Style and Brand are not just the aesthetic and practical concerns of visual art. They affect artists of all type and situation. Greig Sargeant is an actor working in ground breaking Off-Broadway productions. His current project is with Elevator Repair Service in their presentation of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.” The company just returned from a successful engagement in Lisbon, and will be on the road shortly to Vienna and Amsterdam. He also is a member of Target Margin another progressive theatre company which presents exciting and groundbreaking plays. Additionally, he has been cast in two avant garde dance pieces choreographed by the amazing Kim Whittam. Greig and I have spoken a great deal about style and brand while discussing art, acting and theatre. As he has often said, style and brand are always a huge consideration at the creation of any theatre production. For Greig an actor of style develops his character by subsuming his own personality. He uses the script and the direction to become the embodiment of that character. Alternatively, an actor may impose his own personality on the character making that character a recognizable extension of his public self. Here the actor is playing to preconceived public perceptions and expectations. This is more about branding. I find it interesting that other thoughtful and talented artists, including those outside our little visual art world, must confront how one’s aesthetic practices are perceived by a larger public. Here’s more of what Greig has to say:
Style is the direct result of an artist’s creativity. It comes directly from the life experience of the individual artist. Anything that makes up the unique individual characteristics of a human being is the source of a person’s/artist’s style. In my art form – acting – actors (men and women) who epitomize “Style” – truly unique individuals that defy the concept of “Brand” include – Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman, Cate Blanchette, Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Helen Mirren, Toni Collette, Lily Taylor, John Lithgow, Diane Wiest, Marion Seldes, Johnny Depp, Daniel Day Lewis and Kate Winslet. These actors best exemplify my true definition of style.
On Branding and Style
Brand is the direct result of an outside source’s (the media, entertainment and advertising executives, reviewers) opinion on a particular style which is marketed to the general public. Any style that is so identifiable is easily branded. Actors who have been branded include: George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Adam Sandler, Cameron Diaz, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Shirley Temple, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. If you have ever watched an episode of Entourage, you may have heard uber agent Ari Gold say, “find me the next DeNiro, I need a Julia Roberts type or I need a Will Smith type whose cheaper.” Many actors who tend to play the same type of character in every project they undertake may have their own style, but the difference is that their “style” can be generalized and labeled. This is branding.
A true artist develops his/her art from within. A brand can be developed as well, but it is clearly a polished imitation of a particular style. I do find that the media feeds these distinctions in how an artist’s work is perceived, but it is the artist that decides by the work that he chooses if the media’s branding will have any bearing.
The trick is for the artist to do what he does best. A true artist who reaches deep down to his inner-most soul to create something that is uniquely his own does not concern himself with the functions of fame. If his work is good, it will lead to more work. If his work is not good he will have to dig deeper and continue the artist’s exploration.
Style and Brand in The Real World
The reality of the situation is that being an artist is not cheap. Living in an expensive city (like New York), trying to keep the roof over your head, trying to see as much art as possible, costs money. All artists want to be recognized and paid for their efforts. Those of us who supplement our incomes with “survival jobs” have the luxury of creating for ourselves and sharing with our audience while making a name for ourselves. Achieving “fame” in this way we are not compromised by the marketplace and the economy. Those who depend on their art to feed and cloth them, have it much much harder. They often lose out to the concepts of Branding in order to survive.
Fame and recognition are wonderful – To be acknowledged for the work that comes from inside of you, that’s the icing on the cake. However, that is not the thing that drives me to create, and thank God, I don’t have to sell my soul trying to be the next James Earl Jones.