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Art Directors Club 86th Invitational poster art

DECEMBER 22, 2006
poster illustration by N. Kox
There has been some heated discussion in the chat boards regarding the most recent Call for Entries poster for the Art Directors Club 86th competition. This discussion raises important issues on the variety  of opinions illustrators have about training and professionalism and how illustrators relate to fine art. Perhaps more importantly, it raises larger questions about any art's (specifically Outsider Art) relation to the market and how design and illustration feed off of that market. My presumption here, to be perfectly clear, is that Design and Illustration, are by nature reactionary: they find their life in response to someone else's demands. [Link to larger image of the ADC/Kox poster]
detail: "The Garden of Earthly Delights" (Hell) by Heironymous Bosch
I hope that at some point, the Art Directors Club might explain their thinking is choosing this image for their poster. I presume that they appreciate the topical and apocalyptic subject matter and the unschooled art technique. Both of these traits are in vogue so it's not surprising that they attempt to shock. We've come to expect as much.

Blurring the boundaries… or are we?
As Robert Zimmerman helpfully pointed out, the ADC selected a painting by Norbert Kox for the poster. Kox is an American outsider Christian religious painter. His original paintings are sought after by collectors. He has his own schtick and he's the real thing. So, is the ADC appropriating his good-bad art to emphasize their good-bad trendy image? Maybe an image by Heironymous Bosch would work or is that too acceptable?

Outsider art is in
Outsider art (graffiti, kids, religious iconography, stencil, comic book, pin-ups, Japanese cute, etc.) are part of a currently appropriate set of icons and mark-making strategies that is prevalent today. The emotional power of this style is seductive. It's ability to be opaque and ironic is useful for editorial and is  increasingly used in corporate adaptations.
Bill, the chimp, settling in to paint a picture. source: The Eureka Reporter
It is scary for trained artists to see unschooled and passionate "visionaries" getting all the acclaim. Perhaps it's just the swing of the pendulum. As professional image makes (as opposed to visionaries) we should be used to this sort of shift in taste. It's nothing new and by our very nature, we are probably incorporating elements of "what is currently fashionable" into our work in some small (or big) way. Personally, I find the poster to be mostly unimpressive. Appropriation of outsider art just doesn't shock or inspire. It's just another strategy that confirms the derivative and conservative nature of much cultural activity today.

What will you do?
I suggest the following: Make art that is as honest as possible that accurately acknowledges the forces that lead to its creation. All are legitimate. Reflect often on how lucky you are to be able make pictures on a daily and, hopefully obsessive, basis. Let the rest of the poseurs do what they may.
Topical: Just thinking