Friday, 24 June 2011

Ready Or Not...

I spent an interesting evening at a Private View at Leeds College of Art yesterday, where a wide range of graduates’ work was on display as part of their wittily-entitled Degree show "Ready Or Not, Here We Come".  Comparing the ideas and execution of work across the disciplines undertaken in an art school is always worthwhile, although I apologise now for my forthcoming exclusion of several of them: I attended last night with my own areas of expertise in mind, and it is about those that I write here.  

By definition, anything on exhibition under the aegis of ‘Creative Advertising’ should define creativity.  The only way it can do this is by allowing itself to be compared with all the other advertising we see around us that we acknowledge as being creative. 

Fair enough, but if what is on exhibition manages to match what we already know to be creative advertising, it isn’t ‘more’ creative: it’s as good as what already exists.  Is this good enough?  Not really. An analogy would be “next year, we want everything to be above average”.  If everything is above average, then the average becomes higher… so everything isn’t above average at all but, rather, part of what the new average has become. 

The young people who have spent three or four years at Art School training to be the Creatives of tomorrow shouldn’t be content to see their work matching the work of industry Creatives of today: they should be already knocking down walls, pushing boundaries and exploring new areas of perception - and worrying a lot of people by doing so.  I didn't really see this yesterday.  How can delivering more of the same ever be justified as being ‘creative’?

So it was good to move on to look at what Fine Art had to offer.  Here (and although in this instance one might have to re-interpret one’s definition of the word ‘creative’) things were alive and well.  Ideas flourished and evidence of skill was apparent.  Even distorted, abstracted work revealed traces of drawing ability, imagination and craftsmanship. There was bullishness on display: “I want to do this, and here it is”.  Unlike their confrères in Creative Advertising, the work shouted “I don’t care about what you tell me: this is what I think”.  

(Whether the students would actually lapse into such simplistic terms themselves is, however, questionable.  The exhibition brochure is packed with potentially award-winning and wonderfully pretentious claptrap.  Someone talking about “the sentient aspects of mental phenomena, under-pinned by the notion of Cartesian dualism, being the impetus to (their) practice” and expecting the audience to empathise wholeheartedly might be a little disappointed).

Depressed by the conformity of Creative Advertising and intoxicated by the hedonistic insouciance of Fine Art (oops - slipping in to the same trap myself now…), it was with trepidation that I moved on to Graphic Design.  Illustration plays little part of contemporary graphic design courses, so, unlike Fine Art (and, surprisingly, a lot of the Creative Advertising), what was on display here was squeaky clean. 

Pure and elegant typography, considered use of space, tone and colour meant that clarity abounded.  There were a couple of instances of obfuscation (where, for example, the design of a typeface might be so contrived as to cause it to lose legibility), but many of the works were engaging, some to the point of being absolutely fascinating.  Paul Mitchell’s calendars are just waiting to be featured as next year’s number one promotional freebie from some prestigious corporate multinational; the elegant Penguin Classics' covers of Pearl Singer cry out to be picked up and lovingly leafed through, and look out for ‘Foxx’, a confident typeface from Carl Holderness, to start appearing on magazine covers, posters and packaging at anytime soon.

Will you ever get to see this work? I hope so. 

Perhaps it was because it was the end of a long week of custodianship, standing next to work with which they become progressively over-familiar, but I was aware that many students were failing to acknowledge the opportunities that a Private View brings.  This is the time when that vital ‘next step’ can take place.  Several alumni of the Royal College of Art were circulating, and local creative industries were well represented.  The work looked good: its creators were present yet, for the visitor, identifying which student was responsible for what was difficult and students failed repeatedly to take the opportunity of introducing themselves to outsiders demonstrating an interest in their work.  The notion that a pile of business cards (or a QR link) will lead to further enquiries is not enough, and although their work might have showed initiative, on this occasion the students didn’t.

In their defence, the event was the culmination of their university course and students, being students, were naturally distracted by the generous hospitality on offer.  But had they already been offered their ideal job?  Were the rest of us being left to our own devices because the Class of '11 had already successfully mapped out its future?  Is that why they had started celebrating?

Maybe.  There didn't seem to be much drink left for the rest of us.

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