"I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares." This is a quote from the great Saul Bass. Mr Bass was a predominant Graphic Designer and Filmmaker back in the '50s and '60s and even continued to do great work through the '90s until his death in '96. (He was the title designer for Casino in '95.) This great designer worked for Hitchcock and Scorsese, Continental Air and AT&T. His driving force, his motivation, the reason he did what he did was his desire to "make beautiful things, even if nobody cares." With those words, he expressed what has been and always will be on the heart of every artist through the ages. However, I wonder ... Can a designer these days make a living like that?
I spoke yesterday with a promising, young graphic design student. She interviewed me for a class assignment, but we were able to talk pretty candidly about the industry. I have mentioned before that sometimes constraints provide the best opportunity for creativity. I do believe that. However, it is also true (in a sub-contrary way) that sometimes even as a graphic designer in an artistic field, you have to break away from the work and find a creative outlet. Some of us paint; some of us play music; some of us write; some of us dance; some of us even bake. Despite the variance, every creative person I know who has a "creative" job also has a separate creative outlet.
The reality is that these days most creative expressions just don't have a large monetary value.
Certainly to a degree this has always been the case. Vincent Van Gough is the classic example. In his life, he only sold one painting. Since his death, the world has come to appreciate his expression of things "as [he himself felt] them to be." Certainly too there are exceptions to this rule. Makoto Fujimura is my go to example. His uniquely creative expressions are honored, sought and compensated the world over.
Nonetheless, there is something different about today's creative landscape as compared to the '50s and '60s. It is true for both ages (both then and now) that graphic design should be commercialized. Graphic design should be profit aimed. Graphic design should be creative ... but only to the extent that it is what the people want. So, what's the difference? Today people want everything to fit. In the '50s and '60s the people wanted something that didn't fit the mold. They wanted something disjointed, something off-kilter, something revolutionary. Such terminology fits much better in the artistic world, wouldn't you say? (Stay with me to the end; I'll clarify this later.)
Not to belabor the point, but when you think of restaurant signs from the 1950's you probably think of something that doesn't quite fit, like this:
When you think about modern restaurant signs you probably think of something that "fits" better. Something like Chipotle or Starbucks:
The problem is that the people don't want creativity.
The point of all of this is not to bemoan the current state of graphic design in America. The point is to be aware of what difficulties face us so that we can better think through how to overcome them. "I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares." Me too, but if no one cares, no one will pay for it. So, I have to be mindful of that as I go about my occupation.
I also have to be mindful of that as I go about my art and my creativity. The truth is that art speaks of the world around it, but it also speaks to the world around it. Art represents the world, but it also changes the world. Earn a living; express yourself; make the world more beautiful.