I’m a graphic artist. Have been for decades. Throughout my career I’ve been nominated for an Emmy, received hundreds of awards, and lectured around the world. I’ve designed for skateboard and music magazines, whiskey labels, international companies, social justice causes, and much else.
But I didn’t set out to do any of that. I started designing because it was fun and creative. I just liked it.
I’ve often said that, as a graphic artist, the area of design that interests me most is emotion: The message that’s sent before somebody begins to read—before they get the rest of the information.
To me, design is about interacting and engaging with audiences. I want them to experience a visceral reaction when they see my work.
That’s often the whole point of art—to communicate a message. Ideally, my job is to communicate the right message about what I’m designing.
Some will like the message and how it’s expressed; some won’t. But I feel that if everybody loves your work, you’re playing it much too safe.
I try to push the boundaries of what’s possible in my designs. I took my first graphic design class in my late twenties. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the basics, the fundamentals, or the what’s-supposed-to-be. I just started designing without knowing what the rules were or that I was breaking them.
Since then, my overall approach has always been: Why not? Why can’t we do that?
I create through intuition. Creative communication begins with a feeling. Trust your eye, trust your gut. That’s where great art comes from.
But all of that requires freedom. The freedom to fail and to experiment. And the freedom to create consistent with your own personal beliefs and artistic choices. If you can’t put your own heart and soul into your work, there’s no reason to do it.
That’s why I was fascinated by the recent U.S. Supreme Court case 303 Creative v. Elenis. The case involves Lorie Smith, another graphic designer and the owner of 303 Creative in Colorado.
She challenged a state law that would force her to create custom designs that celebrate views on marriage she disagrees with. On June 30, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled in her favor and concluded that the government cannot force artists to create art promoting ideas they don’t believe.
I filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Lorie’s case. Not because I agree with her stance on marriage. Far from it. Let me be crystal clear: I support marriage equality.
Instead, I filed the brief because I believe so strongly in the underlying free-speech principles. And I understood that if Colorado could force one artist to create something inconsistent with her beliefs, it’s not hard to imagine other governments in this country doing the same.
That’s a scary place to be in as a country if the government can start telling us what we must say and what we can’t say.
So while I absolutely disagree with Lorie’s views on marriage, I wholeheartedly condemn the idea that the government can dictate what artists create.
Personally, I haven’t–and won’t–create a piece of art that’s pro-guns, that promotes Donald Trump or that helps anyone sell cigarettes. I wouldn’t design any of these messages if a client asked me to. Those are very personal decisions that should be left to individual artists, not the government.
Artists, like everyone else, must be allowed to choose for themselves what messages they want to express. To me, that’s the most basic definition of art and freedom, and of effective communication, for that matter.
As long as we have that right to choose, some people are going to put forth messages I don’t like. That’s all right. I’m not endorsing Lorie Smith. I’m not endorsing her point of view. I’m endorsing freedom.
It’s not something I want just for myself, or just for those who agree with me. Freedom is for everybody. Whether I agree with them–or not.
I’m glad the U.S. Supreme Court chose to recognize that in 303 Creative v. Elenis. Freedom of expression is one of the founding principles of our country. And we’re all the better for it.