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   February 2010
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Utah Art

Artists of Utah
Utah: Greatest Art on Earth?
Branding Utah's art world

Discussing the SLC Film Center's screening of Art & Copy this month (see below) our editorial staff got talking about advertising and Utah's art world. How could we go about telling the world -- and our fellow Utahns --about about our visual arts community? What's the right tone,? What will attract attention and give people a sense of what we are about? Would "Art Elevated" work? We do have art and we are above 4000 feet; but anyone who has been here in our winter inversion knows we're not quite elevated enough (see below below for Alex Haworth Johnstone's "Smog Lake City"). Should we co-opt another already established slogan, search for a tie-in with one of our biggest tourist attractions and tell everyone we have the "Greatest Art on Earth." We could, but would anyone buy that?

We scrapped those ideas and began toying around with more modest approaches. "Utah Art: Not Nearly as Bad as Wyoming's" came up. It could be part of a campaign, to be followed by, "Utah Art: Way Better than Idaho's." And that's as far as we got before our creative energies had to be turned to putting out this month's edition.

Have a better idea for how to brand the Utah art world and get our message out to the world? Send us your copy and/or art to editor@artistsofutah.org. More of a suit than a creative? But interested in the idea of a billboard advertising Utah art? Make a tax-deductible donation to our Artists of Utah Billboard fund.

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Film Review
The Allure of Advertising
Art & Copy at the Salt Lake Art Center

Art & Copy is a great ad for the advertising world. Watch it and you'll be ready to give up your day job, no matter how profitable or prestigious, to join the revolutionaries and visionaries who craft the messages that bombard us everyday.

Art & Copy does for advertising what Objectified -- screened last month by the Salt Lake Film Center and reviewed in these pages-- does for design. Both films are compelling portrayals of their respective fields. They even follow a similar format: a handful of creative, engaging people, successful in their fields, are interviewed individually and speak with great intensity about their careers and the joy of working in their field. They are shot in visually engaging settings, the cuts between speakers and themes eased by transitions filled with lavishly shot images of the inanimate aspects of the field, superimposed with statistical facts about the industry.

In Art & Copy's version of the advertising industry there is no hint of a Dilbert-like world of cubicles and bosses. Work here is play, whether it be that of a California surfer or a New York revolutionary. Workspaces are wonderfully decorated, open, filled with light and warm surfaces. Indoor basketball courts seem to be de rigeur. And the work you do is always exhilirating and creative, "touching" people and changing their lives.

In these creative individuals, artists will notice a family resemblance; the claim of kinship is made explicit by the advertisers, who compare themselves to the cave painters of France and Haiku poets of Japan. They'll seem to you like the cousin you dread seeing at family reunions, the one whose financial success, exciting travels, and beautiful family fill you with an envy so painful the only remedy is to remind yourself that you despise them as corporate sellouts. You, at least, do something worthwhile.

The story of Art & Copy is not about slaves of the corporate world; it is about a group of advertisers who, beginning in the late 1950s, created a brave new world of advertising. These are the Creatives, the hired hands that made art and copy for ads, who wrested control of the advertising industry from the Suits, that old boy network of titans of business made sleek and sexy in AMC's Madmen. This new guard brought us the understated but convincing ads of the Volkswagen bug, the politically charged image of Mohammed Ali as Saint Sebastian and the theatrical vignettes of The Rebel. They've continued to entertain us with campaigns like "Where's the Beef?" inspire us with Nike's "Just Do It" campaign and soothe us with Reagan's "It's Morning in America." These are the people that have made advertising so dynamic that 51 percent of respondents say they watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the game. We would hardly wish for the return of the boring ads from the 1950s introduced by, "And now a word from our sponsor."

If ads have become more entertaining and more touching, they have also become more powerful. And more pervasive. We receive five times more ads today than we did thirty years ago. As Jaron Lanier points out in his new book You Are Not a Gadget, internet sites like Google and Facebook are increasingly controlled by ad revenue and are developing ever more complicated ways to cater to, but also create, your wants. Advertising can, as George Lois says in the film, "change our perceptions." But not always in a good way. Lanier says, "If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than with truth or beauty." When this underside of the advertising world is touched upon in Art & Copy it is only by accident, and any possibly unsettling remarks are smoothed over with cinematic context. When Jeff Goodby describes advertising as "Art in the service of capitalism," it is said so cheerily and with such conviction, by a guy with long hair and in a t-shirt, that you might forget any idea of Marxist critique you ran into in your college classes. When Rich Silverstein, describing the genesis of the "Got Milk?" campaign, says that "Great advertising starts with something true," what is left unsaid is that it ends with you buying something. When you hear Mary Wells say, "you can manufacture any feeling you want to manufacture, you can create any feeling you want people to have," the film's cuts to a stunning shot of Times Square at night and then to cherry blossoms beneath a New York skyscraper, are so soothing that the unsettling comment glides past your consciousness and you simply find yoursef humming "I . . Love New York."

The Salt Lake City Film Cente will screen Art & Copy at the Salt Lake Art Center on Friday February 12th at 7 pm. The screening is free. It might be premature to speak of a "15 Bytes bump" but the staff at the Film Center tells us that at the last screening over two hundred people showed up. So you might want to arrive early.
You can also see the film this month in Park City, February 12 - 14, as part of the Park City Film Series. The screening is underwritten by Gallery MAR.

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Smog Lake City: Main Street from Dada Factory on Vimeo.

Hints 'n' Tips
Composition and Design

Composition (and design) has been -- with the possible exception of color -- the topic of more theories than any other aspect of painting. It has been studied, discussed, written about, theorized, pontificated on, and generally beaten to death for centuries by artists, art historians, critics and experts of all varieties. Unfortunately and understandably, a lot of what has been said has been confusing and sometimes even contradictory. The reason for this is plain: humans are involved!

Much of what we hear about composition results from opinions based on conventions that people have come up with over the centuries. One thing to remember about these conventions is, what looks “right” in one era, or culture might not in another. Opinions operate in much the same way, what looks right to one person doesn’t always look right to another. The bottom line is there are few hard and fast rules; just principles that help us create balanced compositions based on certain norms. These norms are derived from a certain way of seeing; in this case, the collective artistic understanding of Western Civilization, coupled with the ideas of countless individuals.

Not to worry though, much of the information out there is solid, culled from years and years of trial and error in the field of design; it’s just that so much of what has been said has been presented in such cryptic rhetoric that artists have been forced to search far and wide to glean information pertinent to what they do. The serious artist has to push past all the fluff in order to distill what is most useful in their work.

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My advice to those reading is not to be discouraged. The key to making sense of all this varied information is to reduce it to its least common denominator, so to speak, and putting the information to good use. If you are tired of all the theories and feel generally confused about composition and design, perhaps I can offer some suggestions that can serve as a springboard to better understanding. I would like to suggest several activities that will help the reader on the road to a better understanding of the subject.

1- Go to museums and look at good art; take notes and make sketches of the paintings you study.

2- Read everything you can get your hands on that has to do with composition; compare these different articles and books to find common threads that run through each.

3- Make a collection of paintings in magazines and study the ones you like regularly; sliding these into clear plastic page protectors and going over them with a wet erase marker, to diagram the compositional properties of each, is very helpful.

4- Read good books on the subject. I have found The Golden Ratio by Mario Livo, Composition in Art by Henry Rankin Poore, Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne all very helpful. I recently picked up another one -- The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert -- that offers a recipe for success called the “One Rule of Composition.” Albert’s book does a lot to cut through some of the mystery by simplifying the whole compositional process. It’s not the whole story, but it’s a great principle to sink your artistic teeth into. The one rule goes like this: “Never make any two intervals the same.” This also applies to the direction of angles and the relative sizes of each object or mass. The underlying principle is: making the various elements different proportions in the painting lends a visual excitement in the work, because the lack of visual predictability keeps things from being boring. Remember one thing, though: any rule of composition can become a rigid crutch that can squeeze the life out of your work. Use them as guiding suggestions, subject to artistic modification when done with wisdom.

5- Get critiques on your work by other experienced artists.

6- Draw, draw, draw and re-draw. I can’t say enough about this. Draw every day. Designing and re-designing, is the way to better compositions. Doing this is absolutely indispensible in the planning process for any large piece done in the studio; plein air is a little different in that you don’t have the luxury of time, but the same principles apply, only in modified form (the subject of a future article).

In closing, better compositions are a lifelong pursuit. I have shared some of my favorite books on the subject, if you have any that have impressed you, I would love to hear from you. My email is johnhughesstudio@yahoo.com. Until next time.

This article is one of a continuing series of Hints 'n' Tips articles about plein air and studio painting by Utah artist John Hughes. Hughes teaches landscape painting at Salt Lake Community College.

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