Last month The Blanton had the great pleasure of hosting artist Storm Thorgerson in a special conversation with filmmaker Roddy Bogawa and former Artpace director and curator, Matthew Drutt. Thorgerson is the man behind legendary album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Catherine Wheel, Muse, Peter Gabriel, Audioslave, and dozens of other bands. Most of you likely have an image or two of his work in your record collections right now.
Storm was quite a character. He regaled the audience with witty anecdotes from his past, and even posed them – with paper stars over their eyes – for a group photo in The Blanton auditorium. Over the course of the evening’s conversation, an issue was raised that I would like to explore further in this post: Some wondered whether or not Thorgerson’s work could /should be considered fine art. My response is a resounding “yes!” Of course his work is art, as is the music that inspires it. His amazingly creative concepts and meticulously designed sets are artistic creations of the highest order. Moreover, much of his imagery is deeply integrated into our pop culture. On virtually any given day, one can encounter Storm’s iconic “Dark Side of the Moon” prism T-shirt on the back of an Austinite.
While his colleagues have turned to Photoshop and computer generated graphics, Storm continues to painstakingly create sets that are hand built to realize the vision he and the bands he works for have in their heads. He art directs his photographer and oversees the entire process, start to finish. Because his work is not often seen in galleries, and never in museums, many view it as commercial graphic design, similar to advertisements in magazines. What, then, constitutes art – fine art with a capital A? Is Storm’s process not similar to that of artists Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, who also rely on others to execute their visions? Is the difference that Storm’s work is done specifically for his clients and is not “art for art’s sake?” In my mind, this is no different from commissions that artists happily receive all the time. Is it then the medium? That his work is printed on the cover of albums, and is not created with paint on canvas or other more traditional means? Is it because his work is a “product?” What about the Louis Vuitton handbags designed by artists Takashi Murakami and the late Stephen Sprouse that were sold at art auctions? And what about Andy Warhol’s work for that matter? He started his career as a graphic illustrator and then completely blurred the distinction between commercial and fine art.
Ultimately, I guess it is up to each of us to personally determine what we believe to be art, or not. And many of you will likely not care enough to make such distinctions. Perhaps, like me, you just enjoy what you enjoy, and never feel the need to tidily classify what you see one way or another.