Many of us are enamored with the idea of the lone creative genius making art out of nothing more than their unique vision of the world. Yet at the same time many of us also believe that art comes from art, meaning that every artist is inspired by those who came before or in other words that art is intrinsically derivative. Personally, I chose to believe that all of that there is a lot more to the creation of art than either of these points of view suggests. There are various other components to creating something that really speaks to people and causes people to see the world differently. I believe one such necessary imperative to creating art is that frequently if not always an artist needs something to push against or rebel against if you prefer, be that a cultural norm/society, the State e.g. Picasso’s Guernica, a person or institution (the man) or even pushing against the work of another artist. Regardless, art rarely suey generously happens on a sunny afternoon.
What does any of this have to do with process, or Michelangelo or the Pope?
Let’s start with the Project Manager and circle back around. Throughout my career as a Creative Director many of my closest relationships have been with my Project Managers and with my clients. This often cause junior members of my teams to think I’m selling out their work which all too often was created in the vacuum of their own personal preferences. Many times, throughout my career I would be approached by team members with sullen complaints that their work never gets picked by the client. My answer to this was give them photos of the client’s target audiences and have them hang it where they could see them while working. The point was to teach them that while I hired them for their talent and unique design styles, ultimately their work needed to appeal to the people in the photos not to themselves. Before a Graphic Designer can graduate to becoming an Art Director and ultimately to becoming a Creative Director, they needed to make this mind shift in how they approached their work—it simply isn’t about them and it certainly isn’t about winning awards or padding portfolios.
One of my graphic design professors in college would often say something that has stuck with me; whenever he gave out an assignment immediately everyone would start to raise their hands and ask questions to see how far they could push the parameters, he would reply “Do you know how you can tell when you’re working with a designer? If you tell them the assignment is to create a box the first question they will ask is: Does it have to be a box?
This is where Michelangelo comes in. People are rarely aware that Michelangelo was almost always commissioned to do his work; meaning that he pretty much always had a client, be that the Medici family or the Pope himself. Additionally, Michelangelo was almost always given the subject matter or topic to be painted or sculpted. And yes, Michelangelo himself was literally put in a box—The Sistine Chapel. And no, he wasn’t a lone genius climbing up scaffolding that he created every day then climbing all the way back down moving the scaffolding ten feet then climbing all the way back up to paint. If this had been his process his work would never have been completed much less completed in four short years.
History would be a different story if people spoke of the Sistine Chapel as having been done by Michelangelo and Partners. The reality is, that’s much closer to the truth. Michelangelo hired many of his contemporary artists to help him with the painting. Many other people made it possible by helping in every way imaginable. There were also various phases of the project, beginning with conceptualizing and coming up with a vision of what was to be created. Then the process of doing the underpainting or sketching it all out happened far before adding any colors to the ceiling. Understanding the parameters he was given might lead people to ask if Michelangelo shouldn’t be considered the world’s greatest illustrator or set painter instead of being one of history’s greatest Artists (with a capital A). So, what did Michelangelo do that cemented his place in the annals of art history? The answer was in his unique vision and in the style with which he painted, which has come to be known as Mannerism; the way he pushed the hyper-perspective of his subjects giving them almost comic book proportions as though they were being viewed via a fish-eyes lens of a camera seemingly bursting off of the canvas with muscles flexed in suspended animation—nothing of the sort had ever been done before or at least to the extent that he did.
Recently at BRINK Interactive we have been fine tuning our creative process—which we’ll be happy to share with you. We recognize that great work, even dare we say “artistic” work comes from not only being put inside a box but also understanding as much as we can about that box prior to doing any work that would traditionally be considered to be “creative”. We believe that every member of our team—and that includes our client partners—can be and are “creative”. We wholeheartedly believe that great ideas can and do come from anyone on the team including our clients. We also understand that what makes great creative work is (and I know this sounds crass) its ability to sell product, or to perhaps put is another way; great creative work inspires customers to see things differently, it resonates with people, (a term borrowed from the sound a musical instrument makes like a cello), that it gives people a sense of shared purpose and belonging. These may seem like lofty goals for marketing communication and we will be quick to agree with you—nevertheless these are the standards to which we hold ourselves. We hope you’ll hold us to the same standards.