Seen and Not Heard: The Cultivation of an Artist’s Image

I think we’d all love to humour the notion that the success of creative careers is entirely contingent on talent and originality. However, much like my own propensity for setting alarms at 6am every morning that I will never wake up to, ultimately this concept is both misguided and outlandishly naïve.

cultivating an image
Illustrations courtesy of the wonderful Helen Green

As a musician, the cultivation of an image and ‘selling yourself’ is often translated to ‘selling out’. We take a look at why you gotta play the game in Happy Mag issue 3.

The pressure to cultivate an aesthetic that equally screams “marketability!” whilst accurately reflecting the passions and depth of the artist is a universal point of contention for all creative industries; but it is undoubtedly experienced with the most heft by musicians.

It’s not difficult to appreciate why this is so – from live performances to music videos and press imagery, the visual representation of a band or musician is absolutely integral to their communication with an audience. The establishment of a brand drives expectations as well as the very conceptualisation of the music.

On a slightly more philosophical level, as listeners, we also can’t help but conceive music as an intrinsic expression of the individuals creating it; and the imagery associated with that music is part and parcel to this belief (largely because we perceive fashion in precisely the same way).

If this seems unfair, it’s probably because it is. But to contend this idea is to challenge the basic psychology of every music consumer.

Just as in every other facet of human existence, we love a good pigeonhole, and nothing gets us off quicker than the reinforcement of a belief that we already possess.After all – would rockabilly really be rockabilly without the existence of pomade? Would punk be punk without emaciated white men? Would female electronica be anything at all if it weren’t for the discovery that outfits can be constructed entirely out of children’s craft equipment?

To shirk these belief systems is to reject a fundamental understanding of musical genres. For every band that throws in the towel and declares, “Fuck it all! We’ll just wear our jeans and flannel shirts!” you’ve got yourself a review that fixates on the ‘band’s nostalgic suggestions of 90s grunge’.

As soon as an artist is inclined to construct an aesthetic that contradicts the music they’re producing, live performances quickly become a cognitively dissonant nightmare.

I once watched a mildly impressive blues-rock band play a gig, only to find that the whole experience was mitigated by their lead guitarist’s insistence on wearing white Nike Airs; naturally everything I had grown to understand about anything, ever, was cast into sudden turmoil.

Of course, the cultivation of a musician’s image isn’t generally as ham-fisted as the choice of one’s shoes but hey, it plays its part…

For the entire feature grab yourself a copy of Happy Mag 3 with Jaala on the cover, a chat with Rainbow Chan, MOSSY and heaps, heaps more!