1950s House of the Future Illustration courtesy plan59.com
For visual artists absorbing too much reality through our sensitive microphone eyes is akin to making car designers work in the scrap yard, endlessly undoing what they had hoped to create. The creative mind works overtime to conjure an escape in such repressive conditions, but it is invariably populated by the nightmares absorbed through daily life. As a visual culture our collective attitudes, be they negative or positive, inevitably become the raw material for our creations. And that’s why I prefer the phrase “Doom and Gloom” to "Reality" because you can’t say it without infusing the appropriate twinge of sarcasm and ironic detachment, as if you know thinking in such a way is self-defeating but you accept it as the premise for contemporary dialogue. So enough of this "Let's be realistic" nonsense, at least when it borders on the visual domain. Anyway, what’s wrong with us? Please let it be that optimism isn’t an endangered visual language. I hate to say it, but having been modified, corn-syruped, and made ubiquitous by Pepsi’s new add campaign, the Obama symbol has lost a little that initial luster of hopeful delusion and is seeming more and more like how the business of reality is done.
If you think the odds are against the collective subconscious lightening up a bit, consider that at least in the microcosm of my own experience, a similar rebirth has happened before in our history. No, not the birth of the color movie musical in the heart of the Great Depression, nor the glorious invention of the printing press that opened up the imagination to overcome the Dark Ages. I am referring instead, to the subtle change in the tone of print illustration in the mid 1990’s. I was at design school at the time and witnessed this transition first hand. Its effect on me resulted in my subject matter shifting from the Holocaust to singing birds and multi-colored, patchwork trees. When I started design school in 1996 the preference of major publications was for the work of Marshall Arisman, Brad Holland, Sebastian Kruger, Jonathon Rosen, and the aforementioned H.R.Giger. By the time I left in 1999 their reign had been seceded to the Clayton Brothers, Anita Kuntz, Mark Ryden, Barry Blitt, Gary Baseman, and a handful of other apostles of humor and color. I still see it as a very welcome change and one that hasn’t yet been convincingly overturned.
Tastes shifted from gritty illustrators like Marshall Arisman (above) in the early 1990s to more colorfull and cartoony illustrators like Mark Ryden (below) in the late 1990s.
So hopefully the noticeable lack of joy from these auto companies is simply a reflection of how much it sucks to be an automaker right now, and I pray that this sort of heavy handed practicality doesn’t overwhelm the whimsy in our lives, especially the dreams of our future. I’m just saying that the environment is ripe for sunnier sensibilities to prosper. For example, I hope Spike Jonze’s upcoming adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are is good, because I’d love to celebrate a story about a boy who dreams of vicious monsters but instead of being devoured, is delusional enough to be made their king.