Was ’16 that bad, or is it Facebook telling us to think that?

One thing I take into ’17, is to be mindful of what I eat. In particular, where the social feed is concerned.
If as the saying goes we become what we eat, then Facebook can be quite one dimensional in terms of diet. While Facebook has a staggering one fifth of the world’s population on its network, I don’t believe I’m getting the social reward or depth and range of that audience.

This past year, it occurs to me how dangerously myopic it can be, creating a posse of like-mindedness, that didn’t welcome in a counter view or create a democratic stage for assessment or debate.
Instead, it’s just a distorted game of pass the parcel, layer upon layer of the same sentiment, shared and reshared, endorsed by the ones we like and follow.
But not necessarily true or reflective of the wider reality or critical mass, which sits outside of our algorithmic clique.
And when the music stopped, we looked at each other, dumbfounded.
Dumbfounded.

In this game, we all ridiculed Trump (liking his growing popularity through infamy and hair gags) and scoffed at the chances of a dark ages backwards move like Brexit.
We got both wrong at the  truer polls of real life.
But what’s interesting, is how Facebook is now algorizing it (Yes, I think i made that word up, sue me) as ’16’s fault.
Like ’16 had a motive and a beef and a score to settle. And most dangerous to assume, is behind us.
I should pause here to say that obviously Facebook doesn’t create this in some malign effort. It isn’t the creator of this. That’s us.
We amplify our own narrow mindedness amongst each other.
And punctuate it with trivial Animated GIFS to keep ourselves entertained.

The craziness of ’16 has been in the making for many years.
Trump. Yeah, the vote fell into this calendar year, but the sentiment already has grandkids. The same goes for Brexit. This stuff brews.
Let’s not be foolish to think that it happened in ’16.
If I use the other victims of ’16 to stress my point further.
David Bowie. He took a whole life to die. But more importantly, live.
The same goes for Leonard Cohen.
The year is incidental. The lesson is not.
The respect we ought to be giving to these occurrences –  sad, stupid or catastrophic – is not.

Let’s love them while they’re alive.
Let’s look beyond the heinous year, to the deeper behaviours and symptoms of the sentiment.
Let’s look at ourselves as a powerful unit of one, capable of determining reality.
And not just at each other (in FB) for council or condolences.

That’s what I learnt most in ’16.
Please don’t share it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t dilute the Dinosaurs.

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Funny thing being ‘creative’.

First signs usually surface in the form of remarks from a visiting Aunt, including such favourites as,  “Wow. I think she’s got art in her.” and “Look how creative she is.” Without fail followed by, “I can’t even draw a straight line.”
Never quite understood how straight lines lead to great creativity, Picasso did okay with his curves, but that’s not the point.

Aunt’s remarks aside, this talent begins in a completely childish state, unadulterated by objective or measurement. It’s pure and raw and essential. It’s that child trying to get that message out. With whatever is at her disposal. Wax crayon. Apple juice. Whatever.

It’s effortless and unscripted. The best art the child will likely create. Sadly.

For what comes next is the bitter-sweet companion to creativity:
The commentary.
The critique. The appraisal.
Inseparable, art is the object, criticism the shadow; self righteously giving the work form, value and above all, purpose.

Wait, let’s pause to consider that.
Does it? Should it?

At this stage I really do want that bright eyed child to look up from her drawing and say,
“Aunt Mary, I appreciate your interest in my drawing, but, I really don’t give a shit what you think.”
Then her talent will be preserved and her creativity will grow with her.

But the script doesn’t go like that.
She looks up and says “Oh. Thank you.”
But it’s what she thinks that matters. Somewhere in her head, Pavlov’s Dog barks, a response mechanism is born, where after each reveal there’s an appraisal.
And after each appraisal, there’s a self-appraisal.
Why didn’t Aunt react as well as picture one?
Was it the aeroplane with the enlarged windows that caused the response, or the presence of family in the Dinosaur landscape? Maybe I should include more modern animals?

I’m not as good as I was at 4 and a half.
Am I losing my edge?

Cut to being 8. Cut to being 18. Cut to being 28.
All that time leaving its scars.

Child stars lose their shine from being watched too closely.

It’s a tough gig. I suspect a large proportion of extremely talented people pack away their talents early for this reason.

But the rest continue bravely. Cautiously. Into photography. Writing. Design. Music. Acting. Even Advertising [sic].
And this Pavlovian mechanism of reveal / appraisal continues with them.
The stakes getting higher as the commercial interest increases.
This isn’t art. This is the business of creativity. And sorry, it’s just business.

Stop. Rewind. Go back to being 4 and a half.

Your work is your work. What they think shouldn’t affect what you put down on the page.
Only you should. If you’re thinking Dinosaurs, go full on Dinosaurs.

How they react, well, they’re going to react. That’s the deal. That’s the Creativity / Commentary companionship combo I mentioned earlier. It is what it is. It’s going to happen anyway.

Just don’t dilute the Dinosaurs because of it.

Basics. You’re never too experienced to relearn them.

I recall a few years ago we used to run a creative workshop first thing on Monday mornings. It was our way of not letting a work WIP be the first thing our Creative department was subjected to each week.
So we flipped it, and invited everyone to get free breakfast and coffee, provided they brought with them some kind of inspiration for our creative department. In these sessions we raced mice, watched Korean gangster cinema and anything else, so long as it wasn’t worshipping at the alter of Advertising.
And at the same time, the Chief Creative and I would talk about the principles of doing better work.

Each week we’d leave the session asking each other, “Is this really necessary? Surely all these fantastic creatives we’ve hand selected from the best agencies across the country know this.”

Thing is, it was necessary. Going back to the basics, the ideals and primary principles of what we believed in as an agency – really was resonating. Of course we all knew, but how quickly you forget when things get super busy.

What we realised, was that the basics cut through the noise of the present tense and gave a much stronger direction for the whole agency.
Complex situations suddenly seem quite simple when you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Or not doing.

And I’ve carried this with me wherever I’ve gone. The basics become the foundation of great outcomes. Like the press-up of fitness, you can practice them at any level.
And if you think you’re too experienced for them, think again.

 

 

 

PRICELESS

An artist noticed a critic looking on as he put the final touches to a piece he’d been working on for some time.
“I’d love to have your opinion,” he said stepping back from his canvas.
“It’s worthless,” replied the critic bluntly.
“Oh, that’s alright,” retorted the artist. “I’d like to hear it anyway.”

It was Oscar Wilde who once said that we all live by selling something. This is true brilliance. True because it’s bang on. Brilliant because it was said by Oscar Wilde. Chances are he wrote it. Still, remarkably apt in its time and more so today as we impassively slap bar codes onto all things tangible and intangible. That which we see, touch, hear, smell, taste or imagine invariably has a commercial value of sorts. There seems to be a captive market for almost anything these days. It’s endlessly fascinating and at times quite baffling.
We each live in a eco system where we feed our needs and desires on a daily basis, often not giving terribly much thought to the question of real value. We simply trade time and effort for commodities and comforts and expect that they pivot more or less around a point that is, or is close enough to,“market related value”. If the cost deviates dramatically, we basque in the glory of having snatched up a bargain or sullenly begrudge the fact that we’ve just been gouged.
Rarely do we deconstruct the items we consume and meaningfully evaluate, “What is it worth?” Not “market value” worth. Really worth.
It’s an outrageously complex question which most times has a frustratingly hypothetical answer, but deserves a little exploration nonetheless.

Case in point, a global staple like a pair of jeans. So you’re about to invest in the most essential of wardrobe essentials, and need to make a savvy choice.
Let’s strip it down to the nuts and the bolts and consider materials. Right, so there’s denim which has a value per meter across a range of qualities, and I’ll put this particular quality at “aloofly premium” but not quite “Kardashian”. Upmarket, but not vulgar or at a point where you’ll lose sleep because there are children going hungry in Africa. Add to that some respectable hardware (buttons, rivets, YKK zippers) plus the invisible etceteras like thread and fusing…and voila, we have the components. Then there’s the question of labour. Labour includes construction and, because any great pair of jeans hits the shop floor looking like a hand-me-down that’s survived three generations of hillbillies, multiple washes and treatments….often manually applied. Now, there’s a huge saving to be had whipping them up in a condemned building somewhere in Bangladesh or war torn Pakistan, as opposed to lovingly crafting them in one of the few remaining factories in comfort of the homeland, where the workers take a 45 minute brunch break in order to enjoy a well deserved $22.00 smashed avocado on sourdough and a soy latte. More profitable despite the fact that they would need to be packed and shipped half way across the earth, clear customs, be insured, transported, warehoused, delivered and handled repeatedly along a lengthy pipeline until they finally reach their point of sale. Of course, it’s a tricky business keeping across where products are in fact manufactured, but surely when you’re paying top dollar for a luxury brand it would retain it’s integrity and not be “proudly produced” somewhere in the armpit of rural China? Right Ralph Lauren, DKNY, Coach, Longchamp, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs and that Italian brand that the devil apparently wears that rhymes with enchilada?
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of branding….well this is the game changer, because attaching a happening identity to any product immediately makes this entire discussion academic, as this particular garment is no longer worth the sum of its parts, but rather what the Fashion houses, advertisers and likes of the next door Jones’s tauntingly imply it’s worth, knowing full well that the less affordable it is, the more you’ll just have to have it. What’s worse, the moment you acquire it, it plummets in value as Alain De Botton neatly explains, “The quickest way to stop noticing something may be to buy it – just as the quickest way to stop appreciating a person may be to marry them.”

Confused? We’ve only just begun. We haven’t even touched on the fact that this very pair of rip-torn skinnies will sell for half the price in Africa that they would in America, which is still less than in Australia but as least three and a half times as much as anywhere in Asia. Yes, you could argue that it’s all relative but trying to calculate parity inclusive of global macro and micro economics would have us all in an Inception style spin, and it’s just a pair of jeans for the love of God!

Bottom line, we’ve created a world where the value of an entity is arguable, but the price is simply worth what someone is willing to pay.

Which brings us to Piero Manzoni, one of the biggest blights this world has known. Why? Well because the art world has been damningly complicit in supporting a culture of ludicrously randomly perceived value at the expense of all reason and Piero Manzoni is arguably the worst of them. So in 1961, Piero, the son of a cannery owner somewhere in Italy, decided to stimulate his own art movement. I say this quite literally. He filled ninety 30 gram tins with his own freshly produced excrement and labeled the tins “Artist’s Shit” or “Merde d’artista” in Italian, which never fails make things sound more exotic than they really are.…as well as in English, French and German. From this we can tell that Pierro was cautiously optimistic that his product would have global market appeal. This was not a confidence ill deserved. It so happens that he was right on the money, because there are, believe it or not, bigger tools in this world that Piero Manzoni, and these are the marvels who gave Pierro prime real estate in several esteemed galleries across Europe, and managed to hype his “work” so that that several tins were eventually auctioned at Sotheby’s and Christies for way more that their “market” value…and there’s please God not a sizeable market for this sort of thing. Turns out, there are EVEN bigger baloonheads than Pierro, the gallery posers AND the elitist curators and auctioneers put together. Those are indeed the lucky buggers who, winner-winner-chicken-dinner, have shelled out anywhere between 124 000 Euros and 182 500 Pounds a tin and were giddy with elation as the hammer crashed down. Equally giddy was Pierro, a “struggling” artist (and I’ve no desire to describe the images the term conjures in Manzoni’s case) who only ever expected $37.00 a tin, which according to the 1961 market value was their net weight worth in gold. Michelangelo must be kicking himself in his grave. Left crippled and crook after years toiling flat on his back under the vast expanse of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, all the while not realising that a short comfort break would immortalise him in the annals (typo?) of human history and would have him pocket a quick buck in the process. Ah, life’s missed opportunities lie strewn across time like panties on the stage at a Justin Bieber concert.

Perhaps we’re being to hard on young Piero. Some would argue that his “contribution” to the art world has, in its rightful context, left a significant mark, or if you prefer, skidmark….and at the very least he has maintained the purity of his brand by resisting the temptation to outsource production to a remote and foreign emerging economy in order to maximise profits. It could well be a cruel coincidence that Piero’s concept was launched at roughly the same time that the value equation began to unravel.
The post war world was one of sensible structure and frugal practicality. Car ads sold cars and not lifestyles, and there was nothing in the home that couldn’t be updated with a well placed hand made doily. Anything more was a sinful extravagance. There were not scores of brands jostling to sell what flowed freely from the kitchen tap and eating out was reserved for auspicious occasions. You could buy a lot for a little, as opposed to the present where you buy a little for a lot, and never seem to be sated with the sum of your life’s acquisitions thanks to the tireless manipulation of the media. Sadly, there seems to be no stuffing this Godzillan genie back into the bottle. The most we can do is, from time to time, just block it out. Take a sabbatical and treasure the guiltless freebies that spark ones joy. Take a walk. Smell the flowers. Kiss a baby. Hum a catchy tune. Smile at a stranger. Seek out the few remaining pleasures that can neither be bought nor sold. Therein lies true value.

The Unity of Opposites

 

There is a priori that takes us back to the earliest of Greek philosophers who spent inordinate amounts of time trying to unlock the universe’s mysteries. They named this particular theory “the unity of opposites”.
Granted, in todays world it’s about as obvious as Waldo in an nudist camp, but this was some time, in fairness, before we even discovered that the earth was round.

In bold strokes…
“ ‘Upward’ cannot exist unless there is a ‘downward’. They are opposites but they co-substantiate one another. Their unity is that either one exists because the opposite is necessary for the existence of the other. Hot would not be hot without cold, due to there being no contrast by which to define it as ‘hot’ relative to any other condition, blah, blah, blah.”
So we apply this concept neatly to many aspects of our world. Good would not exist were if not for evil. There would be no light if not for darkness. Humility could not be defined in the absence of Kanye West, nor sensibility without the condition we today recognise as Paris Hilton. You get the gist.

It stands, then, to reason, that in order for there to be art, there would need to be its antithesis. There is no noun, however, at least not that I’ve discovered that precisely serves this purpose. The closest adjective would be ‘artless’, I suppose, but even that falls shy of offering sufficient duality to truly describe this opposing disposition. I know that such a state exists, however, because on pondering the condition of being completely and utterly devoid of any artistic quality whatsoever, a face quickly manifests in my mind. One I know well. It’s the face of the man I married. If there is in fact an anti-Christ, my husband would be the anti-Art. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing not to love about the guy. Fact is, there’s not a single artistic atom in his body and it’s  by far his most attractive quality.

This man hardly feels the need to keep up with popular culture. He thinks a Targaryen is someone who shops at Target, and that teens tweeting about “Tay-tay” are in fact referring to an impact crater on Mars. If art were empathy, he would be Ted Bundy. Were it discretion, Julian Assange. Diplomacy, Trump no doubt. We could go on all day. From his engineer’s vantage point he sees life as, and I quote, “A comes before B, 1+1=2, and water runs downhill.” He is a truly fascinating mammal.
I’ve come to know that the only quality he possesses to any extent comparable with his exceptional artlessness is a monastic sense integrity. This moral compass points unequivocally North and never wavers. Not because he continuously strives to do the right thing. He innately, just, does. It’s simply how he’s wired.

Me, I’m a little more creative. Mine is a simple world of necessary things like plotless subtitle movies with ‘great cinematography’, biblically convoluted fantasy novels, deconstructed soy macchiatos and obscenely priced suicide stiletto’s. I must admit, however, despite being a reasonably accountable citizen, I am a lot more inclined to occasionally… colour outside the lines, so to speak, and it has me curious. What is the true nature of the relationship between creativity and honesty?

Now I’m treading lightly here, as it’s not my place to offend, but in just scratching the surface of the cybersphere, there seems to be an abundance of notables on the matter, most bearing out my suspicions. The fact that there have been so many studies on the topic is in itself a little damning.
Research is research, so we’ll disclaim in the fine print that it’s not without exception, but what it suggests in a nutshell is that the term “creative accounting” never came about accidentally.
One such article speaks of creatives as having less intellectual regulation. This is apparently because the dorsolateral prefrontal region of the brain which acts as our censorship bureau is significantly relaxed during the creative process, that is, according to Francesca Gino and Dan Ariely in their Harvard University study, “The Dark Side of Creativity”.
“The reason for this seems to be that creative people can use their creativity to justify their actions in ways that less creative people cannot do. A lot of people, highly creative people as well as self-proclaimed creative people, will balk at this and claim that they are very honest. And it is true that they believe that. That is because their creativity is successful in convincing them that their behaviour is justified.”

This all sounds very academic. Let me simplify it. My engineer husband sees situations as right or wrong, black and white, clearly defined and linear… a bit like an Aubrey Beardsley. I may see the exact same situation as a more of, let’s say, a Jackson Pollock.
It’s easy to choose “right” when the vast galaxy of your selection consists exclusively of “the right thing” and “the wrong thing”. For some of us, however, there is a more extensive assortment of options, like a box of Cadbury Favourites. You know “the right thing” is in there somewhere but it’s awfully hard to find….and when you do, it’s often the Turkish Delight.

Creativity, like most human conditions, exists in all of us to varying degrees, and is something of a primal survival instinct . It took a creative spirit to spark the first fire, bend the first hunting bow and launch the very first season of custom designed loin skins more than a billion imaginations ago. It can be argued that the contribution of the creative has ultimately been to freely explore solutions for life’s diverse challenges. Such a mind may see many more options than a conventional thinker, and still engineer the odd alternative for good measure. To apply this skill opportunistically is sometimes easily done. This is why the world requires balance, where conventionals partner with unconventionals in order to anchor them, give them traction, help them materialise their ideas … and, let’s not forget, keep them honourable. The innovators of both art and science collaborate today as never before to progress our world. The “left brain, right brain theory” is nothing more than a theory, we now know. We all use most of our brain matter but in different measures and different ways.

As for Artless and I, well, we are the proverbial odd couple and a rather compelling testimony for the “unity” of opposites, which attract perhaps in order to bring two incomplete entities to completion. Who knows.