The Summer Exhibition at London's Royal Academy is, for anyone
familiar with British weather, hopefully named. But its opening is
a bit of a hot ticket in London and underwhelming temperatures are
no deterrent, as annually its red carpet welcomes a glamorous
society audience. All of whom are keen to see the revelations
offered by a jolly long-term tradition--this year being its
It is the world's largest open-submission contemporary art exhibition and, as its guide tells us, "provides a unique showcase of a wide range of new work by both established and unknown living artists." Excitingly you can buy a lot of the work and gallery assistants place little red sold dots in the corners of each piece, which you see as you make your way round, adding to the feeling of discovery, participation and opportunity. The tradition and grandeur offered by the RA, mixed with the tantalising possibility of the "shock of the new," in this open-armed display of artistic freedom, creates annual excitement. So why did this year's show leave me thinking about everything but the art?
Afterward, we were left wondered how closely you could mix media before its message became overloaded and therefore underwhelming. Can art sit next to design, when ultimately they meet such different needs and are subject to such different constraints? Do artists now remain the visionaries the exhibition has positioned them as, or has design now taken the lead due to its more connected viewpoint?
My role at Pearlfisher, like many in design, involves a great deal of time spent analysing a brand's equity. Whether the visual identity a brand delivers demonstrates their message in a differentiating and inspiring way and whether it clearly communicates to and meets the needs of its consumers. Art need not bear this in mind. It provokes and demands. It does not seek approval from its consumer or by committee. Art is about ideas, while design is subject to their delivery. It seems a shame that by combining the two too closely you risk lessening the impact and, therefore, achievements of both. As Professor Declan Kiberd recently commented "Again and again our world has been transformed by a word or image, because the future often turns out to be what artists already are. Art doesn't just reflect the current state of things. By the skill with which it contains our current realities, it begins the process of transcending them. It evokes a yearning for worlds yet to come. Some definitions of art are, however, just too wide."
Don''t get me wrong, the Royal Academy's summer show is full of interesting, often inspiring and beautifully crafted pieces. But in this last space, I was left confused and questioning what all this meant for the future; whether these two worlds should ever come together, and if so how. Do artists continue to be our visionaries or have their place been taken by designers, whose purpose-driven approach makes them more relevant and therefore directional?
Sophie Maxwell's fashion background as a graduate and now guest lecturer at London's Central St Martins is put to daily use in her role as Head of Creative Insight at Pearlfisher.