Thursday, January 26, 2012

Essay 1

V. Vale

One of the most thought-provoking essays to appear in the '70s [in translation; 1972] was Walter Benjamin's 1936 essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Now, what is a work of art? Marcel Duchamp argued that "ANYTHING is art if an ARTIST says it is" and he also added, "Mystery is an essential component of a work of art." He also said, "The SPECTATOR completes the work of art." And an unremembered philosopher added, "Anything you create that's not done for the profit motive is 'art'."

So . . . does the lowly, compact, easy-to-carry-and-apply STICKER qualify as "art"? The sticker can simultaneously be "beautiful" or "shocking" but to succeed in its purpose it must be visually provocative -- i.e., stand out from the urban concrete jungle dense with an information overload of signs and signifiers. How sad to make a sticker and have nobody even notice it....

So the sticker is created to elicit a reaction from passers-by. And what reaction is desired? Most probably a variant of "WTF"... [mental shake-up, followed by a pause] Then, the reaction, "Hmm . . . I could do that." Arguably, the best purpose of a communication is to inspire an action -preferably a creative action, such as making your own D-I-Y stickers and virally multiplying the visually aphoristic "artworks" you've created or dreamed up.

It undoubtedly helps if your artistic message is simple. I always thought that one DNA principle of Punk was MINIMALISM (even though the U.K. "Punk"  designers Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood could create baroque over-the-top splashy frothy ceremonial excess). Minimalism suits the physical demands of the sticker format, because the major challenge of this MICRO ART format is SIZE: how to communicate something impactful, mysterious and memorable within a small, portable signage that's compact, easy to carry and affix rapidly to an available surface.

Stickers can be carried in a shirt pocket, instantly ready to be deployed when the opportunity presents itself. Like Johnny Appleseed, they can nourish countless random onlookers whom one does not even know exist. They excite the challenge of trying to create an immediately recognizable VISUAL SIGNATURE. The best part is: it's all FREE - this kind of art-making resists commodification, and requires no museum or gallery.

A future society based on the exchange of poetic images (not money) can only be imagined, but perhaps the worldwide corps of those who use the sticker as "art-and-provocation memes" will be judged by history as worthy contributors to the cultural flux that creates tomorrow's iconography, mythology and mythography. Our bodies will definitely vanish but our art may - who knows - endure. Because, making art cheats death more than any other human activity - and besides, it's often more fun than anything else; making art certainly beats working for a living. Lastly, as our final justification, we have a 2000-year-old Latin aphorism as our yardstick of life's values: ars longa, vita brevis.

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