Renowned British fashion photographer Nick Knight admits that he doesn’t create photographs anymore, he ‘creates imagery’. Knight is inspired and motivated by the digital culture and increasingly uses smartphones to capture images, which he says provides a lot more freedom. Through the use of design and photo manipulation applications, photographs turn into images.

Photographers are becoming graphic artists, fashion designers are being influenced by technology, musicians are traversing into movie-making and fine artists are creating interactive, tech-inspired installations. As a result, a new kind of creative has emerged. Creatives are changing concepts and artistry through fusing and combining diverse expressive languages. These processes are reshaping what we previously regarded as art. New measures, devices and approaches are making this fluid shifting between fields possible and producing exciting hybrid creatives.

Knight uses the term ‘generalist’ to refer to a creative who moves between various inventive spheres and becomes a type of crossbreed innovator. These ‘generalists’ use multi-disciplinary tools to explore and to create art, images, brand awareness and commercial products. 

Boundaries between creative disciplines are blurring and even, in some cases, dissipating altogether.

Design and art are no longer restricted to galleries and the champagne-sipping elite. Instead, good design and a unique creative voice have become increasingly important to the success of most brands. In the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study, 1500 CEOs were asked to list the most important leadership quality. The outcome revealed that CEO’s valued creativity as the most beneficial attribute in business, outranking integrity and intelligence.

Access to information and self-promoting platforms via the Internet have played an integral part in creating possibilities to acquire and develop new skills. Availability of graphic and design applications and shared knowledge makes learning to use these tools accessible and effortless. With online display space and social media, presenting work is as easy as uploading it.

Further motivating this evolution is increasing demands for flexibility, sustainability and creative solutions incorporating technology. Dutch trend forecaster Li Edelkoort affirms in her book The Pop-Up Generation: Design Between Dimensions (BIS Publishers), that vague divides between art and culture, design and economy, science and glamour and between the virtual and the physical, are igniting dynamic and ever-evolving parameters.

Meet three inspiring South Africans that are shifting boundaries and creating a new generation of hybrid designers.

Jamal Nxedlana

Co-founder of the clothing label Misshape, stylist, photographer and creative director of the Cuss group, which incidentally he also helped start up, Jamal Nxedlana truly is a jack of all trades and master of well, all. Nxedlana describes himself as curious, ambitious and never content, the latter most likely being the reason for his long list of achievements in various disciplines, including spending two months in Milan on a fashion internship, showcasing work in Paris as part of the Cuss group and staging work as a solo artist at the Goodman Gallery, as part of the Basic Reality Group show.

Trained as a fashion designer, Nxedlana started venturing into alternative disciplines as a result of working on collaborative projects with graphic designers, photographers and filmmakers. Inspired by them, he discovered new ways of communicating his design aesthetic through photographs and images and started acquiring the skills necessary for this method of communication. “Finding imaginative ways to create lies in the connections between the different techniques,” he explains. “Sometimes the connections are obvious, but sometimes the dialogue between them is more subtle, more sub-conscious and inside these connections one finds a larger, more amplified expressive voice.”

Nelisiwe Xaba

Contemplative, confident and captivated by her five senses, Nelisiwe Xaba creates through the art of performance but has found that exploring technology, fashion and art in her work spontaneously develops new creative articulation. Uncles & Angels, the collaborative dance and film project that won Xaba and Mocke J van Veuren the coveted 2013 FNB Art Prize, demonstrates how technology can enable performance to speak in a different voice.

Xaba strongly believes that no matter how proficient you are in various disciplines, you must have a clear and relevant message in your work for it to be successful. “Working with technology gave us new energy for the project. It excited us but if we had nothing to say it would not have mattered if we used technology,” she says. In partnerships that produce multi-disciplinary projects, she often finds that strong messages emerge as you learn and grow from working with people. “When you work with someone they have their own language, and you have yours. When these merge, they produce a new language.” Xaba says that there is beauty and value in working with specialists in a particular field, but that innovation can happen when working with someone who is self taught. “When someone hasn’t been trained in something, they have no rules, they are open and that sometimes creates interesting narratives.” She doesn’t consider herself a conscious merger of disciplines. “I answer to what’s being asked, in which ever way,” she says modestly.

Mariette Bergh

Having had a keen interest in art from a young age, Mariette Bergh decided to study something creative she knew nothing about. These curiosities led to her studying how to conceptualise for creative communication and resulted in her working as an art director. After her time in advertising she worked as a solo artist and most recently, co-created baby furniture for newly found company, Bunny & Clyde.

The transitions and explorations were born mainly from a need to keep things both stimulating and practical, she says, and it has been an exciting journey. “Making art can be expensive and I wasn’t willing to compromise on the quality of the pieces just to get them out quicker.” From the unwillingness to settle on poorer standards, came a receptivity and interest in new methods to create. This led to the birth of Bunny & Clyde.

Bergh says that cultivating an art and design mind has permeated into all of her work in different ways. “Whether it is in the planning or in the designing or in the understanding of the aesthetic language, everything I craft is shaped by my artistic vocabulary.” Bergh says she hopes that the next leg of her journey will offer her opportunities to explore avenues she might not have considered ten years ago and she is confident that having a creative and flexible environment will fuel success.