9/1/10

Sportliegh Coats - Not worthy.

Even back in 1949, it was pretty brave for a company to let their product be represented as a charcoal drawing. Maybe there'd be a drawing thrown in as a "lifestyle example", but manufacturers like for their stuff to be seen in photo-real color - usually a painting. They want to see detail and realism.

This ad for Sportleigh coats lets the sketch do the talking for the whole ad. It's a "soft sell" approach that surprises me with its class and taste. These are not things I've come to expect from the ad business.

I presume Sportleigh was a pretty high-end garment maker, judging by their presence in Holiday magazine: the journal of the idle, moneyed elite. They're definitely taking the high road in this ad.
There's some gorgeous work here. The most obvious instinct of a freshman art student learning to draw is to make a drawing indistinguishable from a black and white photograph. Absolute realism. Any mistakes made are made by trying too hard. As an artist matures and grows less ashamed of his or her media (you know - pencil, oils, pastels, etc.) the priority shifts from mirroring reality to actually being artistic. This drawing demonstrates that the work can look like a drawing while simultaneously being faithful and flattering to the subject matter.
The looseness and restraint of the strokes make it seem easy and effortless, but the depth and liveliness of the drawing betray the artists considerable skill. In some areas, of the drawing, the artist has done hardly and work at all, but instead of looking unfinished, it comes off as deft and relaxed. This is an absolute pro at the top of their game.

I'd never heard of Sportleigh before, so just out of curiosity, I did a quick search to find any remaining traces of the company. I've been surprised in the past to find a company still alive and well. Google "sportleigh" and the first link you'll find takes you to  an English site selling what I'm going to call "mom pants". The images there are just catalog pictures, but the contrast between this ad's artistry and the product shots are hilarious.

This pictures lacks a certain elegance found in the old ads.

As usual, it wasn't hard to find more examples of vintage Sportleigh ads being sold as single pages on the web. Some dick is trying to sell a similar ad for ten dollars. I bought the whole magazine for five. I guess if I someday decide to savage my collection of old magazines, I can cut them up and sell off the pictures for ten bucks a page, plus shipping. Everybody needs a backup plan, I guess.

If you buy a copy of The Salmon of Doubt, you'll find all sorts of clever quotes from Douglas Adams' articles for technology magazines and various talks and speeches. In the section where he's talking about trying to make an interactive adventure game called Starship Titanic, he makes a fairly amazing observation on the subject of art, or rather Art with a capital A. I'm going from memory here, but he basically says that most the great art we hold in reverence from periods like the renaissance were just works for hire. DaVinci didn't sit down and say to himself "This morning, I shall create art that future civilizations will marvel at, and then I think I'll have some toast." Most of the time, he was designing something in exchange for money, or making notes on dissections for his own education. Michelangelo painted the Sistine chapel as a professional artist, not as a visionary. We have this image of artists sitting in a tower, trying to create historical treasures and it just isn't true. They were the commercial artists of their day, trying to earn a living using their strongest marketable skill. The Beatles weren't aiming to be the greatest band in history. They were trying to make the best songs they could... just being craftsmen. There's a difference there that I think is really important. The artist who talks about "my vision" or introduces himself as "an arteest" is a pretentious wanker who needs to be avoided, and probably punched.

People seem to lament that there are no great works being created now, that the days of artistic greatness are behind us, but they're looking for oil paintings or frescoes, and that's all old world stuff. If I try to think of inspired works of art that will be remembered in history, I think of Grand Theft Auto 3, and the Honda Asimo. Artists do their best work when they're being paid and have a goal, not when they're sitting in a meadow thinking of their place in history.

6 comments:

Phil said...

Great insight. Lemme guess- you teach graphic design at an art college?

Phil Are Go! said...

Heh, nope! I design interfaces and animate. I used to work at a cartoon studio called StarToons, though. I painted backgrounds and did some character animation.

Thanks for reading, Phil!

Sara said...

I was just telling someone yesterday that it feels like cheating, somehow, to take money for something I would have done anyway. I worry sometimes that the work I do to pay the bills isn't important enough. From now on I'm going to remember the Sistine Chapel whenever I start thinking that way!

Phil Are Go! said...

You're providing a service or product for which there is a certain demand, and you spent your time doing it. You should absolutely be paid for it, even if you enjoy the process. It sounds pretty bad to think that only suffering has a cash value!

Sara said...

Yes, but so many of the products that Americans come into contact with these days were made for nothing in some faraway place. We've been conditioned to see only the object, not the maker. Someone was in our shop this morning, actually, berating us for charging a dollar for a bottle of water with a custom label on it. He only saw a 13-cent bottle and a 2-cent label. He didn't see the time it took to design the label, print the label, and put it on the bottle. I guess the reason I feel so bad about my work is because I let people like that get into my head.

Sue said...

People usually forget they are paying for the service it takes to make the product.

The coat ad reminds me how much I love looking at the J.Peterman catalog when it comes. Can't afford anything, but love looking at it.

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