I read this essay today and had to share it. I could not agree more with the sentiment and the synopsis presented here. It is about as close to absolute truth as I think you can get right now. I am glad to see someone just saying it plainly and putting it out there for all of us to digest. Feel free to discuss your experiences or your take on this.

There is wisdom to be ganered here so please read it in full:

(I believe in lunatics)

It’s about the struggle between individuals with jagged passion in their work and today’s faceless corporate committees, which claim to understand the needs of the mass audience, and are removing the idiosyncrasies, polishing the jags, creating a thought-free, passion-free, cultural mush that will not be hated nor loved by anyone. By now, virtually all media, architecture, product and graphic design have been freed from ideas, individual passion, and have been relegated to a role of corporate servitude, carrying out corporate strategies and increasing stock prices. Creative people are now working for the bottom line.

Magazine editors have lost their editorial independence, and work for committees of publishers (who work for committees of advertisers). TV scripts are vetted by producers, advertisers, lawyers, research specialists, layers and layers of paid executives who determine whether the scripts are dumb enough to amuse what they call the ‘lowest common denominator’. Film studios out films in front of focus groups to determine whether an ending will please target audiences. All cars look the same. Architectural decisions are made by accountants. Ads are stupid. Theater is dead.

Corporations have become the sole arbiters of cultural ideas and taste in America. Our culture is corporate culture.

Culture used to be the opposite of commerce, not a fast track to ‘content’- derived riches. Not so long ago captains of industry (no angels in the way they acquired wealth) thought that part of their responsibility was to use their millions to support culture. Carnegie built libraries, Rockefeller built art museums, Ford created his global foundation. What do we now get from our billionaires? Gates? Or Eisner? Or Redstone? Sales pitches. Junk mail. Meanwhile, creative people have their work reduced to ‘content’ or ‘intellectual property’. Magazines and films become ‘delivery systems’ for product messages.

But to be fair, the above is only 99 percent true.

I offer a modest solution: Find the cracks in the wall. There are a very few lunatic entrepreneurs who will understand that culture and design are not about fatter wallets, but about creating a future. They will understand that wealth is means, not an end. Under other circumstances they may have turned out to be like you, creative lunatics. Believe me, they’re there and when you find them, treat them well and use their money to change the world.

Tibor Kalman
New York
June 1998

written by Christopher | tags: , , ,

6 Responses to “An Essay by Tibor Kalman”

  1. Diane Says:

    This is so true I felt that pang in my heart of relief that there was at least one other person out there expressing this other then myself. In my current cover-letter I send out to companies, I write something similar to this. Sans the profanity of course, but just as blunt. You’d think I’d be without a job, but I have lowered my standards, you have to to survive this economy.

    I have been passionate about design ever since I was little and I have had yet to land a job where this “bottom line” doesn’t exist. Granted I’ve worked at a lot of “in-house” design set-ups and that’s just asking for anything creative to be thrown out the window. I was just recently apart of a very large corp. that started an in-house group claiming they did it to save money while still getting the best in the creative field to work for them. It was a total crock. Everything and I mean everything came down to the what they labeled as the “Walmart Shopper” and cost. They won’t even spend money for more sustainable packaging. My colleagues and I would joke that if it cost more then 3 cents to print and produce it wouldn’t get made, we joked, but it was the truth.

    I breaks me that I’ve lowered my own standards to stay in the field I’m so passionate about, packaging is my life. It wears on you though, I won’t lie about that. I’ve battled with myself for many years because I can’t find that balance – well really it’s hard to find a company that will just let you do the job you were hired for, you know designing. Every designer becomes a production person or what I like to call a “mouse monkey”. I move the mouse while other people tell me how far tot he left something should be, or what color THEY like. There is no thought behind it, no passion, just a robot following it’s programing, trust me this KILLS me.

    It horrifies me that a great design could be thrown out the window because someone doesn’t want to pony up the dough for a font or a stock photo. I’m serious, it’s more insane then the lunatics Tibor Kalman is referring to.

    So to get my pent-up creativeness out I HAVE to do other things. I’d really explode if I didn’t. Since everyone refuses to utilize what I can do I draw. I make things at home whenever I can, jewelry, cards, I just bought small hand printer too. I dye my hair, believe it or not, sometimes this helps, maybe because I’m changing my appearance. I write inspirational sayings on post-its and put them around my computer screen so I can make it through the day, stupid stuff, but it helps.

    I’m trying to collaborate with other of my design & artist friends so that we can find time to do projects together (they all feel the same way about their jobs too). One day I hope we all have enough money to pool together to start our own firm. It’s what we want to do to try to avoid getting into situations like this. I really hope it happens, but money is tight for everyone and I know it will be awhile – plus we all aren’t getting any younger.

    I re-posted this on twitter, hopefully it will get passed along more, I’m also going to email to a few more people. I think the feeling is mutual for people on this, but it’s just they’ve excepted the way things are. I know I almost have, but the fire doesn’t burn out so quickly!

    Thank you so much for posting this.

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