Last week, Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko spoke at the launch of this year’s United Nations-recognised Culture Week at Nemakonde High School in Chinhoyi and highlighted a major problem faced by today’s visual artists.
“Let us desist from the tendency of manipulating artists,” he remarked.
Most Zimbabwean artists working as self-employers or for small companies often come across characters that insist on quality but regrettably fall far short when acknowledging the efforts that go into the development of artworks.
Graphic designers often find it difficult to get full payment for their efforts.
Some years ago, I was given the honour of developing a logo for one of Zimbabwe’s national soccer supporters associations barely a week before the country’s national team played a competitive match at home.
Knowing the value of supporters of our national team, I dropped everything to concentrate on coming up with a suitable symbol for the soccer fans.
Upon completing the task, I presented the logo to the supporters’ hierarchy upon which I was informed that the job was way below their accepted standard.
To my surprise, a few days later, on match day and at Rufaro Stadium, I witnessed the leaders of the said soccer supporters association walking into the venue clad in suits bearing the same logo they supposedly rejected only a few days before.
The association never paid for the job, their rationale was that, because they changed “something” on the logo, it was no longer mine but belonged solely to them.
As visual artists, we cannot let associations and individuals such as the leaders of a soccer supporters association bully or exploit us for selfish reasons.
Many other graphic designers regularly come across clients that are only willing to pay a portion of the full amount agreed upon during the initial contract.
Some clients mistakenly believe that they cannot pay large amounts of money for a logo made up of “a few lines with shapes and words”.
These clients may not be aware that abstracting requires creative skill and depicting mission, values, products or objectives of an organisation as symbols is extremely challenging.
Graphic designers bestowed with the responsibility of creating a logo on behalf of an organisation typically reduce these characteristics into visual shorthand that uses colour, shape and form to communicate a representational disposition of either a company or its brand.
A logo becomes a minimalist symbol encompassing complex ideas or concepts.
A lot of thinking and planning goes into designing a logo, and because it becomes the recognisable image that represents an organisation every time and everywhere it chooses to be visible, the amount of money that should exchange hands whenever an artist is commissioned to develop one is not to be sneezed at.
Most artists value the thought process a lot more than the physical processes and may need to treat the two differently.
When an artist comes up with a price tag for his/her work, at least half the job is done.
On the next step, he/she needs to convince the “client” that the work is well worth its price tag.
Paying for artworks is a business most people do once in a blue moon and because of this, the “client” requires a proper briefing on what is involved when developing products of creativity.
Trust and understanding have to be established between artist and “client”.
If an agreement is to be struck before the work is developed and based on the artist’s estimates, there is need for a written contract so as to ensure that either party is guided by legal and ethical terms defined by agreement.
Whether written or verbal, the artist cannot and should not allow the “client” to dictate the conditions of the contract.
Artists should be free to charge as much as they want for developing creative products because they alone know the value of their creativity.
Art, as VP Mphoko put it, can no longer be regarded as a hobby or a light-hearted pastime.
“It is high time there be a shift regarding arts and culture only as a source of entertainment, but critically as a profession that is contributing to gross domestic product and fulfilling demands in our country’s economic blueprint that aims to eradicate poverty through promoting entrepreneurship in the arts and culture,” the Vice President added.
Visual communication is fast becoming a serious business with the potential to be a major foreign currency earner especially if marketed together with the country’s vibrant tourism sector.
There is no room for exploitation in the country’s visual communication industry.
Vice President Mphoko agrees and this is reflected in his closing remarks:
“The tranquil environment that we are enjoying is because of a peaceful culture that we cultivate time and again as Zimbabweans. The respect we have for each other as a nation has made us resilient despite socio-economic and political changes and I urge each one of us to maintain the peace which is the major source of nation building and identity,” he con- cluded.