You are setting out to become artists or designers, or to work in the media, so you will already have some idea of what these professions involve. The idea of what it means to be in these fields comes from the past, and therefore it is important to look at the past to see where these ideas have their origins. You need to develop a reflexive and critical understanding of your chosen field in order to grow within it.

Nowadays, your chosen career pathway will mean becoming a professional worker within the ‘culture industry’. This means that you will function as members of one aspect of the enormously complex economic structure that drives the developed world forward. This membership can take many different forms, from being hugely rich and successful artists and designers like Damien Hirst or John Maeda to being a teacher at an art school or someone who works in a café and paints whenever they have a free moment. What these people have in common is that they somehow identify with the labels ‘artist’ or ‘designer’.

First of all, we should be aware that what we mean when we say ‘artist’ is of recent historical origins and ‘designer’ is even more contemporary, while ‘media’ has been an important cultural category only since the late nineteenth century. Furthermore, these are all Western concepts. Before the fifteenth century in the West, as in the rest ...

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