Recently, I blogged about “boxes”, so I thought I would take the opportunity to revisit a piece of art I made a few years ago on this very theme. This was the album cover to our album Formulas. The artwork (and the associated song) deals with the age old theme of categorization. We (Waler) felt that music was being reduced to three easily manageable chunks, Rock, Pop and Urban. Any artist, song or movement that didn’t fit was being squeezed in to one of these moulds for the sake of convenience.
When I look at the artwork now, I am able to see it for what it is. Although I am very proud of the album, and to some extent the artwork, I am now able to view it more objectively. Although the artwork is arguably quite a good illustration of the album’s concept, it is also rather juvenile in that it aims to shock. The image of meat being squeezed through a child’s shape sorter was always quite unpleasant, and aroused fairly negative reactions when people saw it. This pleased me quite a lot as “getting a reaction” is basically the point of art. Or so I thought.
Being (slightly) older and wiser now, this bothers me. Provocation is a part of art and I don’t have a problem with that. The difficulty I have is the lack of questioning of this idea on my own part. I never asked “Why does art have to shock?” or “Why is this the main point of art?”. Looking back, I can see that this album, and Waler in general actually, was part of the artistic tradition that came from Dada. It is deconstructive in nature, and is always attacking, questioning and deconstructing the culture around it. As I said, this approach has its place, but it is NOT THE ONLY WAY. That is what I didn’t know back then.
This particular approach to art has truth as its goal. It aims to rip away the glossy facade that consumerism has created, to reveal a reality which may be ugly, but is nevertheless THE TRUTH. The problem is that, if everyone is doing this, it creates a whole world of ugliness. Thus the power of the gesture, even if done well, is undermined. We are not living in a society that is shocked by ugliness, it seems.
This was highlighted to me when we later produced a poster to promote the album.
Naturally, the cover image was used for the poster as we considered it a striking image that would stop people in their tracks. Again, there was a vague feeling that the sight of this ugly image would spark a reaction, causing people to question the world around them.
What we discovered was that another if our posters was much more effective, even though there was no image at all, simply a yellow background with some text. For some reason this was more striking than the one that was trying to shock. Good design is ultimately more lasting and satisfying that shock tactics. It was more challenging to leave an empty space than to shock.
When I first wrote the song Formulas, I was trying to express the idea that we are not in control of our actions. We think are autonomous superbeings, but really we are following scripts written by shadowy figures we have never heard of. This was more true than I realised at the time.