This is something I’ve wanted to write up for a long time, but never really had a reason to. With some of the recent actions of Kid Robot and things I’ve been reading about the vinyl industry as of late I figured it was finally time.
As I’ve said before on this site, I’m currently an art student finishing up my undergrad work in Illustration/Fine Arts. This is my main reason for enjoying designer vinyl so much. Seeing modern day artists approach and become successful from a pretty unique medium excites me. Being a life-long toy enthusiast certainly helps as well.
I am primarily a digital artist; I never even touched oil paints until my second year in college. I’ve done small freelancing jobs but preferred to do my own stuff. I like the concept of talking to people through art, the idea that art can have a message and a place in society other then something pretty to look at.
I’ve followed the fandom in the shadows for a long time, and recently the shine has begun to wear off it for me. I still love vinyl, but I’m beginning to see how, from an artist’s standpoint, it’s begun to falter.
I’ve heard the argument made many times that once art becomes a business it looses its luster. As soon as an artist is only in it for that quick buck, the magic is no longer there. I agree with this to a point. Attending a school that caters to both fine artists and graphic designers, I’ve been lucky enough to hear both sides of this argument.
The Fine Artists I knew came off as the stereotypical ‘artist type’: floaty and emotional. These were people who had a passion for creating what they wanted, and would be damned if anyone told them different.
The Graphic Designers, on the other hand, were more rigid in their approach. Most of them could not draw in the traditional sense, and many of them were interning as soon as their second year in school. They saw art as a business, as a way to communicate to others through marketing and products.
And I found myself in the middle.
So what does this have to do with the vinyl industry? It's that I’m beginning to see the same patterns emerge there. I’ve seen independent artists such as Erik Scarecrow produce beautiful pieces and update his work constantly. And I’ve seen others such as Sket One milk a simple design for as much as he could. To see such things as an artist enrage me, because it’s no longer about the craft, it’s about money.
And then it all comes to a head when large companies take the reigns of producing vinyl.
I’ve already posted a giant Wall O’ Text (here) about my thoughts of Kid Robot's current business strategy, so no point in repeating that. But what I need to mention is how, while large companies can become helpful in marketing art as a product, it almost always becomes about the money. I know very-very little of how KR’s company works from the inside, and have had a hard time finding anything. Thus, my assumptions are based on what I have learned from people who have worked in the freelancing industry.
To make it big in the freelance industry you have to be able to brand yourself. Yes, people like Rob Janoff and William Golden created some of the most well known logos today and have been amazingly successful, but they are by far the minority. Artists almost never make minimum wage. We work on commission. However, with a company like KR, you are approached once you’ve already made that name for yourself. It is a great way to get your name out there, but I’m assuming artists see little of the profits from the products they’ve designed other then a small percent of total sales.
Haven’t you noticed that all of Sket One’s ketchup colorways were done independently? It’s to maximize profits. Without the middleman, you only need to pay production fees; and the lower the number of pieces need to be produced, the cheaper that tends to be. (Yeah, in case you needed more reason to see those pieces as blatant price gouging).
So then, what is the appeal of an artist signing onto KR? Well, most of the artists appear to be up and comer’s, at least when it comes to the Dunny three inch lines. You draw people in with the big names and hope they notice the small ones. It’s not a bad strategy, and I can see the appeal behind it. However, I do not know how much creative freedom these artists are given, and I’m inclined to believe it’s less then I thought previously.
I believe, to manufacture and distribute art, you need to have a creative eye yourself. If you don’t, the obviousness of this fact becomes clear to people who do have some idea of basic artistic concepts. Every time I see an artist boast about their ‘lack of formal training’ I cringe. You can certainly become a great artist without it, but it shows when you screw up simple color schemes and basic anatomy. With the poorly designed and terrible color palettes coming out of KR, I’m not quite sure whom to fault. The artists themselves, or the fact no one is critiquing them.
So what does this all mean to you? Probably nothing, but I’ve wanted to voice my opinion on the industry for a long time. If you found this interesting for the most part, or I informed you in some way, I’ve succeeded.
Also, if I’ve grossly glossed over something or mixed something up majorly in my assumptions, feel free to politely correct me ;D
Also, if you legitimately read through all that, I owe you a hug, or a cookie, or something.