Sunday, June 5, 2022

art for art's sake

For forty or so years, I have made my living as an artist. Over that period, the title has changed a few times. I was "artist," "designer," "graphic designer," "graphic artist," "desktop publisher," "desktop graphic design artist." These were all labels applied to me and my profession by non-artists for whom I was employed. But, for all intents and purposes, I was a simple artist. I took someone's poorly-explained concept and made it a tangible thing of beauty. As a matter of fact, I have had many employers drop a scrap of paper before me — riddled with childish scribbles and illegible hieroglyphics — and instruct me to "pretty this up." And, of course, I would. That's what I got paid to do.

When I first entered the working world, I used ink and a pen and markers and actual paper. When computers entered the scene, I balked at first, but now, a mouse and a monitor are my go-to "tools of the trade." I have been plying my "craft" (ha ha! what a bullshit phrase!) in the realm of pixels for the past 30 years. Over that time, I have designed everything from simple forms to elaborate displays for trade shows. I have also created countless logos for a wide variety of businesses.

Nearly every artist will tell you, we sometimes obsess about design. It doesn't always come easy. It is work. It is hard work. Sure, it can be enjoyable, but getting that perfect design is a process. And artists look for inspiration from anywhere it can be found. Because we are always looking and observing and scrutinizing our graphic-embellished surroundings. We also take note of bad design. I mean poorly conceived, poorly executed, just plain lazy design. That type of design can be spotted a mile away. While a client may be impressed and satisfied by such a final product, other artists — who understand the process — know the lack of effort that goes into a bad design. Sure, the client's word is the final word, but an artist knows when his best efforts (and worst efforts) have been passed off for the sake of earning a buck.

I worked for a company in Pennsauken, New Jersey for a short time. On my commute from my suburban Philadelphia home, I would pass a building just before I made the turn into the small industrial park where my job was located. As I approached the intersection to make the turn, I studied a logo plastered on a sign just outside this building. The building housed an auto auction and the logo was hideous. It was garish. It was "in your-face." It screamed "WE ARE A FUCKING AUTO AUCTION AND WE HAVE CARS!" It was probably just what the owner's of the business wanted and the artist that created it probably knocked it out between quarters while watching a football game on a Sunday afternoon. It looked like it was picked out of a book of t-shirt designs at one of those airbrush places on the boardwalk of a seaside resort. Every day, I stared at this logo — angrily — as I crept towards the intersection to make a right-hand turn. As someone who has been designing logos (some good and some admittedly bad) for four decades, I was insulted that this logo was displayed prominently, in full view for the public to see. It was not that far removed from that spiky "S" that decorated everyone's three-ring binder in high school. You know, that easy doodle that everyone could do, but still looked impressive and cool. It infuriated me every morning. I would pass it and think to myself: "That is one ugly logo."

Well, I lost the job in Pennsauken and started a new position near Princeton, New Jersey. My new commute would take me north in The Garden State. I would no longer pass the auto auction and its horrible logo. At my new job, I worked with art directors from international companies to create innovative and sophisticated designs to be used at business-seeking tradeshows. It was a new and exciting experience in my career and the eight months I spent with that company were the best of any job I had held previously... until the bottom fell out of the trade show business when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced humans to practice social distancing under the threat of sickness or even death. With trade shows a casualty of the coronavirus, that business shut down and I had to seek employment elsewhere. 

After a year, I landed a job back in Pennsauken, right next door to the place I had worked previously. My morning drive to work — once again — took me past the auto auction and its heinous logo. On my first day of my new job, I passed the auto auction and became infuriated all over again. There it was! That logo. That horrible logo! I would see it every morning. It was unavoidable. I was being punished for.... something, I suppose.

One morning, traffic was particularly heavy and slow on Route 130. Cars moved at a snail's pace, inching along, as we approached some unseen blockage in the flow of traffic. As I moved my car closer to the intersection to make my turn, I spotted three fire engines occupying the right-hand lane, forcing traffic to merge into the left lanes. The fire trucks were shooting streams of water on the fire-damaged wreckage of the auto auction. The building was now reduced to a steaming, smoky pile of unrecognizable rubble, dotted with charred girders poking out amid the burned bricks and twisted rebar. I joined in with the car-confined group of rubberneckers, crawling past the scene, curiously surveying the aftermath of the previous evening's fire. I, however, took specific notice. The sign with the logo was gone, an obvious victim of the 4-alarm blaze. The walls that also had once displayed the logo were now demolished, laying in scattered piles among the other debris.

I eventually made it to the intersection and I made my usual right turn. I also gathered my thoughts for an alibi, in case I was questioned.

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