This is a letter of The (Im)posture — the newsletter from Julien Posture. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.
Dear readers, old and new, welcome back to The (Im)posture ! In the last month, I’ve moved from Montreal, Canada to Cambridge, UK, dealt with the deepest homesickness I’ve ever experienced, dialed down my illustration practice to very low for the first time in 4 years and started a PhD in social anthropology. I met countless brilliant people from all over the world and finally grew the sense of belonging and security I needed in order to resume writing here. So here I am, on the other side of the Atlantic (maybe for some of you on *your* side) and fully ready to think hard about the creative industry, illustration and what it means to be a creative today.
As a first letter of this new era of The (Im)posture, I thought it would be appropriate to introduce my ongoing research as a PhD student here. One of the most important parts of my work on creativity is to make it available to creatives themselves, and this newsletter has always been a way for me to do that. In the future, I’d like this space to act as a research journal, but hopefully as an interactive one, in which you get to participate and comment, ask questions or call me out on shortcomings and blind spots. The premise through which I study our industry is that creatives are intellectuals, crafting concepts, building theories only embedded in creative practice.
My research project proposes to look at how *language* and *perception* are intimately related in the creation of *value* of the *styles* circulating in the creative industry. Language, perception, value, and styles are the key words here and as a way to “illustrate” the connection between these elements, let me show you a tweet most you would be familiar with :
Back in the heyday of “Corporate Memphis” discourses, Ballant’s tweet was part of a plethora of comments and analysis of the flat art style that came to be associated with Big Tech companies. In a way, it also triggered my PhD. Whether we agree with it or not, the tweet articulated a very common practice in the creative industry, which is to talk about images in relation to other values. In this comment, the *linguistic* description of a particular *visual* *style* encoded it as being *inappropriate* for a *leftist* magazine. More particularly, the “flatness” of the style became antithetical to the “leftness” of the magazine, articulating the idea that certain values, whether political, ethical, economic, etc. have an aesthetic form and representation.
Here is another example. Think of an illustrated poster advertising a punk concert. Ok, now think of an illustrated landing page for a tech start-up. Now, merge the two and try to picture a punk concert poster using the aesthetic of the tech start-up and the tech start-up using the aesthetic of the punk concert. The result feels uncanny, ill fitted or surprising. My PhD basically asks : Why so ? This isn’t because there’s something *inherently* punk in one aesthetic or *naturally* techy in the other. These associations were encoded culturally, over a long time, by the many actors of the creative world like an art director tweeting or an illustrator working.
This is what I’m asking in my research : "How do some assemblages of visual forms, colours, etc. - certain styles if you will - are being associated consistently with certain (economic, political, ethical) values ?"
Obviously after years of working as an illustrator I have a blurry idea of the answer, and I think illustrators and art directors are at the core of this cultural encoding. I think this is important to say because outside of our little world, very few people understand 1) what we do and 2) the impact of our work on visual culture as a whole.
The second question I’m asking with this research project is : "How do these evaluations of different styles and (what they are a good fit for) shape and structure the identities and relations in the creative industry ?"
To return to the Corporate Memphis story, the aesthetic judgments about the qualities of the artworks were also comments about the people making them. Illustrators working in that style were suddenly called “sell-outs” and sometimes identified as lacking basic moral principles. Another social impact of the style on people’s lives was also that illustrators working with clients seeking this particular style were often making more money than say, illustrators working on punk concert posters.
In the creative industry, where so many of our interactions (between ADs, illustrators, agents, etc.) is mediated by our work and its qualities, aesthetic judgment has also a lot of social, economic and moral ramifications. These back and forth between aesthetic judgment and social judgment are what I try to understand in my research. In order to track these movements, I plan on following our dear concept of style, how different people think about it in different ways, what we think it is, what it does, what function it serves, etc. Style is one of these big mysteries of the creative industry, an omnipresent object that we seldom define, and I’m excited to unpack it historically and sociologically.
So here it is, you know what I’m up to now. I hope I did an okay job at making this research as accessible to a broader audience and if I didn’t, please holler with any questions, comments, insights, etc. As I mentioned, this newsletter has the potential to make this research as transparent as ethical concerns allow me to be, and as collaborative as you wish it to be. In the next few years, I’ll be spending a lot of time with illustrators, art directors, educators, agents, etc. asking questions, observing practices, and obviously participating so please do reach out, invite me over to your corner of the world, your community so we can chat and think about creativity together.
At the end of the day, this research is really yours, ours. I undertake it because I think in our neoliberal era, too much responsibility has been put on individual shoulders, illustrators particularly, blaming them for their failure or struggles. Anthropology offers an alternative narrative, a contextualized way to think of the social aspects of what it means to make art in a capitalist context. And hopefully, this research will help alleviate the pressure of individuality whilst celebrating our communal expertise as image makers.
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Wow sounds like a fascinating research project. Looking forward to hearing more. I was in Cambridge two days ago, just visiting for the day. I was at uni there many years ago.
what an interesting research project...looking forward to read more! :)
best of luck!