A New Can of Soup

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

(note: this is part 5 in this week’s 5-part series on the brandification of our lives)

Although Andy Warhol didn’t exhibit his first art show until 1962, I think we’ve been seeing art as brands since the late 19th Century…or perhaps forever.

If we define a brand as "the perceptual aggregation of qualities that constitute the experience of something," then the corollary fits perfectly. Nobody experiences art separate from the influences of context:

  • There’s no such thing as pure music, or painting, or literature
  • We can no more limit our use of our senses (inputs of sound can’t be isolated totally from whatever our eyes or noses are picking up) than we can control how we interpret what comes in (experience is as much creative process internally as it is reception of external content, if not more so)
  • So I say we’ve been engaging with brands ever since somebody got to see that precious little twerp Wolfie Mozart play one of his prodigy inventions. Or first viewed a painting, or a bard read a poem aloud. 
  • You can’t separate the experience of seeing embers floating into the sky as you hear the words and smell the trees. Or whatever

We use all of our senses for every art experience, even if we prioritize those inputs, and then mush it all up in our minds (and hearts). 

Consumption of culture is a multi-media experience, irrespective of technology or medium.

But is art branded the same way as, say, toothpaste? Can the context of art experiences be contrived in such a way as to ensure consistency over time? Or, are art brands simply symbols, like badges we wear ("I like this band because they’re so like me," or "that artist speaks directly to my soul.")?

I don’t think it’s as simple as putting a label on a soup can. 

By definition, artists change; in fact, those that stay reasonably consistent are those that risk becoming either:

  1. Disconnected from their original audiences, who will think them stale, or
  2. Staying just different every time to develop loyal fans, like those fiction authors, musicians, painters, and movie-makers who consistently produce ever-new permutations of the same work. Repeat performances are thus made fresh

Is consistency, then, the enemy of pure art?   

You already know what I think: there’s no such thing as pure art, per se. So consistency is as much an accomplishment as it is a limit to creative expression.

Perhaps Aeschylus and Rembrandt were the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Andy Warhol of their times. Shakespeare certainly entertained returning audiences, just as Michelangelo was hired because he could do his "thing" on a variety of horizontal as well as vertical surfaces.

Maybe the truth of art is in the experience of it, even if the purchase (or adoption) is driven by brand awareness. We might have brand preferences, but without product innovation, the brands eventually lose their relevance, meaning, and value.

Artists might be brands, but art isn’t? This dim bulb is flickering at the thought. Don’t confuse it with proof of an idea, however.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/05/a-new-can-of-so.html