9.27.2015

Portrait. Fade to black. Career, hard turn.


I had a little epiphany this week. I'm tired of accepting diffuse and unchallenging work. Especially as regards portraits. I'm pretty sure I can make a living, in the future, by doing portraits in the way I want to see them, not in some commodified style that just fills space and "describes" the person in the frame. I want people who view my portraits to feel as though they have come to understand something about the subject, even if it's only the nature of their patience. Even if it is a visual and emotional illusion.

Something happened to a lot of the artists I knew when the economy collapsed in 2008. They became fearful of their commercial futures and let that fear dictate the terms of their engagement with their art and craft. I don't expect the 90% of American people who never lost their jobs to understand the emotional impact on people who lived a more precarious existence as freelancers. It's as though we scrambled, en masse, to do the lesser biding of agencies, companies and commercial audiences to compete for the few remaining projects of the time. We became afraid to push back and lobby for the quality each piece deserved because our collective fear of jinxing a deal by pushing for parameters that would continue to move the aesthetic we had created forward. Clients cut budgets and they also, by extension, cut the potential for excellence.

I talk to so many people in related communication crafts and most frequently what I hear is that they are nervous about raising rates back up because they feel that clients have become used to holding the upper hand and dictating the construct of the engagements. But what I hear from the actual clients---a step beyond the ad agencies and intermediaries---is a dismay that all creative work has become boring and diminished, and that they resent their agents and proxies for disregarding the need for great work in order to pursue a budget number that they think their clients will----tolerate. 

"We never asked them to limit the budgets. We never demanded that things be done on the cheap. We want the best creative resources we can buy and we're willing to pay for them." That's what the good clients are saying. The cost cutting happened because the intermediaries felt the fear they were partially creating and embraced it in their own dealings.

Seems it's time for a cathartic throwing off of the budget harness. Time to step up and tell people that we are no longer interested in doing homogenous crap just to keep the doors open. It's time to pull out the stops and get back to the real work of our work----making people look at what we've done with a sense that they are seeing something new or expertly seen and translated. And making sure that what we have done is exciting enough to merit getting our client's marketing work a second look. Even while it means asking for more money and rejecting demands to commodify.

Use of stock photography is a form of creative cowardice. Presuming a client is part of the legion of cheap, petit bourgeois culture, hellbent on the bottom line (at any cost) is passé. The brave new world of commercial art is all about standing out, again. Leading the charge. Innovating and not being afraid to demand workable budgets for hardworking art. The clients feel it. The rest of us need to get on board. Or get off the train.