A while back, I happened upon this brilliant comic by The Oatmeal.  As a graphic designer, I could totally relate to the following scenario (that happened many times during the course of my career).

(If any of the images aren’t loading – find the original comic here).

I’ve come across a number of websites and discussion threads dedicated to creatives bemoaning interfering clients who think they know better.

The Oatmeal makes an interesting point when he wonders whether clients would interfere with the design of a jet turbine for a commercial airplane (me thinks not).

But the problem with art is that it is NOT as cut and dried…  Take music, for example…

There are scary amounts of determined people who line up outside American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent (and other similar competitions)… to share their *talent* with the world – and in many cases…  there really isn’t any musical talent to speak of…

Here’s the kind of thing I’m talking about:

What flummoxes me about these auditions – is the people in question… who really… really… believe that they have beautiful voices – and they’re genuinely taken aback (if not downright offended) when the judges deliver the harsh truth:  “That sounded awful!  You can’t sing!”.

Does that mean they’re a lost cause?  No!  I’m sure that those people have other talents they can focus on.

Does that mean they should NOT… ever… sing?  No…  I think that everyone has the right to do what makes them happy.  If singing makes you happy – then sing away!  But perhaps re-think a singing career – especially if people are rolling on the floor and laughing at your voice.

But then again (and here’s where I contradict myself)… there are people that have proved the so-called professionals very wrong.  And far be it from me to diss the so-called “bad” singers / artists / writers out there who are doing pretty darn well for themselves, thank-you-very-much  (a case in point:  the Shades of Grey lady).

And that’s what’s difficult about the arts (whether fine art, graphic design, dance, music, drama, photography and everything else in-between)…  it’s sooo subjective!

My in-laws have stuff in their home (lots of stuff, mind you)… that I consider to be garish, kitsch and an assault on the eyes.  Don’t worry, the feelings are mutual.  They don’t like our taste in art or interior decor either.  And that’s fine, I guess…

But who is “right” – and who is “wrong”?

Is there such a thing as universally ugly art?  Or music?

Is Simon Cowell “right” when he announces that the people in those Idols auditions cannot sing?

Am I “wrong” when I insist that the following pictures are examples of awful logo design and embarrassing album design:

I mean… someone must have loved it, right?  Someone must have thought it was amazing – or it wouldn’t be “out there” for the world to see…. (?)

And if someone loved it – is there not the possibility that, if viewed through another set of eyes, that it could actually be quite beautiful?  That it could actually be… (*gulp*)…. ART?

And how about these ornaments:

I mean… someone’s gotta love them?  Right?  Or they wouldn’t be proudly photographed and displayed online!!  Is it *wrong* for me to scrunch up my nose and go:  “Ew! That’s unforgivably ugly!”… (?)

Maybe it is wrong.

And maybe it’s judgemental too.

Because I’m pretty sure there would be a small army of people who’d be scrunching up their noses and “Ew’ing” at stuff that I’ve created – my cooking being a case in point… or even my fashion-sense… (or lack thereof)…. and maybe they’d even “Ew!” at stuff that I figure I’ve got waxed… like my illustration… or my songwriting.

Is there some kind of *right* or *wrong* about what art IS… or ISN’T?

Do we have the right to criticise and express our disgust at other people’s creations?

I’m in two minds about this – so your thoughts are appreciated!….

There’s a second dimension of this topic I’d like to discuss… and it’s about the comic at the top of the page.  It happens (frequently) that… as creative professionals… our tastes and style clash violently with the tastes and style of our clients.

Do we cede to the inevitable?  That the client is always “right”?  Do we sacrifice our own creative integrity for the sake of keeping the client happy (and receiving his payment at the end of the day)…?

Sure, in an ideal world – we’d only create art for clients or projects that we believed in.  We’d only work for (and with) people who shared similar tastes, ideas and ideals.  I think that every creative professional dreams of this scenario. We want to feel excited and passionate about our work and projects… (and most of the time – we aren’t!).

I mean – how excited can you really get about designing marketing material for a new investment product?

Or writing some advertising copy for an insurance company?

Or composing a jingle for a new brand of laundry detergent?

I think every creative professional (unless you’re at the very top of your game and can pick and choose who you want to work with – or not)… has had to… adjust… or compromise their art – in some way – so that it fits in with the tastes and world-views of a paying client.

And… as with many things in life, it all boils down to the money.

Like the comic at the top of this post, both Nick and I (and numerous other creative professionals) have given birth to numerous “abominations” – mostly in order to please paying clients.  We suck it up – and we give them what they want.

I’m not saying that this is true of EVERY project…  I’m saying this is true of some projects.

But each time we do… each time we’re forced into a corner and we comply (out of a fear of losing the client – and their money)….  each time our clients persuade us to use the “Brush Script” font… or “Comic Sans”… or add a (*swallowing bile*) watermark…each time a photographer is asked to add a heart-shaped vignette to their wedding photo… each time a musician is told to “tone down” her chord structures because the client thinks it’s a bit “too weird” (and don’t get me started on the chimes)…  each time a filmmaker succumbs to another predictable, sweeping pan….  I think a tiny little piece of us feels like we’ve betrayed our creative souls, and our art.

And – if we do it enough – it eventually feels like we’re just… prostituting ourselves.  Pay-me-and-I’ll-do-whatever-you-want-me-to-do.  And we come to resent our art – instead of love it.

Which, I think, is a terrible shame.

I’m an example.  By the time I shut down my design studio – I wanted nothing more to do with graphic design… ever!  I had learned how to loathe the art form I used to love.

And Nick is also feeling pretty burned out and disillusioned about his art form.  Which, I think, is a terrible pity… especially for a filmmaker as gifted as he is.

I don’t have the answers – and we don’t live in an ideal world.  Creative professionals – like everyone else – have to earn a living and make money…  and often, they will be forced to “create abominations” for one reason:  payment.

Perhaps there are creative professionals out there with some wisdom on all this – and I’d love to hear it!

Perhaps there’s a way of separating work-for-clients and work-for-the-love-of-the-art – in a way that keeps us sane.

If someone has mastered this – I’d love to hear your thoughts!