State of the Arts

Victoria Ward

Brand on the run

I deal with a lot of things most people I know don’t because they live in cities where their garbage and water are taken care of by a magical infrastructure. Last week I ran out of wood for my woodstove which is my main heat source in my cabin. I spent a few days in toque and fingerless wool gloves working away, freezing but not that inconvenienced because this is what living here is all about. I wouldn’t say I enjoy the moment of “how do we stay warm since spring is AWOL?” but I am up to the task of dealing with it and find the challenge a unique moment that makes my life mine.

There is much existential angst in our culture. I think it is because many people haven’t carved out a place in the world for themselves. If there is one thing I have learned it is that things change. In order to have ballast during times of upheaval one needs to have something in life, a partner, a career, a vocation to hang on to while the sea of life rages around us. Living here and working at my art practice is my anchor even though moving to the woods originally was supposed to be an experiment.

Many of our institutions are undergoing enormous changes; religion, consumerism, what we eat, marriage and family and governance are all evolving dramatically. What to cling to during such upheavals? For one thing I see many people clinging to brands. Apple devices seem to engender the kind of worship saints and superstitions used to fill way back when. Services for our communications, entertainment, banking and generally doing anything are being sold to us as lifestyle choices not just services (which is what they really are, these things are services). We seem to be soaking in a storm of branding believing that loyalty to these ideas will somehow keep us safe and stable throughout the next market crash or war or environmental catastrophe.

Perhaps brands do keep us warm at night. I am no expert but I do think that some of our brightest thinkers today are involved in creating and guiding brand development.

“Brands are sponges for content, for images, for fleeting feelings. They become psychological concepts held in the minds of the public, where they may stay forever. As such you can’t entirely control a brand. At best; you only guide and influence it.” So says Scott Bredbury one of the original gurus on branding from his 2002 book A Brand New World. This statement reminds me of how I was taught about the concept of original sin. Since we were all born of sin then our free will should lead us to transcendence. Or something along those lines, there are lots of interpretations. Brands seem to be these totems in our society and they help us transcend our states of being. Again, interpretations abound however I think this is really what is going on and that is why art schools, advertising schools, and political science teach branding. Most public ideas today are squeezed through a branding exercise.

This whole branding thing came up because I am doing research on branding and product development. Being an artist I know little of this fast paced, lingo-istic world where marketing strategies seem to be philosophical writings and ruminations on human behavior. It is really interesting and makes me wonder why I didn’t go into this as a profession. I guess it was because when I was young advertising was a limited idea and I was told it wasn’t a very noble pursuit.

Albrecht Durer's Melancholia 1.
Albrecht Durer’s Melancholia 1.

But what is noble now? Are branding and its discipline a new form of philosophy that actually does help us transcend our slavery to consumerism? Is this a good idea or does it keep us entrenched into a downward spiral of resource exhaustion and over population? I should be concentrating on more specific ideas surrounding my research but I can’t help get lost in this kind of thinking…

Last year I saw this movie Melancholia by Lars Von Trier. I have now seen it five times. The obsession has included a daily autodidactic curriculum on German art history. You can’t go very far into German geniuses without tripping over Albrecht Durer. His etching Melancholia 1 took days off my life while I read dozens of articles by historians and mathematicians about its meanings and mysteries.

I came across this:
One of the four temperaments (melancholia), she holds the tool of geometry, yet
is surrounded by chaos. She thinks, but cannot act, while the infant
scrawling on the slate, who symbolizes Practical Knowledge,
can act but not think. This is then, the melancholia of an artist.
He cannot achieve perfect beauty, which is known only to God,
because he cannot extend his thinking beyond the limitations of
space and the physical world.
from History of Art by H.W. Janson, A. Janson

It is an exploration into how we can grope toward meaning but are limited by the world we find ourselves in. Branding tries to fit into this equation by offering us more than just the material; some of the ideas seem to suggest that once the service/product is purchased you will now have meaning. I think not. Durer had it right in 1514; our existence is a puzzle not to be figured out but worked on for its own sake. Reassurance, stability, wood heat and real meaning all come with a struggle, and that is where our grace truly lies.

Pic from


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