In our first CTS session of the year we looked into the concepts of IDENTITY and CULTURE, which led to quite an interesting philosophical debate.
What is identity ?
After reading about Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (meaning “I think, therefore I am”) and some of the definitions of the word, we all agreed that IDENTITY is fiction. Now, being fiction doesn’t mean it is not real but simply that it is an invention, something we humans made up.
This is where the discussion started, as some of my collegues defended that we make our own identity; we decide who we want to be. The other half of us (including myself) disagreed: we can’t generate an identity from scratch; we simply combine different features together to create one unique personality. This is subject to what we are influenced by: education, culture, experiences in life, etc. For instance, if we put a new born in a room with nothing but white walls… who would that person be? Would it have an identity? NO. With nothing to be influenced by, nothing to learn from, that person wouldn’t even be able to develop psichologically and socially. It wouldn’t be stimulated and, therefore, it couldn’t create its identity. An identity is simply a selection of the things we live, see, experience.
Regarding to CULTURE, we were shown a chart made by the V&A, which was quite interesting. It was a result of a research study on subcultures and it showed the origins of the most popular urban tribes over time.
According to this chart (which you can see below), Hipsters actually happened before Hippies (I know, how ironic is that!? They were cool way before the Hippies); Gay Pride comes from Rock & Roll; Nerds/Geeks were the new Skaters and Surfers; and Jamaica is in the origin of Punk culture.
As surprising as it is, it is actually also quite logical. Subcultures are a part of our IDENTITY and a way of REPRESENTATION of ourselves. What begins as a minority, becomes a trend. Suddenly, everyone wants to be a part of the exclusive group of people who are “different”. And so the different becomes ordinary. Those who want to keep on being unique, must find a different way of presenting – or REpresenting – themselves and that usually comes from taking the subculture they used to belong to and behave in the exact opposite way.
Everything and everyone are subject to the world around us. A new subculture – or identity – doesn’t come nothing; it is a response to the influences of the means we’re surrounded by.
As illustrators, we too are influenced by the place we live in, our friends, our experiences and even our own language (even if we don’t need words to draw) but we also have the power to influence others and pass our values and ideas to those who see our work.