“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”
Apologies. But I have to do this. It’s time for a rant.
There is a book by Tom Wolfe called The Painted Word. It a slim volume of about a 100 pages first published in 1975. When it came out it was hated by most art critics. The reason it was disliked was that it argued that most twentieth century art needs to have a manifesto, theory or explanation first and the art would simply confirm the belief. Art had moved away from being a visual experience and become an illustration of an art critics theory.
I was reminded of this because of an ad I saw this week. It came from an agency overseas that is very popular. It has very polished PR skills and has one or two smooth talkers that lead the agency. They are the darlings of the media. Great sound bytes and cool theories are served up at an astonishing rate. They really do understand the news cycle very well. They portray themselves as an answer for the future. Where advertising is going. And to be fair to them every agency on some level does this, so no problem. Well actually there is. Just one. Their work is shit. It is corporate drivel.
So, why does this make me angry? Is it because they PR themselves shamelessly? No, I have been in the business long enough to know that is par for the course. What pisses me off is the fact that the work has become less important than the theories they pedal at every conference they can get their hands on. I have the strangest feeling that unbelievably the work has become incidental to them. Packaging has become everything. If you keep saying the right things, what you do can be average. The truth is this work is literally the exact opposite of the theories they espouse. It is not interesting. Every agency makes work like this. However they don’t go and PR it at every juncture. And then a frightening thought dawned on me, maybe they didn’t know it was shit. And then a second thought dawned on me that was even more frightening, maybe they did.
So, are we in an age where good enough has become great? The industry keeps saying work is going to have to get better to be noticed. Take a look around and ask yourself if the work is getting better or just a whole lot faster.
Why does this happen? Of course, the simple answer is time. Great work is usually a little messy and takes time. A Creative Director friend who works in New York phoned me the other day and told me he had been asked to do something fresh and original but also find a case study to prove that the idea has worked before. Do something new. Prove it has worked before. The first sentence is in danger of losing its power to the second sentence because of time. It is an interesting debate. How important is originality versus certainty in our business today? Do we have time for true originality?
Fuck. I hate everything about those last two sentences.
My angry friend also said something that stayed with me. He said he finds there is no longer any time to argue, he has to just keep moving. In other words, be creative, but don’t have a perspective. Tricky. I found that such a strange thought for a creative department or as I like to call them, the idea navy. Arguing and debate are the most important ingredients to push the work forward. Friction makes fire. Being able to care and struggle makes the work better.
Anybody remember here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. I think you know the rest. So, I guess I just wanted to check that we still want those people right?
Just going with your first idea is sometimes necessary. However, if that is your modus operandi, it is highly improbable you are going to be doing anything of value or worth. And, just because you can explain why you did it and have a colourful PowerPoint presentation to prove your theory, this doesn’t change the fact it might be shit. Creativity is not a thing, it is a way.
Perhaps, we should remember what we do. We make stuff. We make the picture, not the frame. Let’s not pretend they are the same thing. In the end, a beautiful frame only amplifies the banality of an average painting.
Let’s give those precious seconds to making great work rather than listening to slick explanations after the fact that defend the mediocre.
Quite frankly, we don’t have the time.