The Burger King Renaissance

By: Peter Kolb – Opinions Editor

I’m taking a class on Italian Renaissance Art this semester. It’s a Core class taught by one of the most unique and impassioned UD professors I’ve come across so far: Dr. Roger Crum – I can’t recommend his class enough.

I’ve always been tangentially interested in the Renaissance time period but never devoted any serious time or effort into learning about it. So, this is my first time learning about the time period in the “come to class and take notes and study and learn about this thing” type environment.

Amid the myriad of lessons, peoples and things we’ve been introduced to in class, there’s one thought that I haven’t been able to shake from my head. We’re sitting here being students taking these notes and learning about this thing and basically after a bit you get the feeling that the Renaissance is when humans were really on their A-game in a lot of regards.

We’ve got Da Vinci – who, the more I learn about him just seems to be the objectively greatest human to ever be. Towards the latter half of the 16th century when things were really peaking, the flush toilet was invented, and of course we experienced the unprecedented surge in fields of architecture, engineering, and most notably: the arts. The Renaissance was undisputably one of the most productive time periods the artists of the world have ever seen.

What’s strange to me, however, is that the conditions artists operated under during the Renaissance – the evidently “prime” conditions for the human as an artist are wildly unpopular by today’s standards. Maybe not unpopular, but just sort of ignored.

Because from what I have gathered today’s ideal, I mean ideal artist in the art world fighting the good art fight, is independent. They’re not creating art, whether that be paintings or sculptures or graphic designs because they need to, or because they are contractually obligated.

The ideal artist isn’t an artist because their parents or society have forced them to become an artist – they choose to forgo hours of socializing for days and nights spent in the studio alone. Besides the art they’re creating, they may only have the company of perhaps one or two equally tired and artistic ideal artists stuck in the studio with them. Rather, our ideal artist is in there doing all that work because s/he wants to. Because s/he would rather spend their whole life drawing with a white crayon on white paper than ever do another math problem. If there is any need or force making them complete art, it’s the insatiable everlasting fire inside him/her that won’t settle if not working towards their passion. Even then, fluffy dramatics aside, that’s still independently motivated, right? Anyways, that’s the ideal artist, in my opinion.

That was not the case in the Renaissance. From a real official census of the pictures that I sorta remember glancing at in this class so far this semester, it’s overwhelmingly religious. This is because most of these pieces coming out were Church commissioned. So much of this took off since the Church had need for art, money to supply it and artists had art to give with no money to make it. So, they’d paint St. X doing Y for the Cathedral of Z, the Church would pay them, and that’s how art was made.

These artists needed to complete these pieces. Their art was motivated by an impending deadline and a monetary reward; it was some of the best humans have ever produced. Not to say these artists didn’t have passion, didn’t also want to paint these pieces, but that’s not as interesting nor as important right now.

It seems to me that the closest resemblance of the “Renaissance artist” we have going now are the kindred art majors who begrudgingly settle for some graphic design job at AT&T or a big advertising company.

Because these corporate employed artists are, similar to the Renaissance artist, operating under an impending deadline and for a monetary reward. Corporate America serves as the new Church; supplying the artists of the world with money and use for their skills. Walgreens the new Medici family. Tim Cook: the new Pope.  

And if I can just extrapolate the most dramatic and abstract parts of that thought, it really does make sense. Since these artists were not only making art to be aesthetically pleasing; they also, more importantly, needed to connect whoever sees it to their own personal definition of G-O-D. This stuff was made for people to worship. Their art had to inspire some sort of spiritual conversation within those whom saw it.

Connecting our points back to corporate America: the Church is dead. Or at least, the Church is not what it used to be in terms of societal/cultural roles. It is not a hub for society or art or even community in most cases like it was during the Renaissance.

If anything is the new Church of America – and I really can’t stress how badly I feel for the pretension dripping from this sentence – it is consumerism.

It is not some groundbreaking observation that our lives are very seriously centered around the consumption of entertainment, products, and other made-to-sell things. Was the TV room not one of the few shared gathering places amongst your family? Is your phone not your default filler for any blank space in uncomfortable social interaction? Is the best ice-breaker not a soft probing to find what Netflix shows you possibly co-follow with another person?

All of these things, these things that flood and dominate our lives just like the Church did before, are decorated by art. Corporations, no matter how gross and un-human they are, rely on some medium to exploit and sell to our humanness. Arizona Iced Tea employs an artist to design their can (to sell), Burger King employs a graphic design artist to animate the words “Have it your way” into a fun little dancing routine (to sell). Heck – Coke has practically started to just air feel-good short films that relate to the selling of soft drinks, God knows how, with a simple flashing of the logo following after.

Perhaps this is where true art is to come from as humans evolve. I mean, it does make sense, right? Why is the value of needing art overshadowed by this fantastical idea of the independent artist that wants to create art. It’s not like we’d think it’s easier to move a boulder because you want to compared to the chance you have at moving it if you absolutely need to in order to live.

So thank you Burger King. You are putting whatever kindred souls you’ve hired under conditions not unlike that of the Renaissance. That graphic design artist that is tasked with making some animation now has two things to consider when doing their work: 1. It has to be aesthetically pleasing. People have to like the commercial/whatever and 2. It has to inspire some inner conversation with whoever sees it that results in them wanting to pay their hard-earned money on a rubbery slab of horse meat stuck in between two expired buns. That is a high bar to set for art. A commercial that works, that does both of those things? For my money may be some of the most impressive art humans have to offer.


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