35 Years of Useless Art Experience

I have 35 years of working experience as a visual artist and no one in a position to pay me seems to care.

Adam Furgang
The Land of the Forgotten

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In 2016 the NYT ran this artsy photo I took in Queens back 1986.

This is going to take a while to unpack so get comfy.

Recently much of the world has finally realized that people can get their work accomplished from home. Remote job postings on LinkedIn have been increasing. Because of this I have been applying to hundreds of remote visual art and graphic design positions. Some are freelance. Some are contract gigs. Some are full time. In all cases, except for the one time some nefarious cabal tried to scam me, I have had no one take any real interest in my decades of experience or skills as a visual artist.

I am a writer now, yes, but to ignore my visual art skills would be to cut out a gigantic portion of who and what I am. I never felt comfortable doing just one thing either. I do a lot of things, and even in the visual arts world I never did just one thing. I’ve created many things professionally including illustrations, graphic designs, T-shirt designs, color separations, layouts, photography, fine art, fashion design, storefront displays, convention displays, websites, fliers, posters, postcards, and more. I’m a licensed FAA drone pilot now too.

So since the lockdown started I have been going through LinkedIn and applying for many visual art jobs at companies around the country who are looking for a creative individual like myself with near zero results. I thought my writing skills coupled with my visual art skills might help. Nope.

My Star Wars T design on a Lucasfilm Postcard

In the past I have worked 60+ hour weeks. I stood late on production lines to approve T-shirts. I read the Hollywood screenplay for Starship Troopers before it was in theaters and recommended to my boss that his company not pay for the license as no one would buy Ts of that film — and I was right too. I created what was likely the first time an action figure appeared on a T-shirt. Lucasfilm was so impressed they turned it into a postcard before The Phantom Menace was released.

New fancy terms exist now for what used to be called commercial art or graphic design. Marketing expert. UX/UI. Do you know Google analytics? or SEO? Haha. Newsflash! Not every website can pop up first on Google. Add a few keywords to your HTML and call it a day. And no lame website ever became well known and great because of good SEO! More silly irrelevant questions… Do you have a million years’ experience with all the newest applications? I love all the HR managers whose ages likely don’t equal the 35 years I’ve been creating art. One HR person was even late for a phone interview and blew a gasket when I mentioned how I set aside my morning for the interview. How dare I bring up such an inconvenient point. What a pleasure it must be working there.

One company recently rejected me and I checked out their website which was rife with run-on sentences, poor graphical layout, widowed header type, and poor color choices. I’ll spare them the embarrassment of naming them.

My favorite question on LinkedIn is: “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!”

Haha!

What a great way to find someone to work for you. Disregard their entire life and reduce it down to a clever tweet that catches your eye. I’m sure your company will catch a lot of great candidates with that question. Maybe Donald Trump can apply?

I helped to design the homepage of one of the very first social network websites — TheGlobe.com. I used some of the first digital cameras when I was told by my peers that digital would never catch on. I airbrushed (with an actual airbrush) all the busted old mannequins back to life at the vintage NYC clothing store on Broadway, The Antique Boutique. I put India ink into ruling pens. I used illustration board. I know the difference between hot pressed and cold pressed paper. I used Zipatone. I still own Rapidographs. I have painted art with gouache, watercolor, ink, oil, acrylic, and lacquer. I’ve drawn with pencils, charcoal, pastels, and oil sticks. I have used friskit to create airbrush art. I also used Letraset to add type to art. I’ve also added typography to art by hand! Imagine that? I even created my own font once based off my handwriting.

I also know about leading, tracking, and kerning. And ascenders and descenders. I have used non repro blue pencils. I’ve gone through a dozen coated and uncoated Pantone color swatch books. I’ve used kneaded erasers. And I’ve gotten sorta high on Design magic markers.

WTC © Adam Furgang 1986

I have developed photos in poisonous chemicals. I know what the aperture on a lens does and how to use a shutter stop manually. I burned and dodged photos with my hands under an enlarger. I remember when film speeds were called ASA which are now referred to as ISO. I shot on Polaroids, Hasselblad, Olympus, Minolta, Leica, and Canon cameras. I have thousands of negatives, polaroids, and prints sitting in my basement. I used and still own a Canon Xap Shot still video camera. I shot on video and edited videos using 2 VCRs hooked together like a tin can phone.

Let’s rewind a bit so I can explain who I am, where I have come from, and just how much experience I actually have because I’m not here tooting my own horn just to let you know how much I’ve accomplished and how great I am. Quite the contrary, I’m pointing it out to show how little it all matters today, and how no one cares a lick.

Cue sad violin music.

2015 was the distant future when I made this.

I entered The High School of Art and Design in NYC in September of 1985. I was 15. At that point I already had some semi-decent art skills under my belt. I had to, because to get into A&D I needed to present a portfolio and take an entrance exam. To prepare for the life-altering test I created a variety of different pieces of art and designs to communicate to the proctors that I possessed, at a minimum, the promise of someone who would flourish in the somewhat exclusive vocational NYC high school. At the time it was then located on 2nd Avenue and 57th Street on the upper east side of Manhattan. Now that building is gone and A&D has moved around the block. So long story short I was accepted into A&D. Yay!

Once accepted I took the subway into Manhattan every day (crazy, right?) and joined hundreds of other aspiring creatives from around NYC. Fashion students, filmmakers, photographers, comic artists, illustrators, and more. It was easily one of the most creative environments I’ve ever been in. I met and became friends with many amazing people too. I studied illustration and eventually went on to continue my studies at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. U-Arts in Philly was also an incredibly creative school where I learned a great deal more and continued to grow as an artist and an illustrator.

My quirky art from 1992

When I graduated U-Arts with a BFA in 1992 I went home to NYC where I was the envy of many classmates because everything happens in NYC, right? Or so I thought. Turns out 1992 was when the world decided to switch from creating graphic design by hand to creating it all on the computer. There was also a recession but now I realize that recessions in the United States are like leap years. So even though I was trained as an illustrator and headed back to NYC to secure my life as one, it turns out that Time, Newsweek, and Omni were not just sitting around waiting for me with open arms to pay me for my quirky unrefined watercolors. So I had to make it with whatever work I could find. I worked at The Gap for a while. Sometimes I found commercial art jobs. Commercial art is what the world used to call any art that was not fine art. I’m not here to debate the distinction between the two, but just to point out that the commercial art world was where the work was, and since I needed money I gravitated towards whatever was paying. I put on whatever art hat I needed to.

I found gigs in the screen-printing and CMYK color printing businesses of NYC. I had so many gigs I don’t even bother listing them all on my resume or on LinkedIn. Most places are long gone and the owners likely retired, dead, or both. At one gig in Long Island City (back when it was a shithole) I was working for a guy who had recently gone bankrupt in Manhattan. He had moved his printing business to Queens and he wanted me to answer the phone and explain that his wife (who I never once saw) was the owner and not him. Some smoke and mirrors nonsense that I knew was shady even at the young age of 22. After he attempted to train me on a postcard cutting machine that could easily sever both my arms in a second, and then having me move his furniture from one end of a warehouse to another, I abruptly quit. It was not exactly a job with upward mobility. I worked at other odd screen-printing gigs. I coated screens, exposed screens under lights with line art on acetate, and screened cheesy Ts for NYC tourist shops. I even threw my back out once loading heavy boxes on trucks.

I also worked in the fashion industry for a brief time too. I worked in SOHO for a famous bathing suit designer, KEIKO. Through no fault of my own that gig did not last long either. It turned out that even famous bathing suit designer artists struggle and have cash flow problems.

So after I worked creating T-shirts and fashion prints in Manhattan I found a full-time job in Queens creating T-shirts. It was there I learned more about graphic design and commercial art than anybody could ever hope to learn going to graduate school. It was an extremely valuable job for me, and like high school and college, I learned a great deal and met a lot of great people. Some people there were not so great. At this T-shirt company everything was done by hand and I learned about halftone screens, rosette patterns, cutting rubylith, bleeds, underlays, overprinting, underprinting, flashing, production schedules, print approvals, Pantone swatch books, adding © copyrights to licensed art, 12 screen double-sided prints, style guides, concept sketches, approvals, rejections, alterations, adjustments, and canceled orders. I also learned about how much money and materials companies can waste. Good God is a lot wasted.

Officially licensed Star Wars T designed, photographed, and created by me.

I must have worked on hundreds of T-shirts. Maybe over a thousand. Eventually the world of computers crept into the T-shirt business and the lonely neighborhood in the backwater end of Queens. By the mid 90s I was learning Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark, and software from a company you have likely never even heard of — Macromedia. Back then Macromedia created Flash and another vector Illustrator-like program called Freehand. They also created Dreamweaver. Eventually Adobe won out and bought Macromedia. I learned how to use all these programs before Steve Jobs had even been brought back into the fold over at Apple. I learned how to use these programs before the iMac and iPod existed, before cell phones were even a thing, and when the internet was just a curiosity some people had access to. My first Mac was a clone. It’s complicated.

At TheGlobe.com 2000/2001

Soon the computer world took off and exploded. I got a cell phone. I started my own website and blogged and posted images online before the term “blogging” even existed. I used Flash and Dreamweaver to create websites. Soon I switched jobs and took all my new skills to TheGlobe.com, a very early pre-Facebook social network located in lower Manhattan. I used to take the E train to the World Trade Center to get there. Yup. The actual World Trade Center was still standing back then and I worked only a few blocks away.

TheGlobe.com Homepage, circa early 2001

While I worked at TheGlobe.com I helped redesign the homepage and the look and feel of the website. Today they call this UX/UI — something I apparently have no experience at now even though I was unknowingly doing it professionally before the term was even coined. I created user-friendly links, buttons, banners, graphics, flash animations, and designed CMYK catalogs that often made use of my own photos to help save TheGlobe.com money on expensive stock photography. I worked on other websites too, since TheGlobe.com was fond of buying other websites like a kid in a candy store — Computer Games magazine, happypuppy.com (a gaming site), and Chips and Bits, another online website/store for computer and console gaming. I also created McDonald’s ads, Absolut Vodka ads, and ads for gaming sites that no longer exist. I did a lot there. I even worked on creating a favicon pretty much the exact week the name for that tiny icon in your web browser was coined.

I’m this old.

Then after a very long and exciting year it all came to a screeching halt. This was back in April of 2001. By then I was married and my first son had been born. Everyone at TheGlobe.com was let go since all the money used to prop them (and a lot of other internet companies) up had mostly run dry. We know who was left standing when the music stopped. But while I was there at TheGlobe.com it was great. I went to lots of sushi parties, saw the first X-Men film on the company dime at The Ziegfeld, and even took my wife to Windows on the World for our second wedding anniversary.

After being let go from TheGlobe.com along with everyone else I became a freelancer. I have not worked at a full-time office job since way back then. I also became a professional writer.

Now, I am not ignorant of what has been going on the last 20 years. I pay for the entire Adobe Suite monthly. I have continued to keep my art and design skills sharp. I worked on redesigning the Stewart’s Shops website a few years back. I created fliers for local companies. And in recent times I’ve provided professional drone videos and photography to local businesses and websites. All this while starting a new career as a professional writer.

So does Facebook or Google or Amazon or any of these other smaller IT companies have the good sense to hire experienced visual artists like myself?

No.

Do they have the good sense to recognize someone with traditional visual art skills and contemporary computer skills and writing skills?

No.

Do they realize that having experience using some flavor-of-the-month dumbass program means zero compared to decades of visual art experience?

Nope.

Any jackass can learn to use a program. Programs are just tools. Knowing how to use a visual art program does not make you a visual artist. This is similar to how knowing how to use a hammer to properly pound a few nails would not magically make you a carpenter. You need a lot more knowledge to create art and designs with a program just as you would need a lot more knowledge to build something significant with a hammer. Once you know how to use any graphic art computer program learning a new one becomes easier. Then it can take a week or two in front of most of them and you’ll be up and running. I got about 2 hours of help from a friend to jumpstart me on Adobe InDesign. I created my resume on it the next day. The program is far from perfect too. It’s just Adobe’s answer to the even more archaic QuarkXPress. Do I know every program backwards and forwards? No. But that’s the case with any program you do not use day in and day out. I’ve mostly stayed sharp with the programs I use. I also figured out ages ago that any program related task I need help with generally can be easily learned by looking it up on Google or YouTube. Having experience with some program that could be learned in a few weeks should not be what’s keeping companies from hiring visual artists with decades of experience.

But it is.

And no one can learn every program. You could easily invest months learning a program and still find no work.

As I was writing this I texted my best friend Mike about the overall gist of this blog post. He’s got even more visual art experience under his belt than me. We met in Ryan Junior High School in Queens in the early 80s. Mike went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Before that he studied illustration at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, AKA the Fame school. Mike is an incredible talent and was influential and instrumental in me becoming an artist. It was because of him going to LaGuardia High School that I wound up at The High School of Art and Design. I did not get accepted into LaGuardia.

I texted him earlier: “I’m writing a new blog post about how 35 years of visual art skills don’t matter in today’s market and no one cares.”

He replied: “You are absolutely genuinely 100% correct.”

After a pause, he then texted, “No one gives a shit about what skills u have, or creativity, or what school you went to. All they give a shit about is what you did previously, which makes it impossible to ever get started. This is why I work at a hospital.”

That just about sums it all up.

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Adam Furgang
The Land of the Forgotten

Writer • Editor • Visual Artist • Gamer • Troublemaker