- Laura Blackledge
- Are you an Artist or a Designer? - Yes.
Hooray for Semantics!
This post is brought to you today by the letters P and S. Or Procrastination, and Stubbornness.
Procrastination, because I've started writing this rather than going back to the logo (Um, Why? More on that later) for myself I've been working on for - at best guess - about a year and a half now.
And Stubbornness because I'm abso-forking-lutely determined to do this for myself rather than outsource it to someone with any kind of real qualification or training in graphic design.
The reasons for this stubbornness are twofold (there doesn't yet exist a number large enough to quantify the reasons for the procrastination):
Firstly, because DIY is life! If I can do something for myself (debatable), then I bloody well will (sadly non-negotiable, it turns out) do it for myself, memories of prior fiascoes be dammed!
And secondly, finances. Even though all creatives know that when it gets right down to the bottom line, the best way to support other creatives in real terms is to buy their damn work, this exists as the Catch 22 at the heart of life as a professional creative - the people who know how important financial support of other artists is, are the ones least able to provide this kind of support in the first place. (This is a whole future blog post of its own). Basically, artists are poor, so we can't afford to hire other artists even though we know how much they need to be hired. On the plus side, this can lead to a thriving culture of skill-sharing, swapsies, and good old fashioned barter-economy (fuck you, Capitalism!), but there are still some aspects of society - supermarkets, taxes, rent, to name a few... - that obstinately refuse to recognise "swapsies" as a legitimate form of currency, so most artists will still have factor the crass element of money into their creative practice as a whole.
One day though, Comrades. One glorious day...
But I digress. This situation of course leads to constant cross-pollination, and ever-increasing muddying of the boundaries between disciplines as professional independent artists turn their hands to non-specialities in lieu of being able to afford to employ a team of dedicated specialists to curate the many different aspects of their brand identity.
Which leads me to my next personal sticking point in the whole logo saga.
Since when did an artist need a brand identity?!
Well, I can't pinpoint the exact date, but I would find it very difficult to argue that they don't these days.
Why? Well, lots of reasons, but a big one is everyone's favourite means of falling out with relatives and making your significant other suspicious: Social Media! For better or worse, (it's better, much better, do you remember what things were like before it? I do, trust me it was lonely and boring), we live in the age of social media, and this is the sea in which we all - particularly visual artists - must swim.
Now this is a many edged sword (probably one of those big ones with curlicues, like in Final Fantasy...). On the one hand, it's easier than it's ever been to get your work Out There, and find your audience. This is particularly indispensable for those of us who very definitely occupy "niche" sectors of the market. Remind me one day to tell you how awful and isolating it was being a Weird Kid before the internet was a thing - now there are whole online communities dedicated to the Hentai Guinea-pig Otherkin Fan-fiction you love, that are so big they can splinter into entire new factions and offshoots when someone suggests that Mer-Hamster fiction should also be allowed in the group - when previously you would have thought you were the only one in the entire world. What a time to be alive! On the other hand though, it means that even the most specialised of niches can end up becoming flooded with content and creations, against which you now have to compete.
One of the ways you can give yourself a leg-up in this market (and if you want to turn your beloved art into a sustainable way to make a living, you have to rip that band-aid off early on and start thinking of it as a market), is to make yourself quickly and easily identifiable in the context in which most people are going to encounter your work.
Enter the dreaded idea of "Brand Identity", and where the designations of Artist and Designer begin to blur and overlap.
Is your work easily and quickly identifiable as yours? Does it have a strong and punchy aesthetic that helps it stand out from the crowd? Is it easy for people who like it to share it with others and spread your potential reach? Does your output cover a wide range of price-points that allow the broadest possible range of demographics to access your work and support you? Is that better than focusing exclusively on either high- or low-end markets and securing your foothold in either of those?
I don't know. I don't know any of these things. Please stop asking these questions, you're making me really sad, and if you're not going to either grade or pay me for thinking about them, please get out of my workroom.
There will be artists who steadfastly refuse to describe themselves as designers, possibly because of the slightly commercial and corporate taste that the word "designer" can leave in your mouth. I know that's certainly why I resisted the description for so long. Just as there will be designers who feel like the word "artist" is too woolly, nebulous, or <whispers> crafts-y, to encompass the precision and planning that goes into their work.
It seems like a dichotomy. But is it?
Like a wise lobster once said "Why not both?"
And perhaps the distinction will continue to grow increasingly nit-picky, and ultimately arbitrary and meaningless. Perhaps the only people who really care about the distinction are artists and designers themselves. Thanks to the internet, the world of being professionally creative is unrecognisably different from when I was a child. Unless (or until?) you become wildly successful, if you want to make an impact with your art, you have to - as well as creating stuff that people want to buy in the first place - be your own hype-man, marketing team, customer services department, and PR liaison all by yourself. Oh, and no one wants to pay you for any of this if they can avoid it, but the exposure will be great!
So why do we do it if it's as awful as I'm making it sound? Simple: because we love it. Like Romeo loves not checking his messages first. And we can't imagine feeling any other way. To be a professional creative, you have to love what you do So. Much. that you literally couldn't function without it. If your hands fell off, you would grab the brush with your butt and make art that way. Living without it is just not an option.
So am I an artist or a designer?
Yes. I am.
And I'm proud of being both.
And I really hope my hands don't fall off, because I think it would take even longer to finish this bloody logo if I have to do it with my arse.