STYLE AND ANTI-STYLE
Updated: Mar 2
One of the defining criteria for an artist’s mark used to be an identifiable style, the unique graphic handwriting that only a few of the really consummate draftsmen had. It was the only signature they needed. One could pull their stuff out of a random stack of graphics, with no identification save that of a line or two, and say without hesitation “R. Crumb (for example) drew this”.
R. Crumb, Rembrandt, Moebius, Allen Cober, Rick Geary, Brad Holland, John Cuneo, Joe Cardiello, M.K. Brown are a few people who spring to mind. They all had it when the rest didn’t.
The rest now inform a post-modern crowd, as big as it is forgettable. I will not name names here because I don’t need to, they all look alike and they are now everywhere. It’s pretty much flavorless retro-crap, drawing that used to define copyright free clip art - serial boxes, PTA fliers , cheap-jack comics. Undifferentiated, character free outlines, enclosing flat, uninspired shapes that amounted to a kind of visual cliché of form. It was the non-art Roy Lichtenstein fell back on in 1964 and expanded to bill-board size when he wanted to exploit the meaninglessness of pop culture for New York hipsters.
When I was paste-up boy for the pulp press back in the 80s there were “clip books” full of that nondescript drivel, mom cooking a turkey, dad playing golf, kids in the pool, etc. You tore it off, ran it through the wax machine and slapped it down. It was cut ’n paste, made to order filler for people who couldn’t afford an illustrator or didn’t care what it was so long as it was inoffensive and free.
Now it’s hip, online, and not always free.
It is a curious fact that almost everybody’s handwriting is identifiably unique but almost everybody’s drawing, is generic.
Now, generic is not only a style, but THE style. The non-style of anti-style.
The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. Most people in our brave new world of instant visuals don’t know a Picasso from a thumb print. It’s all good now, and who cares if it ain’t. This idea certainly saves anybody the considerable bother of thinking critically about what is or isn’t good, or about anything really.
It should also be added that a unique style is not god-given, or perhaps only to a degree. Mainly it's the result of hard labor, sweating out your marks over a cold, indifferent drawing board. Hardly anybody wants to do that anymore in an age of lazy digital prosthetics.
While the dictatorship of mass media is certainly culpable in this, I think the demise of cogent, written art criticism might also be a factor. Generic is the go-to style of an indifferent, anti-critical generation. Also, nobody looks at anything for more than half a nanosecond anymore. Art might as well be on flip cards. Nothing looks good, bad or any particular way when it goes by like bullet.
Character-free art is a predictable fit for a modern culture that is, itself, losing all character. Art, and everything else is either decoration or entertainment. Nobody wants to be bored with content. It’s a trivial, throwaway art for a trivial, throwaway society, and an aesthetic dead end.
Where can it go? JDA
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