Style VS Brand: Steve Durbin

Steve Durbin is a photographer in the classic sense. His work is crystalline, sharp and connected to nature. The great American photographers at the beginning of the last century are Steve’s precedent, and he builds on their legacy in interesting ways. His portfolio of horses is pure lens-based abstraction, and he gives us strong and beautiful images. Steve has been very interested in how we see and perceive things, and on the blog Art and Perception he discusses issues of light, form and space that continue to bedevil many an artist even in these Postmodern media times. There’s always an interesting dialog going on that invariably goes right back to vision. I thought it would be interesting to get Steve’s thoughts on Style and Brand and see how those concepts might work in his practice:

Steve DurbinI’d prefer to ignore freak cases like Koons and Hirst. Mainstream media, in whatever form, will always aid and abet the fabrication of celebrity. Fascinating or not, that’s not directly relevant for more than a very few. Unfortunately, it matters indirectly for a greater number.

Most of us, whether driven by fortune, fame, or something less easily defined are also driven by an interior something that makes us artists. That something is ours, and to be ours it has to be different from everyone else’s–call that individual voice our style. But it doesn’t emerge full-blown: style is learned and developed and subject to all kinds of influences.

If our motivation is largely fame or fortune, rather than internal demands of personal artistic development, we may be tempted to take shortcuts, adopting styles, subjects, or media that are currently or predictably eye-catching or popular. To the extent a style becomes pre-dictable and pre-scriptive, it becomes a brand, leading rather than following the work. A brand is constraining; it essentially represents a promise to provide a known quantity. Go to McDonald’s or Kinkade’s, you have a clear idea of what you’re going to find–and how it will be seen by others.

Steve DurbinMedia influences are strong, including, in a paradoxical way, the rise of the Internet. The key difference is that on the web artists can speak for themselves, and that possibility has already become a virtual necessity. Those who want to be noticed need a web site, and having a web site entails packaging and presentation. This is not entirely bad, but our models for packaging may not be very honest or imaginative, but derive from what we see: 1) our network and 2) what’s offered by the marketplace (that’s where Koons and celebrity come in). The need to present ourselves in this way that feels more definitive (perhaps because so public) offers more temptations and more obstacles to a “natural” development–a concept that may seem anachronistic, but is the ultimate source of our ability to create something new, rather than merely newyish.

Personally, I’m in the position of having a day job that frees me to ignore the marketplace in art, at least as far as financial compensation goes. I’m using that freedom to work on developing my own voice, which is certainly evolving. But to join the art community and to demonstrate a certain level of seriousness–not to mention preparing for the future–seems to require engagement in the marketplace, at least at the level of convincing those with exhibition space that your work is worth showing. Again, this is not necessarily bad; in fact, it’s necessary period. But I think it can become a problem if it causes us to brand ourselves too soon. A brand can be altered or even removed, but not without leaving a scar.

For more about Steve Durbin visit his website here.

2 thoughts on “Style VS Brand: Steve Durbin

  1. Since responding to Mark’s questions, I happened on a Jed Perl article which is largely concerned with the same issues of style and brand in this economy that Mark is highlighting in these posts. Sample quote: “While the promise of a post-ideological era in the arts is that each work will be judged on its own merits, in practice the ensuing pluralistic confusion has left many artists more convinced than ever that they must develop a personal brand. Art history has not been replaced by personal history so much as by niche marketing, with artists known less for what they do than for where they show and who collects and discusses their work.”

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