Last week I went to an exhibition, my friend Sue was, amongst a lot of other artists, exhibiting her ‘Cocoon’ summary-cocoon.pdf which I used as part of assignment three. It was an interesting space of artists and craft workers, mainly textile, though some 3D work and paintings were amongst them. I was reminded of this when reading the series of comments and statements on the WeAreOCA blog following the entry on Kessels work that I saw in Arles in July. All this came to mind as I start to investigate the fourth module of this course – Advertising.
The work in Aynho was often quite beautiful, certainly a lot of very pretty work and some work that defied the notion of commerce by being both interesting and not for sale. Sue’s ‘Cocoon’ wasn’t for sale, it is still a work in progress and I have still haven’t plucked up courage to put a secret inside. I went to the show on preview, not just for the drinks and nibbles, but, hopefully, to engage with a few of the exhibitors, to explore what their work was about. I was reminded of this event when I started to read the comments on the WeAreOCA blog about the way some ‘artists’ approach their work, how their work is informed and why it is they do the work they do.
This module is called Advertising, there is some research about advertising, somewhat mixed up with the notion of marketing I feel, but nevertheless it is how the ‘artist’ might generate work that engages with the purposes of capitalism to encourage consumerism and ‘buy stuff’, or ‘invest in stuff’ or be complicitly engaged in the process. One of the exercises is to attempt to place some images with a photo agency Alamy, an interestingly timed venture as Getty has decided to place a lot of it’s images ‘out there’ for free an action which, I suspect, will further alter the paradigm by which professional photographers will be able to engage commercially. I have decided not to pursue the Alamy route and won’t attempt to get any images ‘on-line’ because, despite having not read Alamy’s terms and conditions, I find them unacceptable. I have no reason to suspect that Alamy is a disreputable organization and it might well be an exemplar in its field for all I know; I wish them well.
It is though this notion of self promotion that I found interesting, clearly an exhibition is a self-promoting exercise; the poster for the show that Sue participated in suggests that whilst entrance is free there are items for sale including refreshments and proceeds will go to Creative Activities for Elderly People, all in a good cause then and noting that not all the work will be for sale, one can denote (there is also a section in this module on Semiotics, which seems to ignore completely the work of Peirce and others and focuses solely on Barthes and Saussure, maybe Barthes because of the work done in deconstructing advertisements….) from the poster/advertisement therefore, that there will be work at the exhibition that is not for sale
One of the main threads in the exhibition I found, was how attractive a lot of the work was, how immediately compelling some of it was. The show had quite a few textile workers who used some gorgeous colours, bringing a lustrous rich quality that drew me to their work, golds, scarlets, sapphire blues, emerald greens. The painters had what Grayson Perry described as – and I paraphrase – the societal norm of acceptable painting; landscapes with some people in the foreground and a lot of blue. Prices ranged quite a lot, from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds for different artists – some of whom have an established clientele and are starting to be collected. I suspect the timing of the show isn’t a completely random choice either, with about eight shopping weeks left for Christmas. I was glad to see that Sue had included some of my most recent photographs of her and her work in a book she had had published recently (not for sale either) to accompany her Cocoon.
A tutor sometime ago informed me that the approach of a ‘jobbing professional’ photographer was to ‘get deep quick, get the work done and get out’ (again, I paraphrase). I can fully comprehend that notion, it seems perfectly reasonable for a student of photography who needs to get the work done, submit it, get paid (marked) and move to the next job. I can also see that doing such would be a great ‘advert’ for the skills of that photographer, that they would more likely get more work from that client again for doing such an exemplary job. We, as students on this course, are often told, ‘read the brief, don’t go beyond it and submit it on time’, my previous Managing Director also echoed that comment by saying to me ‘never do a customer a favour’. There are other tutors who offer a different mantra, about exploring the idea from a personal perspective and developing a reasoned response to it – I wonder though how much they sell of their work!
I am reminded again when reading some of the comments on the WeAreOCA blog entry regarding the need to ‘put work out there’. Kessels’ work suggested to me various notions; yes the vacuity of the present day digital world that allows volumes of images to be ‘uploaded’ almost as soon as they are created, perhaps the availability of that capability provides the impetus to do it? And, to one of the commentators on the blog who has suggested, it may have to something to do with ego perhaps, but it might be something about value (or the valueless notion of the image, but I’ll come back to that later). My own personal perspective on this work to an extent agrees with the egotistical relationship mentioned, but I also recognise other perspectives; that of a silent witness perhaps, of a search for a voice in an increasingly mediated world, or that of celebration of love or death, or that of companionship – whether there or searched for – again in a world mediated by social media where discourse is by an avatar and moniker that translates identity to a virtual plane of obscurity and anonymity which often meets with a desire to transcend them to a desired personality from another place, divorced from the responsibility of reality.
That individuals flood the world with images suggests, amongst other reasons, a cry in the wilderness more than a cry of ‘look at me’; which brings me back to marketing and it’s associative instrument the advertisement. Increasingly, and by dint of it’s own premise, marketing will continue to strive to marginalize, segmenting the audience into smaller and smaller pieces, increasing the size of it’s apparent target to better position it within the frame of its desiredness and therefore to better mirror that allure and improve its chances of success. The Ford motor company first offered the Model T to the world (North America, which to them at the time was about the same thing) with the saying ‘that you could have any colour you wanted as long as it was black’. Now the posit of the ‘Mad Men’ is to be able to refine, by segmentation, the infinite colour proposition to better enable both the admen’s product and consumer’s inevitable resignation of triumph in purchase.
Kessel’s images come with certain attributes, there are those who are seemingly fixated by volume – there are xxx thousands of images in the building, there were xxx millions of images uploaded in a certain year, Fred Ritchen seems permanently in a state of awe with these numbers in both his books ‘After Photography’ and ‘Bending the Frame” (not wishing to disparage either of these otherwise very stimulating tomes). The record numbers though will be beaten tomorrow; the question as to why will unlikely be answered tomorrow, because there are likely to be too many questions being asked of them. The ‘adman’s nightmare’.
A basket of pasta, a tin of sauce, some tomatoes and other superfluous vegetables and a limited colour palette, suggests, amongst other things, that it is food and it is going to be eaten. Its ‘Italianicity’ is but a part of it’s value to the adman whose desire to entice you to buy would have a lesser value today, our (the market’s) denotating antennae perhaps haven’t changed very much in the last few decades – a post post modernist assumption perhaps? But pasta is no longer a marketing segment anymore, now the need might be for which type of wheat, which side of the hill it was grown, we (the consumer) would probably be interested in the use of fertilizer, of systemic weed-killing (or lack of), of distance travelled to the place of purchase (though not of the distance travelled to purchase by the consumer), sustainability et al, et al. Narrowing the channel of irrigation and introducing those studium opportunities, by an increasingly self proclaimed sophisticated Madman team, leads still to a still simple image though within a more defined market demographic.
That advertising works isn’t in dispute, that the advertisers continue to strive to find better and more efficient ways to ‘drive awareness’ will come as a surprise to no-one, that it has – in the main – moved on from the projections of Sabrina, except as a device of irony, nostalgia or distancing, should also be of no surprise. And so my concern, perhaps my overriding concern at this juncture, in this course, is whether I am being encouraged to consider that to sell my work I need to develop a conversation with an audience for that purpose? Whether I need to understand how my market works, to consider how to engage with it? Refine my approach to it in order to develop that ‘market’ for it? Although I actually think at this stage that the notion that I need to sell my work is being seen as a validation of the course’s effectiveness, rather than whatever sense of self awareness I might have been able to explore and comprehend. If I wanted to construct a ‘landscape with a few animals or people in the foreground; mainly in blue’, which is, according to some research quoted by Grayson Perry in his recent Reith lecture, the most popular art product, then what would I need to attend this course for? I could as a commentator on the Kessel’s blog post simply converse with my customer base and make stuff that appeals to them. To make beautiful work in gold and ruby red (and a lot of sapphire blue) without the least notion of it’s relevance to me other than my wallet. Roll up, roll up!
This image found on the pile in Arles, presumably by the staff constructing Kessel’s installation holds more fascination to me than the pretty photographs of North America above. I have no notion of the context or narrative that surrounds this found image, but I know all about those beautiful black and white prints rendered so expertly in a continuous tone which, when I used to sell stuff, sold quite well – there are plenty of them on walls in this country and others.