pushing their hubris everywhere

by Art Chantry ( art@artchantry.com)

i guess this is an exercise in whining. so bear with me.

over my entire career ive done and AWFUL LOT of work for small arts groups and non-profits and community organizations. i guess you might say that i did so much of this sort of work that i, in effect, gave away my entire ‘prime earning years’. combine that with doing posters and record covers for local rock bands for a $50-100 a pop and you begin to see my folly. but, that’s ok. i knew the job was dangerous when i took it. i’ve always been a bad businessman – by choice, in fact.

---the reality of this situation is also quite different for me than for 99% of graphic designers out there. at this late point in my career (like i pointed out in an earlier comment), nobody hires me to do 'graphic design' any more. they hire me to do "art chantry". so, even though i still do exactly the same process i've always done, the graphic design profession sorta moved to the left and away from me, leaving me behind. i work as an 'artist' now. i don't want to and i don't like it, but that's what they are buying from me. 'graphic design' and 'fine art" are such very different beasts (that sorta look the same). i'm in an odd transitional place doing one but called and hired as the other. i'm actually in the process of making that transition professionally right now. so, in a major way, i'm actually walking away from my chosen profession of "graphic design". seems so weird - i AM a designer, not an artist. yet, the realities of today have so confused things that i'm forced to act to survive. but, the positive side is that i might just be able to set the rules for hiring me, rather than the client setting the rules for hiring me. it'll be interesting to see how that works out.---AC

but, back about 25-30 years ago, non-profit organizations figured out a great way to entice corporations ot give them money. sponsorship! the corporate greedheads give them money to, say, put on a play – and they get to say they sponsored it all over the group’s advertising for that play. becasue there was so little money involved, that basically meant placing my client placed corproate logos in the poster design and the ads, etc. corportaions loved it because they get to grab all that ‘good will’ and free advertising and stuff and they got to (in turn) write their advertising budgets off of their taxes. everybody wins (except the american public, i guess, who get shafted out of that enormous tax base.)

well, not EVERYbody wins, really. unlike today’s gigposter kids who design ‘art prints’ based solely on their ‘muse’ (that they sell to collectors), i had to actually satisfy client’s demands with my posters. it’s the nature of what a graphic designer actually does – we’re part of the sales arm of the client. in reality, this often means they are our BOSS and we smply often become a metaphorical WRIST for them. at best it a real collaboration and at worst it’s bullying. again, no big deal – i knew the job was dangerous when i took it. i would get paid a few small dollars (the very definition of ‘non-profit’ is NO MONEY) and i get claim to the creative work to eventually promote myself to supposedly get better praying work (i guess. that never seemed to really happen, tho.) seemed sorta one-sided, but, again, it’s what i wanted to do.

the problem here is when corporations step in and start demanding control. since they gave the group money, they want to ‘get’ something for it. that means blocks of free tickets, even MORE recognition in the group’s advertising and the ability to dictate HOW the sponsorship is used. i can’t tell you how many times i designed a great poster, only to have the corporate sponsor step into the middle of the project and suddenly say they ‘don’t like pink’, or to ‘make the logo bigger’. then the battles would begin.

as time went on, guys like me lost entirely. even today (in fact, just last week, thus this essay), i do great little posters design for a non-profit group. the latest one (last week) the actual artwork and design took me an afternoon (it was a rush. but, i’m used to rush jobs – git ‘er done!) but, then the corporate sponsors stepped in and started to dictate WHERE they wanted their logos, how BIG they wanted them, even what ORDER they were placed. given the control the client (the non-profit) gives them, given their way, their logo would be the entire poster – such is their avarice and greed. this little poster i just did (in an afternoon) took and extra FIVE DAYS to get the logos placed in a satisfying manner for the corproate sponsors. that almost killed the schedule and almost caused the poster to not get printed at all – no time left to actually post the thing to advertise the event. that seems really stupid.

this gets complicated when there are many corporate sponsors (they are so stingy with their money that it takes many corprorate sponsors to put on a play, for instance.) the MOST corporate logos i ever had to put on a single poster was (believe it or not) 38 corporate logos!! it filled fully HALF of the space on the poster when i placed them into the artwork. when the client ( a young amatuer woman unused to to corporate bullying) saw the poster, she actually burst into tears! it was for a small pool tournament for charitity! that’s all it was and the corproate dudes all wanted all the creditt for everything. i didn’t even bother to keep any copies of that particular poster. it looked awful. i did it for free, too. it was for CHARITY, remember?

this old poster i show you today was done for a small theater group back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. when i say small, i mean SMALL – they held their plays in an old bathhouse and had a maximum capacity of 75 people (inlcuding actors). they could sell out every night and still lose money! this poster was printed on newsprint (because it was so cheap) and it’s a great poster (even if i do say so myself). i really loved this design. but, the corporate clients (and the new marketing person at the theater group – who was a total shrinking violet type) let the corporate sponsors dictate that the logos had to go across the TOP of the play title and had to be fully 1/2 the height of the title type! i fought like mad to try to even get them placed at the bottom – to no avail. the new marketing whimp said ‘yes’ and that was that. so, i ruined this beautiful poster design by having to place all the corproate logos across the top like this. in fact after the theater head honcho saw this, he declared that would never happen again and fired the new marketing gal (they were a dime a dozen, anyway). all the logos went to the bottom after that. at least the guy had the cajones to stand up and say NO. this made him a rare and good client in my eyes. but, this poster is embarrassing to look at now.

my girlfirend – who worked for non-profits and then later for corporations – still argues that it’s a great way to get funding and everybody wins. but, my point is more selfish and arrogant and subtle. it seems to me that i should get some say in this situation. after all , this poster is part of my creative output – my ‘art’ (as it were) and that corproate logo is being placed in my artwork FOREVER! think about it. for a tiny amount of money, a corporation gets to piggy-back on an “ART CHANTRY” poster (caps entirely my own) until the end of time. my posters are collectible and they sell for hundreds – even thousands – of dollars. they get published in hundreds of books, shown in galleries all over the world, collected by and displayed in museums (including the museum of modern art, the smithsonian, the louvre and even the rock and roll hall of fame.) and everywhere that poster goes, it gets to plug “verizon” or “paul allen” or whatever. i mean, that’s a hell of a good deal for those corporations. so, why don’t i

paid a little, too? to do the poster itself, i got paid barely enough to buy a six-pack.

it’s such a good deal for the corporate bad boys that they assume it’s their RIGHT. but, would picasso let some bank put their logo on his painting just because they gave some money to his patron? NO. he’d want a cut of the action, too. am i right? now, i’m not saying i’m picasso or anything, but my work HAS been considered important in the history of graphic design and even important ‘modern art’. it really doesn’t seem fair that this is allowed to happen with such indifference. i have corporate logos on maybe 75% of the posters i’ve done at this point. and nobody ever even asked me how i felt about it.

so, i have a pet peeve about coprorate logos on my posters. i tell people up front when they hire “art chanty”, that i consider this a problem. if you consider that they never hire me as just a ‘graphic designer’ anymore (they hire me becasue they want my name – just like an artist), you’d imagine they would care what i said. but, no.

why do they get to sell ad space on my artwork and NOT split it with me? imagine somebody selling corporate logo ad space on your personal tattoos (that you live with forever) and not letting you have any say-so or even any profit from it? crazy. but, it’s the way i feel about this.

graphic design is a part of advertising and marketing. i know this better than most people alive. without a client, it isn’t really graphic design (it’s ‘fine’ art). however, the advertising ‘artifacts’ i create have a funny time-trigger automatically built into them: after the event is over, the product sold, the whole thing lost in the annals of time, the cleint disappeared, the poster is finished as advertising or even client involvement. yet, it is still sitting around in museums and books and my own portfolio. it’s no longer advertising anything at all except MY ARTWORK. it has literally BECOME my art. that is when i get to take possession of it entirely. nobody else can claim it because they are all gone and over and done with – excpet me. yet, that damned corproate logo is stil there pushing their hubris everywhere my art gets displayed for posterity and history‚Ķ.

…pissing me off for the rest of my life.

ADDENDUM:

AC:i’d also like to point out that in the advertising/marketing field (that graphic design is generally linked through), the actual ‘clients’ you end up working directly with – marketing directors even the more lowly art directors and so on. the result is that the chain of command is always above them and these individuals are without the power to make decisions for their group by themselves. the actual decision making is made above them and anonymously (like the ‘legal’ department – faceless staff lawyers, for instance. or ‘editors’. or the boss’s wife.) now, nobody would agree to working for anonymous staff lawyer calling all the creative decisions – that’s a recipe for a nightmare. so, the friendly face (your contact) will tell you anything, promise ANYTHING just to get you to do the gig. i can’t tell you how many times i’ve been told in advance that there would be no logo problems only to find a meat grinder of corporate sayso at the end stage. basically, you have to approach your clients as if they are liars. it’s a sad truth in this business. every agreement has to be in writing or there is NO agreement at all. the same thing comes to getting samples of your work or PAY(!) or anything at all. basically, you have to assume the client will tell you anything you want to hear to get that work done. then, once it’s in their hands, they try to forget you ever existed. 40 years of freelance work has taught me this is the real way of businessmen everywhere. if you don’t CYA in writing, you are a fool. and i’m a big fool (i know it).

… non-profits get it for free: therefore you aren’t worth anything: therefore you are no good. it’s a weird equation that got me trapped in seattle as the ‘go-to’ guy if you had no money. in fact, it got to the point where other designers would refer freebie clients to me because they knew i’d do it. it got pretty silly. and, … as soon as they got a budget to spend, they’d go out and hire an “expensive’ designer (aka, my competition) because they were ‘good’ because they cost so much (unlike me who worked for cheap). i even remember non-profit clients excitedly calling me up to tell me they hired my competition for ‘real’ money to design their new whatever – and then didn’t understand why i didn’t get all excited for them since they were ‘graduating up.’ so weird. so it goes. i became REALLY good at making silk purses out of sow’s ears working that way. skills i still use to survive even today. i can perform miracles out of absolutely nothing at this point….

…now that everybody uses words like ‘fonts’ and ‘branding’ in their everyday speech – clients have become really dangerous. nothing is more dangerous to the design process than a client who thinks he knows design. … everybody is an artist if they only had the ‘time’. same goes for design, now. i think that’s and old hippie-world hangover – the idea that everybody is an artist deep inside. nonsense….

…i’m trying to remember how much i got paid to do this poster. i think it was $100. and the printing cost was around $150. a thousand newsprint posters, pre-folded and ready to mail for $150. now, that’s CHEAP! the guy who was paid to hang the posters around town was paid made three times as much i got paid (he was the only guy who made a living on this process – because had a monopoly). people think i LIKED printing my work on newsprint. not true at all. but, it’s what we could afford. all my samples of this that i saved are starting to disintegrate now….

… after i discovered this cheap newsprint system for getting posters done with no money, suddenly everybody thought it looked cool and began to print the same way (also because it was cheap). the ‘expensive’ designers began to copycat my printing process because it gave their otherwise really expensive work look like ‘street’ work. it became a seattle system of instant ‘cred.’ before i knew it, i couldn’t get my cheap client’s posters printed because the printers were booked up with my competitor’s posters – which they were getting paid something like 3 grand to design. that happened to me a lot in seattle. whatever i could come up with was copycatted within a month by all my competitors. i had keep running like a mofo to stay an inch ahead of the pack….

… in all honesty, i’m very happy with the way my sordid career turned out. i wouldn’t trade my life experiences with anyone. but, making even a middle class living would have been awful nice. i do regret trusting a lot of people who weren’t worthy of my trust. but, how do you go into a work relationship without some trust? it’s a conundrum. just the same, i wouldn’t believe in the “creative community” like i once did. i used to think “what goes around, comes around.” so, i gave people a lot, thinking that it would benefit me in the long run. but, it never came ‘back around’. i should have been a little smarter than that. turns out i was a good ‘mark.’ not any more….

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