Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stickin' it to the man

Artists throughout the ages have always struggled with the dilemma of having to rely on commissioners or benefactors to be able to work with their art or craft. Often there are no conflicts in these situations, but many times artists get commissioned to do work that in one way or other goes against their values, beliefs or morals. Of course, the artist always has the choice of turning down a job, even if it would mean financial hardship. But, alas, there are other ways of dealing with the situation. Some artist/craftsmen are brave enough to accept the commission, and then use it as a way of making a statement at the risk of enraging the commissioner. Two examples come to mind.

Johnny Hardstaff is a creative English designer, illustrator, director, animator and whatnot. Although primarily making a living from advertisement these days, he is also constantly developing his own personal, artistic projects on the side, and in a lecture at the Tate Modern in London, he clearly and strongly expressed his own contempt and guilt for the way he's making a living from helping big corporations trick people into buying stuff.

When approached by Sony in 2001 to make an experimental film on the theme of the Playstation 2, no strings attached, he jumped at the chance. Sony was of course expecting an edgy, cool film they could use in promoting the Playstation console, but when presented with the result, I'm guessing they regretted giving Hardstaff free reign. The film was never used in Sony's ad campaign, but you can enjoy it here:

Similarly, my favourite comic book artist and illustrator Chris Ware was recently commissioned to draw a cover for an upcoming issue of Fortune, the global business magazine of choice for hungry capitalists on the money-tumour bandwagon (i.e. accumulating wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth).

Click to enlarge the illustration and see the various ways Ware attacks America's corporations and government, referencing various aspects like the recession, flooded homes, and Guantánamo Bay. The cover was rejected.

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