Art school is the place you go to learn how to be a creative director, even if you don’t know that yet.
You start out wanting to be a painter, a sculptor, an installation artist (an installer?) or performance artist (nonentertaining performer), and so you start out learning to be an artist—drawing, painting, and reading theory—and then one day you find yourself drawing storyboards for a hipster beer.
It’s just a temporary thing, or so you tell yourself. You could drive a taxi or wait tables and make art in your spare time, but of course that is exhausting and dispiriting if not demeaning, compared to the big-time artists whose lives you read about. Where’s the loft? Who’s your dealer? Where’s your summerhouse? Somehow, you may find you don’t feel like painting in a room with a bathtub in it after a day sucking carbon monoxide as a bike messenger or taxi driver.
Many would-be painters, art-school students discouraged by the cost of living and cowed by the daunting stairway to the top, then seduced by the salaries at hipster ad agencies, derail their fine-arts careers, opting for a creative-director slot with benefits. Creative director is the contemporary name for what used to be called art director. The title changed over recent decades because art director proved too small a title for what had become the dominant job in magazines and advertising. Art director began referring to the subordinates who size photos and push type around. The creative director is a visual genius collaborating with fashion photographers (who prefer to be known as artists) and fighting it out with the corporate editors and writers for creative control.
I went to art school, then double majored in literature and philosophy, and then went to graduate school; if anyone asked I identified myself as a writer, not a motorcycle messenger, bartender, or temporary typist, or however I was making ends meet. As writing and editing were not very lucrative, I did continually engage in various forms of employment of the sort Marx termed alienated or estranged labor. Most of my artist friends were in the same boat, scraping the barrel bottoms to survive and in the hope of eventual artistic salvation. At least we could say we were an artist or, even worse, a poet. We could fail nobly, even in style. But we were headed upstream.
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