October 19, 2017

Simcha Fisher: WYD Panama logo or duelling lobster shell crackers?

Behold! The recently released logo for World Youth Day in Panama, January 22-27, 2019. PHOTO: CNS

What is a logo, anyway? You know what it is: It’s an image, often simple and stylised, used by a business or organisation. It’s supposed to be instantly recognisable, preferably eye-catching and memorable, and it’s supposed to convey what the business or organisation is about.

Colour, font, and composition all contribute to the design, which should be both attractive and meaningful.

And then we have this:

It is the newly-unveiled logo for World Youth Day 2019, which will be in Panama, and it conveys …

A jaunty bedouin sporting a monocle? A freckled whale about to devour an abashed set of pliers? Duelling lobster shell crackers? A sleeping puffin taking his ease on a set of red chopsticks?

It’s a terrible, terrible logo, and it ought to be taken out behind a brightly-collared shed and put out of its stylised misery. Yes, they’ve supplied an explanation for what it actually signifies. Apparently it’s Mary with a crown signifying five continents mooshed up against the silhouette of Panama wrapped up in a canal and also a cross.

‘Eye can see you!’ The Year of Mercy logo. PHOTO: CNS

Welp. If my yiddishe bubbe could be compelled to give her opinion on this logo, she’d call it “ongepotchket,” which means “overly elaborate, excessively decorated, slapped together senselessly.” That’s the very antithesis of what a logo ought to be.

I do not doubt the sincerity of its designer, and I’m sure she worked hard. My goal here is not to make anyone cry. But guys. We are Catholic.

Art basically exists because of us. We’re the ones who fought back hard against the idea that the body and its senses are inevitably at war with the soul. Our whole thing is clarity. I don’t mean to be cute, but the word “logo” comes from the word “logos,” as in “En archē ēn ho Lógos.” In the beginning was the word, and the word was not ongepotchket.

A couple of objections, with answers:

But how can you possibly have anything against Mary and Panama and the Cross? I don’t. I have something against putting ideas into a cocktail shaker and calling it visual art. Good ingredients don’t automatically arrange themselves into something palatable; you have to know what to do with them.

But it’s for young people! All the more reason to pour all our best resources into it. We’ve made the same mistake for several generations now: thinking we will appeal to young people by presenting the Faith like a new flavour of bubblegum. As long as the kiddos are mindlessly chewing away, might as well slip a little fluoride in there and firm up their dentine, right? Wrong. Kids have had their fill of bubblegum culture, and are aching for something real, something solid, something that calls them to be something higher. If you give them something chewy and bland, they’ll just spit it out once the first burst of flavour is gone.

But art is subjective! How can you say it’s good or bad, when it’s art? I just can, okay? When something is subjective, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to form a thoughtful, educated opinion about it; it just means you had better be prepared to defend your idea if you want to persuade anyone.

And anyway, logos are only partly subjective, aesthetic works. The other part is a pure, calculated, objective, “pass or fail” project. The purpose of a logo is to convey information visually. If it needs explanation, it has failed, and it ought to be scrapped.

Imagine how the designer’s mother would feel if she heard people saying mean things about her kid’s work! Okay, I will. And then I will tell her what I tell my kids, the oldest of whom is entering art school in the Fall: The world isn’t your mom. If you’re going to put your work out there for public consumption, then you will face criticism. It’s gonna hurt, but try not to take it personally. Try to learn from it and improve next time. It’s unchristian to say “The person who made this logo is a moron!” but it’s extremely Christian to say, “This bad art is bad.”

So I’ll say it: This bad art is bad. Happy World Youth Day to you!

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