Last week painter Richard Kalina, who when he’s not making art is teaching and writing about it, visited ThoughtMatter to talk to our team over lunch.
The notion that the art world and commerce have long been intertwined is hardly new, but when Kalina discusses art and its audience one is struck straightaway by how he just as easily could be speaking about branding and consumers.
For instance: “Good art goes against the easy stuff. For the audience it’s the difference between getting a sugar-high and a 12-hour release. They like to dig deeper. They’re attracted by a complex, articulate experience.”
At its best, isn’t that what a complete branding solution is, an identity constructed whole rather than piecemeal in order to reach consumers?
Like consumers, he says, the art audience doesn’t swallow influence in a single gulp but takes bites of it. Thus influence doesn’t control but instead inspires.
Art, says Kalina, is like “an irrigation system that waters difficult, unyielding situations.”
Kalina respects the art audience for its increasing sophistication. He believes people like to be reminded of basic truths or realities but in myriad, unpredictable ways. It’s why, for him, the role of art as well as branding is to push against boundaries, never losing sight of the continual capacity to surprise.
Although Kalina, 69, is not formally an art historian, he is keenly concerned with time and art’s place within it. He notes, for example, that today in art unlimited innovation which discards the old is being dropped in favor of the incorporation of the past in ways which make it fresh.
Consider museum audiences, he goes on, who nowadays might like to see works from old collections taken out and shown in new contexts. Call it the repurposing, or destodgying, of art. In the same vein, brands either are rediscovering their heritage or making an entirely new one out of whole cloth. In doing so they are creating a narrative, something consumers traditionally have responded to regardless of their generation.
But here’s where Kalina’s fundamental premise about the public being more visually literate than ever breaks new ground when applied to consumer branding. The art audience, he says, intuits that the arena of art has limits, so it looks for expanded areas within those limits. He calls it “expanding the spaces in between”. He goes on to define modern as having neither a beginning nor an endpoint but rather an expanded middle.
The challenge for a brand, then, is to define what its modern middle is and recognize how much room there can be to profitably move around in that space.