From the Bunker: Art & Creativity

Say whatever you will about this polarizing figure on the world stage – he is interesting and he does give a good college lecture in psychology. I came across one of his lectures a while back and I scribbled some notes about what his field knows about creativity and artists as people.

“Creativity is thinking. Not art. It is many unlikely (novel) responses that are useful. But creative achievement is different. Now we’re talking about the ability to take creative output and implement it in the world.”

So he makes a great point – CREATIVE WORK isn’t art. I have a friend who teaches art theory at a university and he says that the artist’s primary impulse is to ‘see that thing that is in my head live in the world’ – he says he is compelled forward to manifest a thing because it drives him kind of crazy to not get it out of his mind and into existence.

He just really wants to know ‘what would that look like?!’ – 

So I make art.

Professional creative services are not art. We deploy ‘many unlikely/novel’ responses to solve actual problems.  We solve the problems associated with not being memorable, or accidental confusion, or differentiation. We communicate. We help people get to where they need to go, find what solutions make the most sense, and how executive teams can best build delight in their audiences. Creative teams look to produce collateral that is dynamite, useful, and valuable because it is rare.

To that end, we do love our creative staff to actually BE artists in their daily life! It makes us better at bringing beautiful things to life in the marketplace. We’ve had professional musicians, painters, poets, songwriters, hype videos just for fun nutty people – once you prime the pump of creative ideas and output – you can’t hardly turn it off!

The goal of creative output.

Since we run a creative agency, we use artistic creativity in a way that is appropriate to a client’s needs. It should be memorable because it is wonderfully appropriate and/or lovely. We need an expression that is simple and joy-producing across platforms, at any scale, in various environments.

The word Artifice is often used according to its first definition: deception or trickery.  But that isn’t its only definition. It also means: Cleverness or ingenuity in making or doing something; art or skill

Now – I will say – brands have been (increasingly) investing in actual ART – not in terms of an art collection, per se, as a portfolio piece – but hiring art creation to augment their brand position. When a great restaurant hires a mural artist for a stunning installation piece, they intentionally look to build brand ‘weight’ or ‘gravitas’ by aligning with the mural art.  You see this brand-led investment in leatherwork, professional photography, light installation art displays – etc.

A hotel that almost got there.

I was recently in a great hotel in Idaho – midcentury bones, interesting paneling, and lights – it had so much going for it. It was like 92% of the way there – so close!

Their directional and room title signage was slapdash and they had display lighting pointed at rather cheap, run-of-the-mill ubiquitous photographs. The lights drew attention to the mass-produced art.  I couldn’t believe it. With those two simple changes, the hotel could have been a destination itself rather than simply a place to shower and shave and sleep.

Brands often make decisions based on two dominating factors: utility and expediency. It works and it’s fast. This is factory-mindedness, not artisanal-mindedness.  It makes sense. Business people who worry about the bottom line are often tricked into trading the higher value for the lower. I get it. I know why they do it, but it is a rather short-sighted way to go about decision-making for your brand.

Henry Ford as an example.

Henry’s story continues to fascinate me and the more I discover about who he was, how he thought, and why he made the decisions he made – well, the more I want to know. He was peculiar. He pioneered the modern factory model (we all remember this from 7th grade social studies, I’m sure) – he prioritized utility and expediency. He sold a ton of Model-T’s. We have photos of our ancestors standing outside their black model T truck. Give the American homesteader something he can drive into town to go to the bank or store or church. It comes in black and only black and it is affordable. It works. Henry cracked that code.

That isn’t how Ford operates today. Watch the product reviews on the new Ford Broncos. They are doing a hundred little ‘not because we have to, but because we want to thrill our customer base’ additions to those things. Stamping the geo-coordinates into the wheel wells? Henry Ford would have said ‘why the hell would you do that?’ – oh, well, because it is a fun, cool feature that only hard core devotees and insiders and easter egg hunters will enjoy. Poor Henry would be dumbfounded. When you can select from hundreds of trucks – yours has to develop a mystique to enchant the buyer. That is achieved via artifice. The skillful application of creative thinking to solve the problem of ‘wooing’ the customer segment.

Early on, Henry’s creativity was deployed to solve simple objectives. Does it work and is it a fast solution were his primary guardrails. Henry used his creativity within that framework. Those aren’t the barriers today and the Ford leadership knows that the cost of stamping the coordinates in the wheel wells is worth the extra expense.

In summary –

Creative professional services aren’t art, but they better be beautiful, unexpected, and cause the heart of the audience to leap out of their chest. Artifice takes time and money and expertise – but it should yield fantastic results that translate to revenue for a business.