by Arnie Fenner
One of the responsibilities of my current job is to identify and suggest a certain number of properties for consideration as calendars. The ideas get pitched to a committee of editors and sales reps: sometimes I get a hit, most times I strike out. The reasoning behind a rejection can be clear-cut ("Already being done by a competitor"), financial ("They want too much money"), a matter of function ("Doesn't lend itself to the format"), market awareness ("I don't get it: why would someone buy this and how do we reach them?"), or differences in taste ("Sloths creep me out"). I've heard all manner of justifications to say "no" through the years, but there's one that always sticks in my craw:
"It's too old fashioned."
I'm often suggesting art-focused calendars (duh) and, though I won't mention them, you'd be flabbergasted if I told you the names of some of those so blithely rejected by the committee.
When I hear the "too old fashioned" comment (and I've heard it numerous times from different people of all ages during my tenure as an art director) the thought balloon over my head is always the same. Those of you that have read my past MC posts know what my favorite word is, so you can fill in the blank. (I know Lauren already has because I learned it from her…no, I kid. Not really. My favorite word predates our friendship. F##kwad is actually the word Lauren taught me.)
Above: Okay: Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, and Frank Frazetta. Two were working nonstop in comics during the early 1960s, one was not. By the standards of 1961, which of the above artists was considered "too old fashioned" and couldn't get hired? If you guessed Frazetta, ding ding ding, you're right. "I couldn't get work anywhere!" Frank said. "I could've done anything they asked, but they told me I was too old fashioned and wouldn't give me a chance." Frazetta, of course, eventually had the last laugh.
Why is it that when these…oh, nincompoops, ding-dongs, boobs, philistines…trot out that casual dismissal do I get my shorts in a bunch? Simple.
It's because they're wrong.
Well…at least in my opinion. My view is that art is never "old fashioned." Not the technique, not the colors, not the style, not the subject. Art is art and there is always an appropriate use, an exciting application (speaking commercially) that can make any art fit with the times; sometimes it just takes a little thought and a little imagination to make it work.
Above: An artist named "Stan" created these fake vintage VHS boxes for contemporary TV shows. Hold on, let me sit down; I'm having flashbacks.
It's design (which includes layout, typography, and, yes, art direction) that sets a tone and can cause works to either feel "new" or make art seem out-of-date and dusty. Design by it's nature is purposely of it's time; fresh, "hip," cool, or "swaggalicious," reflecting current tastes and trends. And naturally, tastes and trends go out of—and sometimes right back into—fashion PDQ. "Retro chic" is a term batted around these days for art that was once deemed "old" or quaint but is now embraced as cutting edge (think Charley Harper). Typography, too, also tends to date quickly, but in the right hands it can be turned on its head and take on an entirely different look, feel, and personality.
Above: Ah, Helvetica. So classic (i.e. old) and yet so goddamn fresh when used right. No matter what anyone says, no matter how much it might be derided, no one can deny that it simply works for an infinite number of uses—and has for nearly 50 years. This funny piece by Rami Niemi was created for the Art Directors Club.
But art? Good art? I think it's timeless—and, again speaking from a commercial art perspective—can always be current and fresh when in the hands of a skilled designer and art director.
Above: Chip Kidd is a master of using "vintage" images to create contemporary and incredibly vibrant book covers. And he makes it look so easy, too, dammit. There oughta be a law.
Am I all wet thinking that way? Oh, I'm sure there are those who think so. My job as an artist, designer, and art director is to create (or direct the creation of) work that is plugged into the sensibilities of a contemporary audience. But "new" is merely a matter of interpretation—and everything is new, everything has its place, if you view it with a new perspective, if you provide a new context, understanding, or appreciation. To me, nothing is "old fashioned" when looked at from a different angle with a fresh set of eyes.
Old fashioned attitudes? Well, those are something else entirely.