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Opinion: Lawrence Zeegen is left unmoved by this year's Pick Me Up

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We really enjoyed this year’s Pick Me Up festival (as you can see from our glowing review) but others were not so convinced. Here Lawrence Zeegen, dean of design at the London College of Communications, argues that the graphic art world needs a wake-up call.

Pick Me Up is five years old (or young depending on your perspective) this year. But has what burst onto the scene as a refreshing overview of contemporary graphic art already had its day I wonder? And has Pick Me Up achieved anything much more than offer a “fun and informal” (their words not mine) take on the state of graphic art and illustration in London?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book Tipping Point, we learnt there are three rules for epidemics: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of the Context. When a few hipsters on the Lower East Side started wearing Hush Puppies, it ignited a trend that copyists and emulators blindly followed, only for the leading protagonists to move on rapidly to discover the next best thing in ironic footwear.

Has Pick Me Up now met its own tipping point? Have the hipsters that once migrated west to Somerset House from their east London lairs now retreated, taking their beards, plaid shirts and skinny jeans with them, only to be replaced by a generation of would-be’s and wannabes with replica beards, plaid shirts and skinny jeans?

Pick Me Up isn’t to blame. It doesn’t claim to represent anything more than a style-over-content, fashion-led, vanilla-bland, anodyne-pop version of yesterday’s zeitgeist, remodelled and repackaged for another generation of young pretenders obsessed with the here and now, despite the whiff of the then and there.

We accept that 30 has been the new 20 for some time now and for a generation of graduates refusing to grow up gracefully Pick Me Up offers an opportunity to stay forever young – create your own Art School Degree Show Mk. II. Here, trade show masquerades as degree show, albeit in a world where graduates have little of any substance to say.

Part bazaar and part plain bizarre, Somerset House is piled high with meaningless exhibits and meaningless attractions; draw a monster; make a badge; print a poster. It’s good clean family fun and for that Pick Me Up should be congratulated. Graphic art can be fun.

Call me old-fashioned (heck call me old) but personally I’m far more interested in where the next crop of graphic gunslingers, rebel-rousers, troublemakers and activists are to be found right now. Contemporary illustration needs a good clean shot of adrenalin, but it’s next fix ain’t to be found at Pick Me Up 2014.

Lawrence Zeegen is the Dean of the School of Design at London College of Communication and Professor of Illustration at University of the Arts London. His latest book 50 Years of Illustration is published by Laurence King in September.

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