Creative Review, Aug/Sept 2021
For the past 40 years Creative Review has maintained a constant coverage of creativity in design and advertising. Now bimonthly and themed, the magazine has always kept an active eye on magazine publishing and this latest issue is no exception.
The issue is themed Belief, and covers the rebranding of faith—including magazines MuslimSisterhood and Emergence—as well as politics and the power of persuasion. It also asks, are brands the new religion?
Our sample from the issue is the opening section of a fascinating, lengthy interview with designer-artist (and ex-art director of i-D and Sleazenation) Scott King about his latest publication, ‘The Debrist Manifesto’ and the relevance/power of the manifesto as a format. Scott offers a typically witty but knowledgeable analysis of manifestos, as well as explaining his own brilliant take on the form.
Editor Eliza Williams explains, ‘When Scott released his manifesto, it coincided very neatly with our prep for the new issue of the magazine.
‘We felt that Scott’s thoughts on what it means to be creative, plus the wider idea of the creative manifesto—something you see produced by everyone from artists to ad agencies to designers—fitted very well with the topic.
‘Our deputy editor Emma Tucker interviewed Scott, who proved enlightening both on his own publication and the wider idea of creative manifestos in general. Plus he then designed a beautiful cover for the issue!’
Over to Emma and Scott…
“Winners don’t write manifestos,” jokes Scott King, who, all the same, has just finished writing one. It’s hard to believe that King – a former art director for i-D, creative director for Sleazenation, and professor of visual communication at the University of the Arts London – really belongs in the ‘loser’ camp, but his comment is only half in jest.
“The author is almost inevitably thwarted in some way,” he continues. “Ad agencies and certain aspects of government might see themselves as winners writing manifestos, but culturally, or in the arts, they’re written by losers. [Filippo Tommaso] Marinetti was a loser. Wyndham Lewis was a loser. It’s trying to agitate, and lay out how they think things should be, and they’re often written by cranks and outsiders. I think I might include myself in that.”
Manifestos arguably sit awkwardly within brands or even big design or ad agencies – although writing a manifesto has become a trend in recent years, used as a way to spell out a company’s philosophy or ideology. Yet some might feel that they would do well to steer clear of these documents, which are often thoroughly defanged once they’re in the service of big business.
“If someone was going to take a subject and clarify it for the good of many people, I think that’s the ultimate reason for a manifesto,” King says. “But it’s misused. And it’s either the lone crank who wants to create a space for themselves, or a cynical ad agency or government who want to appear to be saying the right things. But I’m on the side of the lone nut who’d consider writing one in order to make space for themselves, in order to create work.”
Self-deprecation aside, King’s own effort, entitled the Debrist Manifesto, is an attempt to encapsulate his own artistic frustration – and what he sees as a failure to bring all the creative flotsam and jetsam of his mind to life. While the artist says he yearns to be constantly occupied, the reality doesn’t always match up, leaving his inbox stuffed with unrealised ideas.
“I’ve got literally thousands of emails I’ve sent to myself, like Alan Partridge making his notes for himself,” he says. “It’ll be an idea for a play, or an idea for an opera or a painting. All these things I can’t really do but imagine I can. And on my desktop I’ve got hundreds of files, all of these half-started projects. It occurred to me that what I really do is make debris, mostly. Some things see the light of day or you’re commissioned to make something, and some things emerge. But most stuff is beneath the surface and that is my real life. And that is what the Debrist Manifesto is about – it’s about real life. Not being able to match your imaginary output to your concrete outlet.”
Most readers can probably relate to King’s words, and indeed parts of his manifesto feel like they could be aimed squarely at the ad and design industry. “Make certain that you are never working on less than 12 to 20 projects at any one time,” for example, or, “If you finish something – disown it. Spend years thinking about how much better you could have done it.” Although satirical in tone, King’s manifesto neatly captures those creeping feelings of futility that many creatives will have faced at one moment or another.
“If the world worked as I wanted it to work, every idea I had there’d be someone stood next to me wanting to make it,” he adds. “Or somebody who wanted to give me £20k to do it. The Debrist Manifesto is very much built on my truth.”