IMPART: Give and Communicate With Art

I believe art sets us apart.

the-earth-without-art-is-just-eh

I enjoy Seth Godin’s definition of art.

His definition of art contains three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

In my Sophmore year at BU, I attempted to create art.

My friend told me about a bad encounter with the NYPD. He had just started school in New York City, and he fell victim to the infamous stop-and-frisk program. When they frisked him, they found a little pot. Consequently, he felt victimized. These feelings inspired him to imagine an NYPD shirt with bacon for the font and a pig head in the shape of the badge.

On July 4th of 2010, we were celebrating our independence. He described the idea to me. I immediately got a rush from the possibilities. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I had been in search of an idea worth executing. At the time, I was working for LRG and saw possibilities in streetwear. I could imagine selling thousands of these shirts, like I <3 NY.

I felt one qualm about the whole idea. I did not want to sell something that proliferated negativity or hostility. I had some positive experiences with police in high school, so I do not have the “Fuck the police!” attitude like many adolescents. Instead, I have a humane perception of police. I realize if I treat a police officer like a human first and foremost, I will receive a human response. If treat a police officer like a power hungry cop, I am more likely to experience an interaction with a power hungry cop. Often times, reality emerges from the perceptions we hold.

Social entrepreneurship was trending with Toms Shoes as its poster child. As an entrepreneur, I focus on creating things that make people’s lives better, so the ideology behind social entrepreneurship naturally resonated with me. Rather than considering myself a heartless capitalist, I prefer to perceive myself a social entrepreneur. So, I made it my goal to find a way to incorporate an underlying positive message behind the graphic. We decided that we wanted the pig head to represent the dehumanization that happens when we perceive each other as a stereotype. We aimed to teach people to suspend their judgement. Surface level appearances do not always reflect the true intentions. We called ourselves Cop Out Collective and set out to start a social initiative to change the way police and urban youth perceived on another.

For my 21st birthday, I made 50 t-shirts with the image described above. We did a guerilla marketing push at Lollapalooza and Pretty Lights at Red Rocks.

Impart is defined as:
1. To give or bestow.

2. To make known or communicate.

The Cop Out Collective worked to give people and police a new way of relating to one another. Unfortunately, I came into the project with dreams of making thousands of dollars and attaining fame for catalyzing a major social change. I figured we could sell the t-shirts as limited, premium goods at $50 a pop. The thousands I calculated making came from a common mistake of first-time entrepreneurs (I’ll write another post on this common mistake in the near future). I was drinking the Kool-Aid.

I recognized the major fail of Cop Out months later thanks to a presentation by Stephen Webber at Rethink Music Conference. The artist’s intent and audience’s reaction must be aligned. When adolescents saw the shirts, they’d excitedly scream “Fuck the police,” the exact sentiment I wished to avoid. When police saw the shirts, they perceived the person wearing it as a disrespectful punk. Rather than building a connection and opening up a dialogue, the two parties became more distant. Granted, the shirts started a lot of conversations. In those instances, I could explain the true intention behind the graphic to those willing to listen. I often times got positive feedback, but I realized I shouldn’t have to persuade people into understanding the brand. The visual identity of the brand should seamlessly communicate the values and promise of the brand.

As an artist, we want our work to land where the two circles overlap. The greatest art pushes the two circles to the point of fully overlapping.

After the marketing push, I decided to call it quits on the project. I could feel things weren’t working well.

From the Cop Out Collective experience, I learned two things that dwarfed the art.

1. The art had been created with the primary purpose of being sold.

2. The artist’s intent and the listener’s reaction failed to achieve alignment.

I now understand the importance of giving without expectations and aligning the artist’s intent with the listener’s reaction. I learned from making imp art what must be done to impart.

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