Who will be the first in my “Page Masters” series of art director portraits? Hint: their name starts with a B.
Find out in July!
Huffington Post Mag (US)
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
Illustration by Brian Stauffer
Art Direction by Tom Carlson
Design by Andrew J. Nilsen
Catching up on the past few covers….
Illustration by Kevin Cannon
Art Direction by Mike Kooiman of City Pages (Minneapolis)
Woops great artwork!
New August cover Wired USA edition: “Apocalypse not”
Render by Thomas Mangold. Design by Leo Jung
Creative director Brandon Kavulla (read here about his redesign at Men’s Health on SPD)
Design director Leo Jung
Photo editor Zana Woods
Art director Alice Cho, Bradley R. Hughes and Tim Leong
So here is a quick look into my thought process this week for a story about how Nike supports an elite youth basketball league which the Oakland Soldiers are part of.
It was a tough one this week as we were behind schedule on the Summer Guide issue and the story was quite nuanced. The main issue in the story was about how positive and how negative of a role Nike plays in the league. The writer learned that Nike wasn’t being super evil but was definitely getting what they wanted out of the deal.
My first idea was to put a high-school basketball player in a package like a G.I. Joe and give them all kinds of Nike branded accessories along with school books and a backpack. That idea would have required more time to get those details on point and relied on the editor to craft the hedline and other text to support the idea of walking the line between showing these kids as role models/superheros to their fellow classmates while being used by Nike to promote their products. I think this was the best idea but had to pass on it as I knew it would not be able to meet my standards for execution and I can never be certain about what hedlines I am going to be given to work with.
I toyed with some conceptual ideas that tried to show Nike providing the means to reaching a goal without being too overt; staircase (but to what?), a ladder to a ball or hoop (a bit abstract); and giving the black power fist a Nike swoosh (appropriate to the story? maybe.). The fist could have been another easy win but something about it wasn’t sitting right.
Frustrated with not finding a solid direction, I had to remember that this should be a fun process - hard, but at least somewhat fun. So I had to try a straight-up shoe related idea with my own joke hedline just to get it out of me (Just for Kicks. ha! ok, ok…). I left it at that on Friday evening, knowing that I would be walking in Monday morning (press day) without a solid direction.
Monday morning was spent dealing with all kinds of tech problems amidst trying to concept the cover and finish the story layout. I backed up and tried a couple more generic, graphic approaches and that’s when the net-from-below sketch and the zoomed in ball sketch came from. Needing a cover that could go to press in a few hours, I made the call with some feedback from my boss man and worked up the final.
Sure, it’s a bit generic and doesn’t tell the whole story (can you ever?), but at least it works with the hedline and subhed to communicate what it needs to. So there’s that! On to the next one!
Cover sneak peek detail. Ol’ green eyes…
‘I’m trying to get the damn paper picked up, so it gets read, or at least gets people interested, intrigued or outraged by whatever we are writing about.’
My SF Weekly Flickr set thumbnail grid evened out again at 117 images. It’s been a solid 2 years and 2 months here. Onward and upward!
Big thanks to my supporters: red, black, and white, cyan, magenta, and yellow, implied symmetry, and geometry.