[Ken Carbone] When does a visual cliché become an enduring symbol? Everyday. Clichés can be painfully banal, but contemporary graphic design is rife with them, and for good reason. The evolution of a visual cliché often has noble beginnings in art: A masterpiece or monument seen as ground breaking can be so beloved and celebrated that it is then overused, obvious, and regarded with disdain.
In the worst case, a cliché becomes a cultural stereotype. But like a “phoenix” (another cliché), it can be resurrected as a form of universal communication — a ”heart” symbolizing love, an “apple” for education or a bitmapped “thumbs up” beckoning approval. Clichés are deep-rooted in our cultural lexicon, and a part of every graphic designer’s conceptual toolbox. When used in design, they are an immediately understood visual language and no one is immune to their magnetic appeal.
Cliché is a French word and nowhere do these visual impressions seem more ubiquitous than in the ”City of Light.” Next to New York, Paris is like my second home. I just spent five days there, and the clichés were everywhere: a man in a beret, a poodle on a leash, an artist at an easel. Each visit to the city offers rich cultural clichés, and I love every one of them, even when their commercial offspring make me cringe.
I brought some back for you:
For decades, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure on the planet. An engineering marvel in its time, it was built for a whopping 8 million francs or about $1.5 million.
Today, you can easily have your very own portable version for about 2 euros.
Rodin’s Thinker is the masterpiece that launched a thousand bad rip-offs. However, Le Penser remains an icon of sculpture by any measure and is in museum collections around the world.
The Egyptians may have invented bread, but the French surely perfected it.
I found this mini baguette irresistible.
Especially for its secret ingredients.
Even after this kind of kitschy abuse, the original never loses it value. And some things never, ever get old.
Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author and teacher. He says he can’t spell, can’t type and only learned to swim after he turned 50. He’s never won an Oscar, never watched the Simpson’s, and secretly loves opera. We love his hat, but then it’s no surprise — he knows a lot about hats. He is the co-founder and chief creative director of the Carbone Smolan Agency in New York City. Their client list includes: W Hotels, Morgan Stanley, Mandarin Oriental Hotels, Canon, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Corbis Images, Architectural Record Magazine, Mohawk and the Musee du Louvre. Their work has been recognized for design excellence and published internationally. However, he says he would give it all up to play guitar for Tina Turner.