by Art Chantry
macintosh. 1984 sales brochure. the big pitch on the cover? it’s portable!! it even comes with your own little backpack to tote it around in!
inside it’s a wonder of early science as ‘magic.’ the graphic programs they show you are downright laughable (compared to the CG tech of today). the screen format is primitive at best. the cut-away diagrams will make you giggle. the accessories they offer are so unimaginitive that you wonder if this technology has any future at all (security locks – with cables!, crude printers, plug-in numeric keypads!) they even have a testimonial by a young bill gates talking about how great the mac is (he looks like he’s about 16 years old.) this thing is like listening to les paul and comparing it to lady gaga, looking for connections bewteen then and now.
i distinctly remember when this product hit the market. it was a threat to my entire career. i could see what was going to happen the moment i watched it demonstrated. EVERYBODY was going to do their own graphic design in the future – a culture of complete and utter DIY. there will be NO NEED to hire a freelance graphic designer (like me) within the next decade. everything i’d ever strived for and struggled to learn and master was going obsolete in a puff of smoke.
so, i actually attempted to plan for it. i’d already had the experience of literally teaching my style of this graphic design language to an entire geographic reagion (the northwest) in order to actually create a market that i could get hired in. so, the idea of figuring out how survive this amazing new tool should be possible. i thought about it and came to the conclusion that in order to practice the language of graphic design as the art/craft i learned to do and perform it how i wanted to create it, i would have to position myself at the very tip top of the design industry – in that tiny little slice you might call ‘the idea people’ (computers STILL don’t have ‘idea’ buttons.)
i saw the computer as being quite capable of decimating the graphic design population. i figured that after it reached maturity and acceptance, there would be (maybe) about 10% of graphic designers left who actually did real graphic design the way i had worked so hard to master. but, i was wrong – it was more like 5%.
i needed to be in a place where people would come to me and hire me not because they needed a “graphic designer” (they could do that themselves), but because they wanted somebody who could think and had useful ideas to incorporate in their efforts. i essentially had to learn how to position myself as an idea person not too unlike the way a ‘fine’ artist operates in their own market.
yeah, things changed. i saw the ‘c’-level designers and the many support industries (typesetting, illustrators, photographers, proofreaders, etc.) collapse and disappear almost immediately. it took much longer to erase the “B” level and the more seriously technological services (pre-press, printers.) but, they eventually went away, too. the “A” level designers today are holding on by the skin of their teeth and are now subject to the whims of fashion more than ever before. whereas a graphic designer’s career in the past could last an entire lifetime, a successful designer today has a much shorter lifespan. in today/out tomorrow. just like fashion, graphic design has become a shallow pop commodity.
so, now i find myself selling my name and not my design skills. people hire me because they want something that looks like an “art chantry” (or maybe even just have my name on it for some sort of imagined credibility.) i often get hired by art directors to ‘fix’ the ‘art chantry style’ style piece they failed at faking – “just make this look more like your work.” the trick now is to figure out exactly which style, which exploration in my own past, that they associate with ‘art chantry”. once i figure that out (a q&a period of information gathering i required) i can literally copycat that old style (of my own) and give them exactly what they think they are asking for. i rarely get to do what i’m actually ‘into ‘ these days. nobody wants that, they want what they think is ‘cool.’ in a postmodern era, that commodity of ‘cool’ is basically ‘retro’. my work has now officially become an appropriated retro style (of my own invention) that i have to fake in order to make a living myself. i get hired to fake MYSELF, now. so strange.
so, my career, survived somehow, yes. but, it sure isn’t what i thought it would be. people no longer hire me to do ‘graphic design’. they hire me to do ‘art chantry’. just like an “artist.” the wonders of this little brochure i show you here is that it changed everything so profoundly in my life that, even though i stood still doing exactly
i’ve always done in exactly the same way, the world around me shifted and my chosen career/craft /artform abandoned me. it went left, then up and then “over there…’ so, now what i have left is that i seem to be an “artist” – and have to figure out how to sell myself like one. i have to re-invent myself one more time.
oh, man. here we go again….
AC:i remember on antiques roadshow once somebody brought in one of these that was autographed by steve wosniak (sp?). they said with was worth around 10 grand….yes, i think our collective standards have eroded terribly when it comes to graphic design. it’s barely a language any more – it’s more of an urban slang style. it’ll change as we age, but right now it’s scary ignorant….