The Power to Change

What’s the point in all of this?

A question asked by many a creative professional, sometimes after frustrating client meetings, sometimes in front of a computer screen, sometimes after seeing a compromised final product.

Here’s Klaus Nomi, 1982, stricken with AIDS, barely understanding the disease he was dying from, offering what he could, creatively. He’s about dead, and it wasn’t clear to his doctors just why: his friends had to visit him wearing protective plastic bags. He’ll be gone by 1983. And here he is, in artistic defiance, as all he could do.

There’s nothing wrong with shedding a tear or two when we see footage like this, from the era where tens of thousands of men died, tragically, unnecessarily.  I do.

Part of what makes us human is how we react to adversities. Rabbits run. Bears fight. Humans think, solve, console, make better. A small minority create art, because that’s the best they can offer.

As seen in the 2012 documentary “To Survive a Plague”, as evidenced in our survey of historic graphic design, designers play an important role in our shared history. It isn’t small, it isn’t specified, narrow, or limited. Creatives can change the world and save lives.

SILENCE=DEATH was a collaborative creation of professionals (specifically Avram Finklestein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccaras). The striking, direct nature of the design was a perfect fit for the proto-social sharing of the 1980’s: wheat pasted posters, t-shirts, pins. Banners were hung in protest over the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute for Health; they indeed influenced decision makers inside those buildings, as interviews in “To Survive a Plague” reveal. These decision makers in turn made policy and allocated millions in research funds. It was type and shape, meaning and context that played a part in  a movement that saved millions of lives.

It can be a hard thing, a remunerative creative life, the selling of product. There are some comforts in success: we live in an era of metrics, stats, instant feedback. But underneath all of this, these numbers, these spreadsheets, lies a truth: that there exists a power of communication, of influence, of artistic persuasion, possessed by a few, a talented, a sincere.

And with that rare ability to visually persuade, there exists endless chances to serve the greater good.