Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Three Factors Behind Great Creative Work

It used to be easy to distinguish between professional and amateur work. I'm talking design, writing, art, photography, film – heck, anything that you sell that you create for clients. The advent of digital cameras, fairly intuitive design programs and online publishing sites means the line between pros and wannabees has become blurred, especially for clients. Technologies allow for many more smaller at-home businesses and entrepreneurs, some of whom are truly excellent. But where everyone appears to be a Creative Director or worse, a Creative Guru, it becomes très confusing. What is professional work these days? In fact, it's quite easy to tell by the work itself.

To my mind there are three factors at play for top creative work: Skill, Play and Passion. The levels of each are set by the demands of the work at hand. Here is a brief explanation of what I mean by the graphic above:

Skill. Knowledge of how to get things done in a professional, time-efficient manner that will work effortlessly in all media is essential. Should the work be predictable, the client ends up with a boring piece. Is the individual just concerned with churning out the words or the logos or web pages and sending out an invoice? Or do they come back with what you asked to see but with a few more suggestions that they think may work better? If the artist is working totally under a stringent direction such as bosses, productivity and billings, we call that a lost opportunity, or slave labor. Great Creative Directors look to their artists and writers to use their brains.

Play. Having the nimbleness to consider different creative avenues of attack, all of which are plausible ideas, is the mark of an artist or writer who loves to explore, experiment and find new and innovative approaches. Seasoned professionals may not enjoy brainstorming with others but they certainly go through this process in their own brains. Without the benefit of experience, play without sophistication becomes simple and childish and therefore dumb. Gone wild, an overly playful artist enters the world of mindless drivel. Think rude noises and blowing Silly String out of your nose.

Passion. Often misunderstood, a passionate practitioner is one who gets goose pimples when they see a concept that sings. They spend their spare moments gaining insight about as many different things as they can. They look at bad work not to mock, but to figure out how it went so wrong. And they live and breathe the world of competition, breakthrough strategy and searching that one novel solution that will work harder to build the client's brand equity over all others. Passion without context allows for a prima donna look and feel, which is off-base and creates irrelevant results. There is nothing wrong with being a purist, passionate creative. Live your dreams but without an understanding of the science behind strategy you might want to keep your interests as a hobby.

Those without all three factors in their work needn't go beating themselves up. It's rare and takes many years of devotion to arrive at a stage where they begin overlapping. Finding clients who "get it" is key. Working with others and learning every day, finding mentors, refining your expertise and soaking in what else is happening in the industry is essential. Together, Skill and Play come together to create work that is just plain fun, sticks out from the crowd and provides a friendly image. Play and Passion leads to very interesting work with a remarkable energy that acts as a motivator to target audiences and Passion and Skill combine to evoke dynamic concept work that is smooth, functional and well-executed.

Combine all three and you've got that magic moment of genius.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Cyclops Factor

Cyclopes as a race have always had a bad name. In fact, they are probably the first race in history used to embody evil. Monsters. Cannibals. Freaks. Fiends. In ancient times there wasn't a more terrible figure to scare and delight children than the legendary Cyclops, Polyphemus (meaning "famous"). Polyphemus, or Poly to his friends, was son of Poseidon (god of the sea and brother of Zeus and Hades) and Thoosa (a Nereid, or sea nymph). Not sure how that worked with gods and nymphs exactly, but how cool is that? He has been painted by Poussin, sculpted by Rodin, battled Wonder Woman and Homer Simpson, was portrayed in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? and honored as the name of the planet which the moon Pandora orbits in James Cameron's Avatar.

But were these monsters really all that bad? Or were they branded as deranged brutes and misunderstood? Surely there was more to them than that. Let's give the story a shake.

We all know Cyclopes as giants with one large eye in the center of their foreheads. They lived on the mythological Island of Cyclops which made their address both easy to remember and, being mythological, difficult to find. And Polyphemus, the most famous of all, lead a tranquil life living in his cave condo on the coast, strutting about with his stylish, custom-made pine tree walking staff and flock of prize sheep. We know he lived alone (with his sheep; which was perfectly acceptable in those days) and harbored affections for a sea nymph named Galatea, who I suppose reminded him of his mother. I can't see him as a partier but the "famous" thing says to me that he was quite in demand at Cyclopes social events. In short: so suave and debonair that when he entered a room everyone's eye was on him.

It was a pretty cool life and their existence probably would have gone down as a curious, but harmless anecdote until, as recorded in Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus and 12 of his men, returning from the Trojan War with the spoils of war, inflated egos and pockets full of condoms (this becomes important later), stumble across the island and pull a home invasion on Polyphemus' place while he was at work.

When he returns home with his flock to find all these strangers poking through his stash, Polyphemus gets pissed. Feeling personally violated, he goes a bit Rambo and traps Odysseus and his men in his man cave with a big boulder. Several soldiers are caught by the boulder and crushed in the melee. Outrage dizzies the giant and he sits to straighten out his head, absentmindedly eating two of the crushed soldiers. Having never eaten a man before, he finds they taste a bit like chicken. Breakfast the next morning consists of two more leftover crushed Odysseus' men, one of which tasted a bit more Feta than the other, and he then locks up and goes out to work. When he returns that evening he eats two more soldiers. Finally, Odysseus, alarmed by the meal plan and finding his troop alarmingly reduced in number, tricks Polyphemus by acting all friendly and brings out the Ouzo cocktails. After a Greek Matter Scatter or two Polyphemus asks the soldier his name and, thinking himself very clever, Odysseus lies and tells the giant his name is "μή τις," which literally means "nobody." I've tried that pseudonym myself and it doesn't work but Polyphemus, half drunk, believes him.

One more cocktail and Polyphemus conks out. While the giant is passed out the floor, Odysseus pokes him in the eye with a sharpened pole and the giant wakes up screaming that "nobody" has hurt him. You can well imagine this cry doesn't exactly elicit an immediate call-to-arms from his fellow Cyclopes. In fact, they grunt and go "Yeah, right" and fall back asleep. While Polyphemus is down at the sea bathing his eye, Odysseus and his remaining men tie themselves to the underside of the sheep with prophylactics so when Polyphemus, blind and hung over the next morning, lets his flock out and checks their backs with his hands as they pass by, the giant doesn't realize they are escaping.

Too late, blind Polyphemus finally understands the soldiers are gone and runs down to the shore. Odysseus taunts him from the safety of his ship as he sails away, boasting that "I am not nobody; I am Odysseus, Son of Laertes, King of Ithaca," which was a pretty stupid thing to do because immediately Polyphemus texts his dad Poseidon for revenge, who curses Odysseus, sending enough bad winds and storms for a tumultuous and perilous return home.

Four things I get from this story: 1) The phrase, "Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," is made even more poignant when one only has one eye, 2) If you're going to mess around with the son of a powerful god, don't be ruining a perfectly good alias by boasting, 3) The next time you see a blind Cyclops groping sheep, you'll know he's just looking for Greek soldiers, and 4) Maybe those subject to the Cyclops Factor, or judged automatically bad because of race, presentation and persona, (like kids in hoodies carrying bags of Skittles) shouldn't summarily be condemned.

Have a great week everyone!

(With apologies to Homer, Theocritus, Virgil and Ovid.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bologna, Baloney and the New iPad

My post is early today. My mission is too important to wait. It is a gray day in Paradise for I must pass along dire news of storm clouds on the horizon. As a preface, please understand I try to stay away from a number of situations for the sake of my general well being: 1) flea markets where ladies hum along to canned show tunes while they consider buying stuff that should be in a land fill, 2) gathering with people that eat the indigestible while making rude noises, and, 3) standing in line for more than a few minutes for anything. Any one of the above three can be detrimental to your health but I draw your attention today to number three.

Let me assure you that I'm neither expressing a sense of entitlement nor prima donna-ish-ness. I figure that all of us have to make up our minds about what constitutes acceptable (bologna) and where that turns into intolerable (baloney). But queuing (which is rich-speak for lining up) ranks up there with hopping on one foot on a diving board over a tank of sharks while singing God Save The Queen. It might be a hoot for a few minutes but after that it gets life-threatening. Standing upright in one place for prolonged periods of time can not only cause one's brain to slide dangerously closer to one's butt, but it can also be fatal. 

According to the OHS in Australia (where they are quite civilized about these things) research has linked prolonged standing to an increased risk of carotid atherosclerosis, which in turn can cause an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. No one expects us to avoid all situations where we find ourselves spontaneously exclaiming, "Why in the hell am I here?" In today's society we find ourselves in these places innocently enough. Therefore, I consider it a public service and my civic duty to issue the following advisories regarding potentially dangerous line-ups:

1) The Dastardly Deli Dally
While I love my fried bologna and eggs, as most down-easterners do, if I have to stand in line at the deli counter to get it, it just isn't worth it and you should do your best to avoid it as well. A person isn't meant to sacrifice so much for the humble sausage. Save yourself. Bologna will always be there but baloney can be avoided.

2) The Harmful Hardware Hangout
Did I find myself standing in line for 12 hours for the new iPad just to say I hung out with the cool Apple crowd and shared PC jokes? Did I consider putting my life at risk for the bragging rights of being the first to own the latest and greatest? No. While I love Apple and all its products, I firmly believe one is not supposed to put their life at risk in order to have one hot off the production line.

So be warned, fair reader. There are dangers out there for those who would be asked to wait in a line-up; whether it be for the fair sausage, or the latest in high tech hardware. As appealing as both are, subjecting yourself to the possibility of an early demise is pure baloney.

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About the above photo-illustration: 
I don't really do a lot of this and am certainly not an expert. This is the combination of two photos taken with an iPhone.
The deli counter photo was a spur-of-the-moment thing. On impulse I also kept the ticket I had and photographed it on a piece of paper on my kitchen counter when I got home. (Very unprofessional.) Once both were imported from the phone onto my computer, the ticket was brightened in levels, close-cropped, an extra number was added and it was copied and pasted onto the deli image which was cropped to size and levels were set. Placing the ticket on a layer above the background allowed playing with the combination of the two in order to get the effect of the ticket being tossed into the air. Fun and trial and error (thank God for "command z"). Airbrushing a glow to the serving number, adding some color and blurring the lower background separated the ticket from the background sufficiently. The result allows the viewer an idea of the concept behind the words and sets the tone for the article. It's playtime, really. Hope you enjoy. - R

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Secret About Creative Life

Above, we see the creative process as perceived by folks that aren't part of the trade. Admittedly, creatives have a great life, love their work and give the impression from their laid-back attitude that from the moment of getting a job to the moment of presentation, they spend very little time actually doing the work.

Because, after all, how hard can it be?

Well, if you think along those lines, I'm here to let you in on a little secret.

In reality, the creative process is quite different from the common perception. While there never seems to be enough time for anything, it works out there is just enough time for everything.

There are elements in the above process that I couldn't find a way to include in the graphic. Like all super heroes they constantly dodge bullets. They spend a lot of time selflessly answering cries of help from distressed creditors. And I can't tell you how many orphaned pizza slices have been saved from a life of loneliness.

The creative process allows for a lot of heroics: between fixing software crashes, finding lost puppies, jumping from one tall building to another, and finding bodily functions inordinately funny. You would think that these individuals would live for fame and glory but in reality they shy away from the public spotlight. Their only reward is the act of saving humanity from drudgery on a daily basis.

Creatives are great, hard-working people who you should love and cuddle. All creative people are enormously attractive, intelligent, and good with pets. In fact, I'd highly recommend creative people and you should immediately knit one a beret (complete with cool tassel) if you haven't already.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ode To The Long-Suffering Chair

“I went to the park and saw this kid flying a kite. The kid was really excited. I don't know why, that's what they're supposed to do. Now if he had had a chair on the other end of that string, I would have been impressed.” Mitch Hedberg

All hail the chair. The art of subservience has never been demonstrated so eloquently, so simply nor so dramatically. Since its invention it has helped humanity take a load off weary feet and kept even the lowest cad out of dirt and muck; all the while making no preference between the most luscious and the most flatulent of posteriors.

They've been thrown through the saloon windows of Hollywood, balanced on by performers, smashed over heads of criminals, offered to enemies of state, sat in by animals and provided a convenient perch everywhere from royal palaces to the seediest of bawdy houses. Friend to everyone, save the hemorrhoid sufferer, the chair in all its formations and permutations has never asked for anything but to serve.

Oh what a sad state that no one will speak up for our friend the chair. One that functions properly is never remarked upon. If injured, though, it is not even shot to be put out of its misery, as one would with the most flea-bitten creature, but is thrown unceremoniously in the junk heap of society with nary a thought nor a moment of testimony as to its lifelong service.

Let us bow our heads in a moment of silent remembrance for those that have supported asses throughout time when many others would have not.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Let's get interactive