Time to be SUPA ORIGINAL!

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  4. What an amazing and excellent idea relating to the restaurant scenario!

    There is an obvious balancing/tight rope act between pleasing the client/AD/creatives and allowing me free rein, i.e. the other end having respect for my work, creativity and judgement.

    Having worked as a graphic artist in TV full time and as a freelancer illustrating picture books (along with all sorts of other stuff in other venues such as costume design), there never seems to be a happy medium in pleasing the client and/or myself. I have had dream situations where I have had almost total carte blanche. Those are the times you reflect on fondly especially when you get the inevitable "unpleasableclientfromhell".

    One thing that drove me away from TV and the corporate mentality to some extent was one project (as an example) that I dubbed "47 logo designs that no one liked", which was for a sports campaign. Even the computer programmers(!)started weighing in their opinions as if it was "open field day design committee". When the "creative director" (who was a giant know nothing douche) said, "You know it just doesn't reach out and grab me," I finally snapped and growled at him, "and if it did it would reach out and strangle the living **** out of you!" Then everyone backed off with the old "don't tick off the hypersensitive artist" schtick. Even some lowly intern complained about an element of the design that looked "too effiminate". It got to where when anyone said, "You know what I think...?" I said, "No, I don't and do me a favor and shut up now!"

    I've had a school mural I did painted over because the theme of reading and anthropomorphic animals did not match the new principal's design scheme; I had another one taken down so as to cut a new doorway that made access from the teacher's lounge closer to the library; a theater director wanted a specific costume for a period musical but said, "don't make it from scratch, just modify something you already have" for a very large actress, etc, etc. Tip of the iceberg. People know better, they just choose to act otherwise where they feel the need to babysit something (the old "author who doesn't like the illustrations you did because it doesn't look like her grandmother/dog/baby" gag).

    I've had students who have had far worse experiences than me. It's made me come to realize that artists are not particularly good at working with committees: mentally and physically as absolute entities. Illustrated books could be an exception because if you've been in this business long enough you come to expect certain things from the client. After all, they were the ones who chose you to begin with. Still, they can AD til the life is sucked out of anything.

    Quality is constantly being watered down, more often than not in the name of cheapness and the generic appeal we all crave when we shop at Wal-Mart for the "best value".

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    1. Love the rant Alan - This was one of those nagging tooth aches that I finally had to pull by writing about it. AHHHH feels much better now :) I loved the part where you said they were like, "yo, intern, why don't you weigh in on this and tell the artist how it be" LOL! We've all been there buddy!

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  5. Great restaurant story! Decisions are often based on egos, regardless of whether or not that decision is best for the situation.

    Corporations are the worst! When a company is hiring, they say they are looking to hire someone who defends their work, speaks up and is creative and thinks independently. When a recruit demonstrates these abilities and gets hired, he is not allowed to do any of those things without getting into trouble! If his ideas conflict with all the ego-filled, power-hungry middle managers (who, by the way, have not a clue as to what heck they're doing, so there WILL BE CONFLICT!) he is labeled a troublemaker. (Oh, I'm not bitter at all! Sorry about that little rant! :–) Back to our regularly scheduled comment)

    Like you, I have learned the art of asking why a change is wanted. Now, in my experience working directly with clients, I don't need to worry about those middle managers. But sometimes, I still get the ego-driven stuff from clients. If I explain to him why I did something a certain way, most of the time, it makes him realize I'm right, and the change is nixed.

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    1. YES! This is why I'm enjoying working with in the children's book industry - the editors and art directors really get it. They understand that in order to have art they have to let the artist do what they do. It's refreshing!

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  6. You should have seen the look on his face when we asked him for this. He looked like he had been punched in the head. He must have checked back with us about six times to see how our meal was going. And Tyler's plate was GORGEOUS! A great testament to the pride an artist will take in his work. Thanks WillTerry.com for the shout out!

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    1. Thanks for letting me use your story Lee! your're the best!

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    2. Lee, I am giving you and Tyler a standing ovation! I know you made that chef's year. Bravo :)

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  7. I'm reminded of the beautiful movie "Babette's Feast", a lovely film about what it means to be an artist.

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    1. I haven't seen it - I'll have to add it to my list :) Thanks!

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