The Shape of Water and my own forced evolution
Last weekend, Mike and I went on a date to see The Shape of Water. We both love all things Guillermo del Toro and couldn’t wait to feast our on eyes on this beautiful film. Which it was. Incredibly beautiful. Amazing. If you haven’t seen it yet, you gotta get on that. Afterwards we had a hurried cocktail and conversation about what we saw, eyes dutifully on the clock in attempt to make good on the promised return time for our babysitter. Both of us were flurried in our inspiration. The story was unique, everything was perfectly intertwined, nothing was arbitrary and visually, yes please, all of that. It’s a movie you don’t want to end.
But what struck me personally, was the storyline of a secondary character, Giles. An aging artist, who seemingly once had a successful career as a commercial illustrator but was now struggling to stay relevant at a time when photography was taking center stage. He makes a comment about whether he was just born too early or too late. It was a moment that created a lump in my throat and a burn in my eyes.
I have been working as a graphic designer in editorial design, on the printed page, since I graduated college in 1996. In that time I have been very fortunate to almost always have work. Great work, on great publications and with wonderful people. I have also bore witness to the decline of print, the shuttering of publishing companies and the big-fish-eat-little-fish merging of print houses. I have seen staffs go from 50 to 10, not to mention, profound budget cuts—which always starts with benefits then quickly moves to creative. I’ve seen the negotiation of usage rights with artists, as we navigated bringing our books online but not wanting to pay more to do so. I’ve listened to photographers who started shooting digitally in order to meet demand, but lamented the loss of their beloved 4×6 polaroid. Good bye light tables and slide viewers.
As for me, I resisted all the signs that urged me to change, to learn web and move to marketing. Rooted in my ways because I love print and telling stories with design, that being WHY I was there. In the past few years, I’ve experienced my own casualties and have lost work. I’ve had a steady decline in income and once we moved to Minneapolis, there was no work at all for nearly a year. I started thinking and worrying about what I would do if it all went away, and even started coming to terms with maybe it already has. And this is where I felt like Giles. He was also chasing the past, still arguing it’s merits while facing the power of the beast that is new technology.
Of course, what Giles didn’t know is that good art, the kind from within, never goes out of style. He needed to evolve, which is no small feat (I might be projecting here). Towards the end of the movie, he is so inspired that he starts creating these wonderful, rapid but thoughtful sketches* of The Asset, as the creature is called. They are striking and visually liberating and very different from the controlled commercial work that he was so desperately trying to hold onto. I like to think that as the story continues off-screen, Giles has a rebirth of who he is as an artist and a homosexual man. That this new work, exploratory in nature, also breathes new life into him (pun intended, if you’ve seen the movie), and people’s perceptions change, and all of this ultimately gives him the strength to be true to himself and his art.
Powerful right? I love a good fairytale.
In thinking about Giles and myself and the crossroads I will inevitably reach, I am inspired and working hard to be fearless. I know I am capable of evolving, of letting go what doesn’t work anymore and letting in what is new. I will work on magazines as long as I am invited, but I will also explore the ideas and concepts that invigorate me. I know what those things are, I just have to start.
*Giving props. The sketches in the film were created by artist Natalie Hall