I’ve always felt relatively confident that as a working, trained, and moderately skilled artist, I’d have a bit of job security. Sure, it still takes a desperate scramble to find work, and the client who pays on time remains a creature far more rare and less articulate than the fabled Sasquatch, but there’s always been comfort in this familiar grind. If artists are gladiators, fighting off our opponents with cleanly vectorized graphics and the smart use of negative space as we vie for the favor of the emperor, at least we used to know that we fought in a closed arena.
Because the scramble has become a little bloodier than usual lately, I’ve joined a service where I pay a monthly subscription fee to find work. I’m not sure if it will work, but I understand that “you need to spend money to make money,” or whatever excuse people use when buying unnecessary things in the interest of productivity. Instead of the merit-based system and charm that I’ve always depended on, the entire process now consists of severely undercharging for the 500 full-color graphics that a prospective client needs by tomorrow. With an international market present, this problem is compounded with the fact that “severely undercharging” also needs to consider the fact that one is bidding against people and firms who have 1/6th of the cost of living that we do.
I’m not in love with the whole world of corporate graphics—the gray vectors of silhouetted businessmen shaking hands while standing atop puzzle pieces that signify solutions or synergistic flow or power flipping your mom’s terabytes. It’s a necessary evil that happens between epic paintings of distorted ex-girlfriends or robots commandeering rocket ships to get off of a planet that just doesn’t understand their robot ways. Vectorizing a logo here and there was always something I could do to if I needed to make the next car payment, but with more businesses sending their money overseas and finding cheaper labor, there’s a certain sense of being doomed. I’m already drawing up my “Will do corporate branding for a sandwich” sign.
While there’s little altruism in business, it’s absolutely true that keeping money within the US is a very healthy thing to do right now. Especially when I’m involved.
There’s always been a certain commodification of artwork. The moment you sell a painting, it becomes a commodity. At this point, however, the creative skills themselves have become more commodified than ever. If you can do something cheaply, a portfolio of your work will rarely come into the equation. While I make no claims that my ability to create a banner ad for your website is superior to that of some firm in Pakistan, nor do I feel that American art is better, there’s much to be said for the slow demise of the US graphic designer.
Curiously, the few times I’ve mentioned this to people, I’ve been hit with a tirade that usually ends up with the whole “I shouldn’t have to dial one for English” thing. This isn’t about nationalism, but it is about the evolution of art, and the fact that greed is becoming responsible for a significant backslide in the quality of the art that we see every day. Low bids do not create innovation or alter the way we think about things. This is not about building a wall—this is about getting the right people to design it.
The only remaining answer I can find is to approach these things more organically, without so much moderated Internet intervention. Approaching a company and expressing a desire to work hard for a fair pay has ultimately yielded better results than entering a bidding war with a guy who can buy a loaf of bread for a nickel.
So, next time you see some insipid, ineffectual logo design, don’t blame me—I tried.