Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I guess what I'm trying to say

I remember working as an art director at the Martin Agency, back in the early nineties, and I was always keeping my eye out for cool pieces of communication - films, writing, design - all of us were, and it seemed like something magical would come up maybe once a year, something so fresh and human and true and surprising and delightful that we'd have to stop and pass it around and it would force us to reevaluate our own work.

I remember when I first saw the Nike Instant Karma commercial. It just rocked my world for a while.

And now there's something delightful every day. It's endless. And it rarely comes from the pros.

It's stimulating and overwhelming. What do we do with all the newness, the freshness, the creativity? How do we keep up? Everyone seems to have the tools to create wonderful things, and while the pros use to dismiss the democraticizing power of technology, the amateurs are passing us right and left these days, all the time.

Our level of craft remains high, but how often do you see a piece of spontaneous and honest and original communication coming from the pros? It happens, for sure, but the landscape is so different, so much more competitive. Our jobs are more challenging than ever. I like it.


Anonymous said...

How do we keep up? I don't think we should try. That isn't what anyone following their creative muse is doing.

It changes once you are a "pro" and you aren't doing it for yourself, friends and fans. Then you're in a situation that where spontaneity, honesty and originality are held in check. I don't know where that isn't true.

When creativity really rules the message then we've turned a corner. Though we aren't quite there yet I do think we're getting closer.

I think this past weekend's NY TImes Mag article "The Case for Working With Your Hands" speaks to the dilemma of being a "pro" or doing creative work.

Thanks for posting "Expialidocious" it was wonderful to see.


I'm Jelly said...

Interesting and thought-provoking comment. You don't think you can be a "pro" and do it for yourself, friends or fans?

Anonymous said...

Well, of course you can be a "pro" and do it for yourself, friends or fans but your point seemed to be why can't the "pros" produce something, for example, like Expialidocious as a film trailer instead of their usual formula.

Commercial art is just that - commercial. It can try to disguise itself as fine art – or cutting edge – but its inherent purpose is to sell and present a specific message. If Expialidocious was produced for a commercial entity it would be dissected ("show less Dick Van Dyke more Julie Andrews" or whatever) and diluted and wouldn't be what it is. Right?

I was always taught that art is ultimately supposed to be about “the most important thing.” Yes, the dilemma for the artist is then, “what is the most important thing.” But for the commercial artist that answer is provided. No matter how altruistic the professional tries to be in his creative work the answer can never be, “love of mankind” because then he wouldn’t be fulfilling his role.

I have to bring up Burning Man. I know some people find it easy to slag or dismiss Burning Man (especially if they've never been) as some big party but they are missing the point. The artwork and creativity on display is amazing (mind-blowing at times) especially when you look around and realize it isn't permanent and exists in a very hostile environment. This is creativity at its highest level – a gift to each other - you just feel it. It is simply, "I created this wonderful thing (sculpture, costume, music, performance) because I thought someone might like it." And yes, people do that when they are professionals but they are getting paid (usually) which isn't in the equation at Burning Man so the motivation must be the desire to share and give to others. People are on equal ground – whose the “pro” then? (The only professional example I can think of that used the Burning Man equation is Radiohead’s release of “In Rainbows").

I guess it is the personal touch that makes the difference because there are many examples of these creative gifts on the internet – YouTube, Blogs (and no, not Twitter - that is wit) but the energy and enthusiasm can't trump what it feels like to experience a celebration of creativity with thousands of others. A gift and acknowledgment to each other that we creative beings that resonate with each other – the most important thing.

It is great when those creative ideas trickle up to the real world of buying and selling but the human reaction will never be the same as the original creative work done from the heart.


DJ Bunny Ears said...

"New Yorker cover drawn on iPhone":

Chris said...

I like to think that the best "Pros" of our business ultimately try to do projects that resonate with people. I think the ones for whom that's a priority will continue to go beyond the brief if they're not being fulfilled creatively.

Look at you, you're still an ad man but you have your passions beyond that. Being a "pro" hasn't meant you need to think within the box laid out by clients and only within that box. A creative person who believes in the importance and even the legacy of the process will always go beyond any boundaries set forth for them. If it's important enough you'll find the time to "fill your role", as you say, and then go beyond it.

Anyway, another nice post that once again just reaffirms the importance you place on creativity as a cultural responsibility. The W+K way I guess.

And a great vid too!

Colin Dodd said...

It's not completely impossible, but I need a lot of support to operate creatively on a professional level. I have to know that there will be zero price to pay for failure, and that hasn't been a feature of my "professional" creative life.

Often, I am reminded of the cost of failure at the very beginning of a project, it is part of the brief, and what failure would look like (unhappy client, too much money spent, too much time "wasted") is even defined for me, very clearly, before we ever start talking about ideas or messages.

I have been told to try not to think about it, to put it out of my mind, but no one has ever told me, "REALLY Don't worry about it, I got your back, no matter what." I seem to lack the emotional/mental/creative discipline to not worry about what would happen if I lose my job. Self interest stands in the way of self expression.

That just never happened for me, I just haven't encountered a "safe creative work environment."

Throw in the natural, built-in, inherent competition and politics found in any agency or big company, and I am an added mess. Competition and creativity do not comfortably coexist for me.

Clearly, I have issues.

I'm not a baby, I understand clients have needs, and everyone needs to be able to pay their mortgage next month, but those times I have been creatively successful (on my own personal, low-stakes stuff), it's often because I wasn't worried at all about the outcome, the success or failure of the project.

"Don't fuck it up," is usually how I process the trust people put in me when I am in charge of the project.

Now that I manage people, I find myself trying to give them unconditional support, but the subtext of all my direction is, I fear, "You know the deal, right?"

I would love to make money in a different environment (tending bar was kind of good for my creativity), but I just haven't encountered much in the way of support in my professional life.

I think being able to work creatively without that support is what separates people like me from the titans of professional creativity.

I think sometimes that this makes me a hack, even though I am really proud of a lot of the stuff I have created outside of my "creative job" work.

But still, I try.

Stackingchairs said...

The internet has flattened the world. Creative work can be published for the whole world to see in the blink of an eye. That's the major difference between today and yesterday.

The older models will & presumably have (almost)always had to try to keep up with the hipsters and the trend setters. This will always stay the same. The older models will always be phased out for new "technology."

So, I don't think anything has really changed. It's not that people are being more creative than they used to be-it's just that we are able to consume much more than we used to-thus a heightened awareness.

It's possible that our industry is presented with a double edged sword when it comes to this heightened awareness. We are all at once inspired and intimidated. But maybe even more than that-in our industry-where the inflexible client calls the shots,the work will almost always be a bit tainted. It seems the success of all things creative hinge on whether the work is self-conscious/inhibited or not. It will take a great deal of courage and smarts to make the client one's muse. Maybe that's why it's such a huge feat when creative work transcends the brand and becomes part of culture.

I'm Jelly said...

Thanks Deana -

Last night I watched a PBS special on Iran. Exposed a giant hole in my knowledge regarding all things Persian...

Their original faith was Zoroastrianism, which predates Islam by 500 years. [I went to look up Zoroastrianism and fell deep into wikipedia, going from Zoroastrianism to Zoroaster to the Towers of Silence(!) to famous Zoroastrians and Freddie Mercury(!).]

As the first monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism is perhaps the single largest influence on Western religions, but it also lines up with Taoism in a certain way - tolerant and open.

One thing Zoroastrianism doesn’t tolerate is monasticism. They feel that walking the holy path means fighting for good in the real world.

Can you bring Burning Man into the city? Can you bring art into commerce? Can we find Heaven on Earth? Can pros do work from the heart?

Luker and Ralf and Hank and I were trying to express something pure and honest in the spot we made for Nike for the 2008 Olympics. Love of mankind was on our minds, anyway, right in the midst of "less Dick Van Dyke more Julie Andrews" directives.


Did we succeed? I don't know. Quite a few people seemed to receive it as the gift we intended, but as you point out, our little film does not exist on its own, in the purity of the desert or gallery wall. It is attached to an entity, a corporation, a group of people who want certain things and do certain things that may or may not line up with the story, and that complicates things.

It reminds me of a formula we devised at VCU Adcenter: Strong stories + strong actions = strong brand. When it’s a good story, well-told, and the actions of the company or person line up with the story, good things happen. When the iPhone works as well as the story and the packaging and the store design, when the product fulfills the quality of the message, powerful things happen. People are attracted, energy and growth are created.

When it's not a good story, or when the actions don't line up, the brand doesn't work, it falls apart. Eventually, always, even if it takes a while.

We inherently know this to be true, plus we see it happening around us all the time. Actions overrule story. Direct experience trumps messaging. We know when we are being "sold." The bullshit is draining from the system, and advertisers no longer have the magic power to create brands. I'm not sure we ever did. The best we can do is find a good story and tell it is as well as we can.

Can pros aim to make art? Sure.

Can commerce undermine our work? Absolutely.

Do things occasionally align? True, artful, resonant stories – gifts – backed by authentic and true behavior or action? I think so. Rarely. Sometimes. Will be happening more and more, maybe.