Out of Tune: When Art Direction Strikes the Wrong Tone
So we are all aware of the Bloomberg Businessweek cover by now, yes? Good.
It’s causing quite a stir, and for good reason too. The poll on SPD right now shows 41% think it’s offensive, 48% think people are overreacting and 10% feeling neutral. It was dead even when I voted saying that is was offensive.
The problem that I have with this cover is that the tone of the illustration is inappropriate for the article. The cover becomes more about the style than the actual message, drawing too much attention to itself to effectively communicate the story and therefore failing as a good magazine cover. In addition, by being on the cover of a national mainstream publication on business, the stylization of the characters—vaguely, if inadvertently, reminiscent US-historical racist cartoons—comes off as dangerously mocking to African Americans and Latinos.
Now I take no issue with Andres Guzman’s art on the whole. He’s a solid performer and has the portfolio to back it up, but there is no way that I would have hired him for this cover if it were my decision. It’s just not the topic for a young, acid-rock-warped-reality type of illustrator that he is.
And I certainly say that with sympathy. At SF Weekly, I regularly faced politically-charged cover stories that I had to illustrate with sensitivity—and admittedly, I didn’t always pull it off. It’s a very hard line to walk sometimes, especially in the face of the relentless deadlines, and pressure from the publisher to get the book picked up.
So it leaves me wondering: Where is Richard Turley’s weigh-in on the topic? What was he (or the art director) intending to communicate with this cover? What (if anything) slipped through the cracks in the process, landing Bloomberg Businessweek with a cover that is controversial at best (and racist at worst)?
As for the wider implications: We all have our own reactions to any piece of art, and we are entitled to take away what we want from art, but keep in mind that how we react says more about who we are as people than about the art itself. Are we as a culture now ok with racist caricatures appearing on the cover of a national business magazine? Have we all become too inundated with visual information to even care when things like this hit the newsstands? Or is it that all forms of visual expression are now more acceptable, regardless of content? Is the act of art becoming all too familiar and the thought that goes into said art less important?
Who am I am to tell? Right now, I obviously have more questions than answers. What I can tell you is that I am going to keep my eyes peeled and ears tuned towards the conversation about the role and responsibility of artists in this global culture of ours as it migrates towards using visual language as it’s primary mode of communication. #visualinguist