Interview with Josh Rose

Josh Rose is an artist, filmmaker & photographer. He is a fourth generation Los Angelino and together with his family he lives in Venice Beach. He grew up in a creative community in Los Angeles. He studied Fine Arts and then worked in commercial arts for like 20 years. He worked at an agency and did advertising and branding for large organizations varying from Volkswagen, PlayStation to the US army. In the last few years, especially since 2018, he has been more focused on developing his own voice in the art world. He is an artist in residence at various dancing organizations.

"What is your work focused on?

I'm always trying to push the collaborations I do into deeper places, and to uncover deeper human emotions and truths, and get to kind of like the, the more real part of what people are doing. I don't settle for simply something beautiful and superficial, but, but try to add meaning and a discussion, a dialogue into it. On social media we always post these heroic images. The best versions of ourselves.  You can just simply push against it and say “I'm against social media. I want to be more about the analog real world”, or, you can try to change it from within. And so, my thought is, let's embrace it but let’s go deeper. I work with all sorts of people. With dancers, a soccer club here in town, commercial organizations. I do branding and marketing. Also I am working on my own themes and developing a voice in contemporary culture. In my work I balance the commercial world and the fine art world. I think I've got this reputation that's built up is more of the artist's approach to things. And that's been nice to kind of evolve over the years. 

What is the role of the artist in today’s world?

I feel like the world needs the artist's voice now more than ever. When you look at the history, we see that new things evolved as a response to big forces that are going on. And I feel like we're in one right now. There's all this news coming in about the psychological consequences of the pandemic. We have some sort of collective trauma. Here in the US, we also have a lot of political divisions. Conservative versus liberal. In many places in the world, there is this duality. I think we are all in a kind of shock. I'm developing themes related to these observations. For example, I'm exploring the meaning of the metaverse right now in art. 

It seems that as an artist you are a Trojan horse. Trying to challenge people’s thinking from within. Also, it seems that you don’t narrow yourself down to one category, is that right? Instead you seem to embrace the diversity of your identity.

I used to say: “I am an artist, filmmaker, photographer, poet. I have even referred to myself as a writer. It is a struggle how far to push these categories. At what point are you just everything? I want to make sure I'm conveying the things that I that I want to be known for.

It seems that your approach it as an open evolving thing. I think it sounds like you try to define yourself emergently along with trends and possibilities that you see opening up, you know, whether it is fine art or commercial industry, whether that is writing poems, writing stuff, being a filmmaker, photographer. Maybe social media is actually trying to push us into one frame but maybe your strength is in actually being the artistic Trojan horse in all kinds of fields. 

I like the idea that I am useful. And social media is not all that bad. From a creator standpoint, you meet great people, the content is really beautiful. In many cases, the people are very nice, collaborative, and co-creative. Social media is a great creative space. I have done a lot of film and commercials. Now I am more in experimental videos that we post on social media, among others. I worked a lot with choreographers and dancers in the last years.  It is a creative challenge. How do you make something with a dancer? That isn't like everything else they're doing but that is postable on social media? Working with dancers is really great, because they take direction in an entirely different way than anyone else on the planet. You can say things like, I want to create tension here, or I want you to be more like water, or I want you to feel air, you know, or space, and they can work with anything. I for example recently started a project with LA-based dancer Mike Tyus. (more?)

When you make such a movie, or any other art project, do you have a picture in mind beforehand concerning the outcome? Or do you start collaborating with other people and organizations without knowing the outcome?

With fine art training, you learn to let go into the process of creation. We tend to think, in this day and age, of art as a final product. In the commercial art world, you storyboard things out. You make it concrete because you have to sell it. My process here is much more like the fine art process. It is much like painting on a canvas: we know ‘the canvas’, which is this location, and we know the paints, which are in the case of the video with Mike Tyus, the dancer and me. From there, we create. We are developing the art as we go. 

I can imagine that this fine art approach is very different from the commercial art approach. How does the process of creation take place in the commercial world and how is it different from what you're doing now? 

I'm thinking about this all the time. And so technically, in the commercial art world, you do strategy up-front. And you're at the service of commerce: you have an item to sell and need to reach a certain number of people and potentially a certain kind of person, a demographic. And so before creativity ever happens, you need to know the medium. Where it's going to go, is it on TV? Is it in a magazine? Is it social? Is it a website? what is it we're making, where where's it going to be? And then, in order to inform your concept, you need an insight. And that insight is all about what is going to get a consumer to act in some way. And then it goes into intent. There's different strategies around intent. They do focus groups, qualitative and quantitative data and then synthesizing by a strategist or planner to validate the insight and identify creative directions. Then they develop a creative brief. And then I get in. I come up with various creative ideas and then we have to agree on that idea. Once you get an approved concept, it goes into production. And in in the middle there are a lot of actors that have to agree with it. It is very methodical in nature. And so it took me many years to realize this. As a creative, which I call an artist in the commercial world,  it feels very much like you're doing similar things that you do in fine art. But the way you do it is completely different.

So basically, in the commercial world, creativity is much more methodical, standardized and political and in the art world it is much more about letting go and embracing the uncertainty that goes along with the process of creation. So you learned his rather methodical approach to creativity in the commercial world for over 20 years, and recently went into the direction of fine arts more? So how could you sort of un-learn this methodological process?

I already had a love of fine art. I have a background in Fine arts. I have a lot of art books and watch a lot of art movies. It was already in me and never left me in terms of that. And I already had tool proficiency. It's easy for me to learn the tools, like filming and editing, and, and photography. The stuff I did have to go through, and I'm still going through it, is how to find your own personal themes. When I was in college, they just popped up constantly. Ideas just bubbled up. All the time. And, and now, I'm trying to retrain myself to even know what I care about. For example these dance videos for social media, I know I am good at it. Once you're good at it, you can just repeat it and keep doing it. You can get cyclical. The hardest part that I'm struggling with in terms of creativity is how to pull out of these repetitive cycles. It's like if an object is orbiting something with gravity. You need to pull yourself out of that gravity and go up into space and go somewhere else. That's the thing that's very hard. 

What are the rituals or routines that help you pull yourself out and break through these repetitive cycles?

One of them is pulling yourself out of it physically. Changing your everyday routines tends to change your mind. So what helps me is working in new places, having new interactions with people and other artists. So the way I think of it is that we are not really trapped in our bodies. I mean, we have been for the last year and a half during the pandemic, but in normal times, when you get next to another person, your energies start to mix. And I am trying to mix my energy with the wider swath of people right now. I'm meeting with other artists because they're thinking they think more openly. You need to create the environment you want to live in. Your space of inspiration and comfort.

How was this for you when you worked at a creative agency?  

For those 20 years that I was in an office in an agency, I was stuck in a lot of repetitive cycles. You get up, you get in your car, you head over to New York, and you're around the same people. You are intertwined with them. They don't surprise you after a few months of working with them. It is not that they're not talented and smart, it's just that their brain works the same way. And they're gonna apply the same way of thinking to every problem. There was little challenge in that and I felt trapped in my own body. I was not absorbing new ways of thinking. And, and so I'm exposing myself to artists these days to big thinkers and trying to spend time with others. Like doing a small ethnography into different worlds. 

Let’s talk about the current pandemic. How does it influence your take on creativity and work?

I love everything that is going on right now with the ‘re-evaluation’. That is part of what we are going through right now. The new generation does not want to do things that are not fulfilling. No one wants to compromise on that now. We are in this liminal state now. Culturally things will change. I don’t think we figured out what the new version of working is. We all kind of are responsible for developing this new way of working.

How do you see yourself navigating these liminal times?

I have two paths now that I engage in simultaneously. I continue to do commercial projects to make money and I also do photography. I am actually thinking that photography and commercial art will ultimately become one thing, and the other thing is pure fine art. This fine art is my experimentation. My own passion projects. Things I want to explore. Let’s see how it evolves…"