This whole thing started because of an IM conversation I had with a friend of mine who’s a CD and copywriter who asked these two questions. So, the first question I addressed in the previous post was, “Is what we do bad?” The corollary question, next to be discussed, was: “Is there something else we could be doing that’s more meaningful?”
It strikes me that these two questions lurk in the hearts of many creatives, so I’m addressing them out loud, via this blog. OK. More meaningful…hmmm…
First, is what we’re doing not meaningful in the least? And if so, why? (See Hell part 1 below). Because I believe, and have found from experience, that we can make this business of ours meaningful in the same way the carver of a Haida spoon made cranking out tableware meaningful.
The truth is, the Haida spoon is a utilitarian consumable. It was a spoon — a spoon meant to be used. For spooning. But the way the spoon maker made it, the way it depicts images from Haida mythology, the artistry of the carving…it’s a byproduct of a culture, just the way a web site is the byproduct of a culture. It’s all just stuff made for the use of people as they are living and dying. Stuff they need and stuff they want.
So, first off, I think what we do can, in fact, be meaningful. I remember watching an unknown piece of film on my television and saying aloud, as I was being blown away by this beautiful film, “Please, let this be a Nike commercial…please!” And it was.
It was footage of kids in the Dominican Republic (I’m guessing) playing baseball on a dirt lot with pieces of cardboard for mitts and they were playing with love and passion despite their “poverty.” The whole thing was a moving and meaningful experience. And it was just a friggin commercial.
Now, if a person is stuck doing free standing inserts (do people do those anymore) for soap and towels and plastic hampers, it’s harder to invest it with meaning like a Haida spoon. I’d suggest changing jobs till that person find one where you can create events of meaning. Believe me, it’s what consumers want. [See my white paper on Brand Culture for more on that.] It’s your problem, not the industry’s. You need to find the more meaningful opportunities.
ON THE OTHER HAND…
I firmly believe that this business
borrows artists to work on behalf of commerce. Not everyone in advertising or interactive or branding or design would, if given a million dollars (and didn’t need to work), turn around and start making art. But many of them would. Many of the people in our industry are artists looking for a way to not starve.
So it is my conviction that our business needs to return those artists to art at some point in time. That might mean not working them so many hours that they have to choose between taking a dump and taking a photograph. Or that might mean giving them enough of a living wage (which our industry does pretty well, let’s be honest) so that, with prudent saving and
low overhead, a person could cut their hours to the point where they have liberated their time significantly–time they can now devote to making art.
I don’t have to tell you how bankrupt our culture would become if too many artists were distracted from making art by serving commerce. None of us want to live in that world.
So, yes, in some ways, there are more meaningful things we could be doing. That said, however, it’s up to each of us to make that call. And then, it’s up to us to strategize how, and when, we are going to shape our lives so that we can do these “more” meaningful things.
I myself have just stepped down, after 22 years of putting my career first, and gone to freelance so that I can devote more time to getting my MFA in photography. It hit me while my wife and kids and I were taking a break from looking at art and sitting at the cafe at MOMA that, somehow, some way, I wanted to live the last third of my life as an artist.
I had put that agenda on hold for 22 years while I pursued a career in advertising and interactive. I supported my family. I learned an incredible amount, including things I could totally apply to being an artist. But it was time, somehow, to return to being an artist. (My pre-advertising life was devoted to studying and writing poetry.)
So that, for me, was a life decision that I hope some of you take when it’s appropriate. Not that I’ve saved any money. But I think I know enough and have enough experience to build a successful freelance life. We’ll see.
Now, if the corollary question asks if there are JOBS that are more meaningful, well, that’s pretty limited, in my mind, to things like non-profit work or farming or social services or other things that serve and nurture our culture in extremely selfless fashion. Don’t fool yourself, as one of my partners once did, by imagining that starting an espresso stand would be more satisfying than being an art director. That’s a man who obviously hadn’t worked retail for a very very long time, if ever.
So, in answer to the biggest question — are we going to hell? My answer is: no.
Not unless you’ve done something, or are currently doing something, that completely violates your values. And in that case, you’ve already gone.
I don’t know. What do you all think? It’s a rich couple of questions, and I’m obviously only one skewed opinion here.
Love to hear from you.