I am only an “artist” in the kind of obnoxious and incredibly free interpretation that the term has been afforded in recent decades. This is why, when it came time to develop promotional materials (fancy word for flyers, posters, and postcards), I did not want to botch the whole thing by trying to make something happen on my own. Fortunately, I am privileged to work with a number of talented people who were willing to help transfer my concept from the ridiculously interior realm of “concept” into the visible, tangible, real world domain.
Posters for recitals of academic music tend to be fairly uniform in their design, with some variations. If there is an image of the “artist”, it is likely to portray one of the following:
- The artist in the act of performance or in proximity to standard symbolic representations of a particular craft (a violin, a pencil and manuscript paper, in the environment of a music studio – indicated by a piano and a disorganized mess of scores, all by dead composers)
- The artist in an expressively serious portrait that is appropriate to the serious nature of the music that they will present as well as the serious expense of professional headshots
- The artist in an artificially candid or “fun” portrait, doing something unusual with his or her instrument, or otherwise indicating a degree of calculated remove from the “stuffiness” of academia/art music/serious portraits
Obviously, these approaches are functional and effective, otherwise they would not have become so thoroughly responsible for clothing cork boards and other bulletin boards which would be left to brazen nakedness in their absence. However, as the supposed intent of the promotional materials is to both alert the public that a recital is predicted to exist and, more importantly, to entice indifferent or ignorant passersby to attend the recital, these models become problematic.
Since they are so thoroughly circumscribed by an accepted visual grammar and syntax, such posters have become rather like optical Muzak, allowing those who see them to acknowledge their presence without referring to or retaining their content. In an effort to avoid this trap, some individuals elect to use bright, colorful art or glossy color images to provoke a greater investment of attention to the event that is being promoted.
There is a sort of class pretension, whether intentional or subconscious, in this poster style. The use of color and glossy paper carries with it certain connotations of heightened quality. In a strictly economic sense, these materials – all else (ownership of the means of production/access to a sibling’s paper company) being equal – are more costly. The willingness to expend greater financial resources not only allows a would-be concertgoer to become “fancy” by association, but it also implies a degree of commitment and faith on the part of the artist that the music which will be heard is of an equivalently elevated class.
A New Kind of Colorblind
Yet I believe that this valuing of color has become somewhat obsolete. As a child, I had a small black and white television in my bedroom for a time, and when my parents were children, there were no alternatives. Color photography was likewise a fairly recent development, being less than a century old. The same is more or less applicable to the use of color images in printed books, which in the Middle Ages had been an indicator of significant wealth. In film, explorations of extraordinarily vivid colors and the incorporation of these colors as symbols within the narrative flow of a movie experienced a rush on currency from around the 70s-80s. The introduction of Photoshop and other software with which one can easily, digitally manipulate color to great effect has granted users the same capacity to control the colors they see (or discover) as the phonograph, Walkman, cd player, and iPod had granted in the realm of music.
It seems that some of the magic of both color and music is vulnerable to being lost as a consequence of familiarity. Though hard to conceive now, there were times in the recent past when an individual might go through his or her life without encountering a particular hue. The climate, geography, and ecosystem where one lived could mean that they would never have known the pure white of a fresh snowfall, the unearthly shades of blue which reflect in tropical waters, or the sublime red of a cardinal.
Once music had gained a foothold outside of religious spheres and folk practices, it remained evanescent for centuries more. Those who were especially adept may have been able to recall much, or even all of a work which they had heard, but there was no way to actively relive the experience of hearing. The development of chamber music which could be played in homes marked one step away from the absolute reign of the church or court, the phonograph another, the radio yet another still, and all the way to the present.
Music has become disposable. If a listener becomes distracted, all that is necessary is to rewind the piece and take another pass at it. If the duration of a movement within a Mahler symphony does not coincide with one’s mood, a few simple flicks of the thumb can transport a listener into an imaginary space with Arcade Fire, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ke$ha, Harry Nilsson, Led Zeppelin, or a favored podcast (I would greatly enjoy the exercise of watching a citizen of the 17th-century try to decode this word).
Concluding a Cyclical Process
Color and music, two of the things that serve to make our lives vibrant, have lost some of their punch. The implications of this trajectory or solutions (if necessary) are beyond the scope of this rather broadly-scoped entry. However it is important to recognize that they are “problems” that exist.
These were some of the thoughts that were underlying the concept I had for my recital flyer. The music has been written, and I can do little now to shape whether the audience will find it to be expendable, exhilarating, or other words beginning with ex. Beyond that, the inherently subjective nature of musical taste and perception necessitates that no matter the quality or refinement of anything I compose, there is an inevitable IF “do” –>THEN “damned”; IF “do not”–>THEN “damned” factor (“Do”=”Do not”). There was, however, an opportunity to exercise agency in the realm of promotional materials.
I approached a photographer with a vague notion that I wanted a photo somehow relatable to the work of Richard Avedon. I knew that I wanted a stylized, black and white photo as the basis for whatever was to be crafted. The “whatever” that I came up with was a visual landscape that involved the segmentation and rotation of a portrait of my face into six different components. Each of these images would be used on a separate, uniquely designed flyer which would communicate the essential information about the recital (time, date, location, the classification of the event) as well as some other data (a title, the name or names of performers, etc.). This phase was carried out by a friend and co-worker with some enviable Photoshop skills.
The flyers were to be unified by a six-word motif that I crafted, the meaning and layering of which is kind of foppish, so ask, if you really want to know. These words would be placed, one per flyer, in a position that would serve to create vertices of an imaginary hexagon when all of the flyers were assembled collectively as one megaflyer. I have included a picture of the result (roughly assembled in a trial run) below. It’s impossible for me to say whether it matters or will draw anyone to the event, but I know that it meets what I had regarded as the desirable criteria of unusualness and contextual appropriateness. And thanks to the help of some friends (including my wife and a photographer’s generous and dedicated girlfriend), I have, a week and a half before the recital, already something with which I am more than delighted. I am decolored.