Creating controversy is sometimes necessary in art and design in order to get a point across effectively. This illustration entitled “The Ecstasy of Gold” tackles issues which most humans either fail to or choose to ignore. It is an automatic response that is usually brought on by how uncomfortable reality makes us all feel at times. The reality portrayed in the illustration is the implication of human self-indulgence, from the perspective of struggling artists/designers. This struggle goes further from the atypical financial issues to incorporate emotional/psychological struggles, physical and many others that have an adverse effect on an artist’s health. Although it is very centred on the visual artist, the imagery may apply to struggling artists from both performance and literary fields. Using a portrait orientation the composition is divided into six (6) tiers/stanzas, each showing a different subplot that in their totality, helps to communicate a larger narrative.
The first tier shows the cosmos as a region that is for the most part untraveled and unmolested by humans. It features mostly variations of violet, a colour that is associated with to the unknown. Violet is also the least recognizable colour to humans, due to its close proximity to the invisible ultraviolet short-wavelengths of light. The cosmos is illustrated as clean and harmonious even though it is actually a tumultuous region but this turmoil is administered by nature. The moon is shown rather than the sun to signify a pessimistic coldness, rather than warmth which would have been conveyed by a sun. Other objects shown are galaxies, nebula, aurora and a multitude of stars and other celestial objects. In the bottom right hand corner man-made objects begin to enter the scene, such as satellites which introduce the coming chaos.
A second tier follows which shows nature before the rise of mankind and industry. Africa the birthplace of humans is shown on the immediate left, with Zebras and Giraffe enjoying freedom. At the near center the Himalayas and Mount Everest is shown with whales traversing the Indian Ocean directly underneath. This section basically informs the viewer that without humans, nature lives in harmony and never takes more than what is required to survive. The imagery is idealised in this fashion because in reality, nature does not operate in this way. Idealisation becomes necessary to effectively inspire change in the way humans think about our home, and how best to respect and treat the natural environment and ecosystems.
The third tier delves into the rise of mankind showing three (3) systems of industrialisation, which are the main source of the deterioration of natural environment. The illustrations in this section are also designed to be non-racially biased, whereas persons of the three main skin complexions (dark, medium and light skinned) are seen equally contributing to the environmental problems we currently face. On the left, dark skinned persons kill the last surviving Grey Rhino for its Ivory Tusk, in effect destroying populations of fauna. The center shows a light skinned toddler laying an oil rig with some of that same oil dripping from its mouth. This image shows the irresponsible child-like manner which these devices are placed, and the greedy manner which oil is being dug up and burnt all for the sake of wealth. The light-skinned young man to the baby’s right confirms this greed for material wealth, by counting money in a wardrobe of Eurocentric colours. We know from history that the industrialisation of oil for economic gains, was started by persons and groups of Eurocentric capitalist mindsets. The industrialization of oil is hidden behind the cloak of “necessity”, for the sake of wide scale manufacturing, exporting and transportation to name a few. On the right a lumberjack forcefully and quite enthusiastically shovels a sapling from the ground, to signify the destruction of our natural habitat. A small area to the left also depicts the slavery of all creatures by mankind, in the acquisition of wealth in the form of a chest of gold coins hidden behind the slavemaster.
The fourth tier continues where the third left off, showing the oil that was drilled by the infant dripping down into a container. A woman carries the burden of the heavy oil container and is shown having to give up a significant portion of her sweat to a greedy oil industrialist. The same industrialist accumulates a great amount of wealth in a large sack of cash which he hides from the starving artist to the left. The artist is given but a single coin to pay for all her labours, while the oil woman gets nothing. This scene occurs in a deep chasm that helps convey the lack of value that is placed on art, as it has been driven deep underground. In the meantime economic hierarchies place those who control the inflow of items that do have great economic value to the top. To the right of this scene many persons poisoned by greed are seen eating gemstones to survive, while the destiny which awaits them is shown in the pile of golden skulls seated close by. Red veins emerge to the right to transition the scene into the next section. Each section transitions downwards in relation to the main colours in a scene, in the order of tears (blue), blood (red) and sweat (dark brown).
The fifth tier is blood red and signifies the amount of time and effort that is placed in creating art. It is meant to horrify the viewer by showing the labours artists have to endure in order to survive. Among them include a designer to the far right that is visibly confined by his patrons, to continue working on projects without rest or pay. The lack of pay is signified by the empty payment jar to the right. The persons surrounding him are all happy to get what they want out of the designer, who is treated more like a magician than another human. The expectation of a designer as a magician who can do anything is signified by the wizard hat which crowns the young man’s head.
To the left of that scene a dichotomy emerges with a puppeteer controlling two artists/designers. One is happily skipping above a lava-like substance with a hand full of money, because he is being controlled and manipulated by society and the economy. The lava highlights the inferno-like pressures an artist must at times endure, to continue producing the same thing over and over in order to get paid. This artist’s products are likely to be highly commercialised and as a result become monotonous. Thus he/she is living a lie showing a fake smile, because no artist can truly be comfortable doing the same thing repeatedly. The other artist who had or refused to succumb to captivity/slavery, is seen crying with a noose around his neck. No one appreciates his work and will not pay for them, and as a result he is depressed and considers committing suicide. He dreams of the necessities being a home, food and shelter but cannot afford any of them because until he dies, his work won’t sell at which point that money cannot help him.
The sixth and final tier is possibly the most depressing. It shows the artist already dead from all the stress and expectations placed on him by society, but even in death their life’s work is still being raped and plundered. The skeletal figure is backed up against the darkness of its grave, with sex objects each signifying a different mentality such as immediacy, low costs, and modifications being the tools of rape and torture for the artist in life. At the end society wants to bottle artists like pills and sell them at a discount. The thing they love the most eventually becomes the source of their destruction.
What does all this so far have to do with the struggling artist? An artist feeds on the same financial resources that are gained from industrialisation and thus a capitalist society. However, designers and artists for the most part do not receive the respect that others have, to be considered worth of being paid what their work is worth. This situation of course differs based on the specific society/culture that the artist either emerged or occupy. Like all items which have economic value, that values influenced by the perceived value the people place on those specific items. One may also argue that the reason art does well in some nations and not so much in others is the fault of the art industry of that nation on a whole. Some faults may include for example: the way art is packaged, the type of art being sold, it is too expensive for a struggling economy, it is an unequal value for value exchange, or a general lack of professionalism across the industry. Many may also believe that the reason lies with the disconnection between persons of the creative fraternity. In other words there is a lack of an overarching governing body for artists, that creates specific standards as is the case with other affluent industries. Due to the lack of that governing body, there is a lack of economic basis for pricing works and neither is there incentives put in place to ensure artists do get paid.
Nonetheless, art is important regardless of which society they belong to and must be respected as such. For societies that do emphasise the importance of the arts, whether it may be design, music or others, there seems to be a direct link between that disrespect and a lack of critical thinking. The same lack of critical thinking leads to lower levels of emotional intelligence, that may lead to irrational violence, thievery and other negative behaviours in society. The illustration while challenging the expectation of artists as being wizards able to do anything with a wave of the wand, is also introducing the idea of artists being wizards in another sense. The sense being proposed is the artist as an individual that safeguards cultural traditions, provides a welcome escape from reality, and also inspires other persons to enhance the level of thinking and actions.
Designer: Leighton Estick
Medium: Watercolours on watercolour paper
Dimensions: 11” x 17”