Sunday, February 20, 2011
There is no canvas
I have a strange job. I'm one of few people running a full BFA/MFA strategy department. If I'm wrong about that, please let me know. (Are there many of you out there? Let's grab more beers...) I know about the CCA MBA in design strategy - which I think is a wonderful idea. (The MFA-MBA discussion is a fun one - I suggest you start following the path here.) That is for another discussion.
Anyway - as people who have taken my class will tell you, I take this situation pretty darn seriously. What does it mean to teach strategy at an art school? Again, that is a longer, later conversation.
But, I do look to art for my inspiration. I have to tell you, I recently found something that keeps rolling around in my head: Fuck the canvas.
I think the canvas gets WAY too much credit. Furthermore, many people who are making decisions about how companies and people interact and communicate continue to place too much weight on the idea of a canvas.
First, I should give credit to those that are thinking in terms of canvas - that is a good first step. Because at least you are paying attention to the important idea - there is no audience. You have to make something interesting enough to draw people in - you don't get to blast away at us anymore. (Dan Gillmor and his brilliance also coming later - dang, I have many blog posts to write.)
Canvases for paintings were originally developed in the Renaissance. The word originates from cannabis because hemp was the original material of choice (not because of common stereotypes about artists.) This history seems to be one of those fascinating invention opportunities where all the shipping→sailing→sails→canvas going in/out of Italy during the 1500s led to uncommon resource availability to the Italian Renaissance painting peeps.
Canvas is wonderful for painting because it is durable, uniform, controlled and very un-present. It continues to be the preferred medium for most painting, I think.
Canvases allow the artist to control as much of the statement as possible and to predict what will happen when they create. The artist is in the 99th-percentile in deciding what is going to be pushed out to people.
That is how communications used to work. But those days are over. And we are creating something new right this moment. It is time to drop the idea of control over the canvas.
I prefer to think of sculpture, especially pieces like the Zimbabwe stone sculpture I recently had the pleasure of experiencing for a couple of hours. [Seriously, if you are flying out of ATL - it is worth getting there earlier just for this exhibit - despite the ridiculously shameful lighting.] The work is moving, but highly dependent on the stone - its color, shape, texture, size. While the artist still maintains most of the control - there is still an understanding that you are working with the stone. You have to find the appropriate stone to get your message. There is an awareness in stone-hunting that is not available to canvas-buying.
The material is more powerful and flexible - but the artist has to raise her/his awareness of that core material which evokes the mind, heart and gut of the person interacting with the piece. (This idea is one of the reasons I'm so excited about Koji Takei teaching a creativity class with us.) Communications is remarkably malleable and diverse today, but it demands more respect than ever. It requires more participation and awareness from the creators and participants. No longer do we go pick-up a canvas to splash our grand message - we now thoughtfully craft an appropriate interaction with material and people.
at 11:10 AM