A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

Times really have changed, and they continue to at a blinding pace. As “consumer culture” continues to shift (I’ve used quotations because I’d rather just think of consumers as people), we have been forced to revisit the way we do things as agencies and businesses, as well as redefine our notions of what art and creativity really are.

It’s interesting because as I write this piece, we are enmeshed in our own little feud between the creative and strategy camps inside the walls of our own agency. This isn’t really anything new, but it certainly poses some new questions about efficiency, and while this doesn’t necessarily mean that the work product is suffering, it is clear that we are fighting over control of something that is ultimately owned by everyone. Our contention in the strategy group is that we want to nurture collaboration and storytelling frameworks; the creative group’s contention is that we aren’t collaborating and that the stories are essentially already present in the work.

Differences aside, we’re both “at fault” in the sense that moving things forward and stretching boundaries requires that we get our collective shit together. What I’m getting at is that this isn’t an agency issue, this is a cultural issue, and one that is deeply seeded in our skewed perceptions of what business practices should look like, as well as what our individual roles should be, particularly as artists.

I didn’t come from the big agency world before I joined RAPP; I did my time at various types of media companies, creative boutiques and start-ups, some that I co-founded and ran myself. Quite frankly - and it may sound a bit odd - I decided to come on full-time here at the agency in order to become a better entrepreneur. If you consider what I am tasked to do, which is to break precedent, to push boundaries, to harness innovation and to challenge anything that might inhibit us from growing as a business, well, then this makes more sense.

I’ve figured that there is no better opportunity than one in which independent business thinking can be applied to brand relationships at the corporate level. I also love the challenge of making business or corporate systems better inside of those businesses or corporations... And of course, all through the lens of doing good or providing more meaningful social constructs.

The main thing I’ve learned over the course of my career as an entrepreneur is how creative building a business really is. If you look at the “consumerscape” and all the demands that the marketplace imposes on the brands we work with, you also see how wildly diverse the client asks are, whether those requests come in the form of RFPs, or are the scopes built into strategic or creative retainers. Basically, clients are more often than not asking for things that extend well beyond marketing and communications needs... They’re seeking business solutions, true cultural insight and ways to adapt to behaviors, affinities or mindsets.

On a more tactical level, they’re seeking business ideas packaged as art.

Borrowing from the late, great Andy Warhol: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

And then there is Seth Godin’s take on making art:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording... but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By Godin’s definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we're doing when we do our best work.

Beautifully put, as the thinking from Mr. Godin always is.

Perhaps we are all artists, or at least we have the potential to be, as Warhol and Godin suggest, and the very thing we suffer from is a lack of artistic nourishment.

So, how can we provide artistic nourishment?

  • Identify transferable skill-sets. All too often we do not make an active investment in things that fall outside of job descriptions. Think of all the wasted talent that have roamed the halls of agencies or organizations, with no hope of discovery, quite simply because we ignored what was extraordinary or even unusual about people – anything from hobbies to tastes to experiences that may, on the surface, may not appear to be relevant at first. These skills can be just the things that help us become indispensable as businesses (to refer to another Godin concept).
  • Destroy normative identities (and create cultural surplus). Just as cultural mores exist and propagate in the world outside of work, those dynamics of course permeate our thinking around roles and responsibilities inside of the workplace. In truth, account people should be able to think like strategists and creatives, as should media folks or finance and operations people. More importantly, people need the time and the resources to fuel their thinking, whether that comes from outside stimuli, or, actual “hubs” that are put into place internally where they can completely separate from their daily tasks and look at the world in a completely new light. Building cultural surplus, as we might consider it, is the beginning of where and how we can overcome our operational or functional differences and disconnects.
  • Always make it about going above and beyond the ask. Relatively speaking, it’s easy to deliver what’s expected of us; when we do what’s expected, it’s pretty difficult to do the extraordinary. When we deliver the ask but stretch well beyond it, that’s when artistry happens and real innovation is imminent. Every single time, without fail, our imaginations kick in, and multiple perspectives lend to the end game. I’ve been in brainstorming sessions where, under this construct, a direct mail piece, literally, turned into a sustainable platform idea (and was, by the way, sold into the client). And who was in the room? Everyone.
  • Support the act of being unreasonable (and those who embody it). This is naturally antithetical to the corporate mantra and the precepts of control, management and productivity, but, borrowing from Daniel Pink, what science says and what business does are two very different things. We are mired in absolutes and the “way things should be” instead of placing our bets on what’s possible. There are plenty of highly successful organizations such as Google, 3M, Zappos and Netflix, mind you, that have done away with these more traditional constructs, and continue to evolve and succeed as a result.
  • Prepare for failure and embrace it. The concept of failing forward has been discussed a lot as of late, and for good reason: arguably, we know less now than we ever have before. The thing about failure – coming from someone who knows a lot about it – is that it actually provides the best means for being creative. It forces us to think outside of our comfort zones, it pushes us to be resilient in unorthodox ways and affords us the ability to be creative about what we see, going forward, as applied learning.
  • Make storytelling a daily work activity. We all tell stories in different ways – sometimes on a canvas, through a photo, in a song, in writing or simply in conversation. Whatever the medium, storytelling gives us the chance to see the world outside of our conventional media constructs. It breaks us free of our silos. And most important, it allows us greater purview into the things that we might not have thought about as businesses, given that most often our access to possibility is self-limiting.

What are your ideas around artistic nourishment?

What are some of things that you’d like to to see change within your own business culture?

Are you up to the challenge of change?

By the way, I am no longer considered a “creative”, but here is some of my art... Perhaps this might lend some perspective around your own role as an artist inside of an organization, or, inspire you to actually create more art.

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Glassy Eye”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg; 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“The Pixelated Eye”; crayon, pencil & watercolor; 1989]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Junkie”; frame grab from a viral shoot for TRÜF with Adam Goldberg, Botox PSA, 2007]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Architectural Ellipse”; pen & pencil, 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Industrial Transcendence of Trees”; remix of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album cover, pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Triangularity”; pen & pencil, 1989]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Study of the Headless Woman”; watercolor & pencil, 1990]


Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Los Angeles Nightscape”; charcoal; 1990]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Ode to Scott Turow”; watercolor, pencil, crayon & tape; 2000]

Providing Artistic Nourishment Inside of Agencies or Organizations #art #creativity #innovation #junto

[“Monk in Boardwalk Isolation”; photograph; 2010]