Ich bin ein Creative


For years the conversation was predictably tedious:

Q. What do you do as a living?

A. I work in advertising

Q. Oh, so you’re a creative?

A. No, I am a planner

Q. Oh, what’s that?

A. I bring an understanding of the intersection of people, brands and communications into the development of effective advertising

Q. So you’re a researcher?

A. Well research is one of the foundations of planning, but it’s not what defines the discipline

Q. What do you mean?

A. Nevermind.

Every time I found myself skewered by the (self-inflicted) implication that while I was in a creative industry, I wasn’t actually creative.

Happily, time spent working in an agency where things such as seeing the key thought in a planner’s brief become the endline for a global campaign, hearing an ECD ask that planners be more opinionated in internal creative reviews, or seeing the suggestion of an approach to art direction incorporated into a final creative recommendation, are pretty run of the mill, has helped me find a better answer.

For it has taught me that there is no department which has the monopoly – inalienable and incontestable – on creativity.

Now I have plenty of sympathy for those wishing to draw some protective line around the creative process. Heaven knows there is an oversupply of unhelpful advice. And not everybody has something to contribute to the creative process.

But to insist that creativity is the province of a privileged cabal – to fight for the erection and maintenance of silos, to treat creativity as if it were some kind of union job, to suggest by implication that entire disciplines are non-creative ones – is to fight against the multi-disciplinary nature of twenty-first century building.

But don’t listen to me.

Listen to Ed Catmull, cofounder of Pixar and president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

1415058227939_wps_20_Buzz_Lightyear_from_the_fFor those still clinging to the notion of a department exercising a monopoly on creativity:

People tend to think of creativity as a mysterious solo act, and they typically reduce products to a single idea: This is a movie about toys, or dinosaurs, or love, they’ll say. However, in filmmaking and many other kinds of complex product development, creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems. The initial idea for the movie—what people in the movie business call “the high concept”—is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years”

So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Toy Story, creativity is not a solo act.

Monsters Inc movie image Pixar

For those insisting that there are creatives and there is everybody else:

A movie contains literally tens of thousands of ideas. They’re in the form of every sentence; in the performance of each line; in the design of characters, sets, and backgrounds; in the locations of the camera; in the colors, the lighting, the pacing. The director and the other creative leaders of a production do not come up with all the ideas on their own; rather, every single member of the 200- to 250-person production group makes suggestions. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization. The leaders sort through a mass of ideas to find the ones that fit into a coherent whole—that support the story—which is a very difficult task. It’s like an archaeological dig where you don’t know what you’re looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary…”

So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Monsters Inc, everyone must be creative.


For those who might be shitting the proverbial bed at this point, Catmull offers some reassuring words:

Creative power in a film has to reside with the film’s creative leadership. As obvious as this might seem, it’s not true of many companies in the movie industry and, I suspect, a lot of others. We believe the creative vision propelling each movie comes from one or two people and not from either corporate executives or a development department. Our philosophy is: You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone…”

So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us The Incredibles, the pursuit of creativity and the necessity of collaboration still demands someone with a vision.


And finally, for those who would have us believe that some disciplines are invested with some form of inherent, moral and professional superiority, Catmull has these words:

Getting people in different disciplines to treat one another as peers is just as important as getting people within disciplines to do so. But it’s much harder. Barriers include the natural class structures that arise in organizations: There always seems to be one function that considers itself and is perceived by others to be the one the organization values the most… In a creative business like ours, these barriers are impediments to producing great work, and therefore we must do everything we can to tear them down.”

So according to the man who co-founded the creative enterprise that gave us Wall-E, no discipline is superior.

Let me repeat. I have plenty of sympathy for wishing to draw some protective line around the creative process. There are enough people capable of fucking up the whole enterprise through their good intentions.

Nonetheless, creativity is the output of teams and specialists, not a department. And those teams serve the work, which serves the brand, business, and customer.

These days the conversation goes a little differently:

Q. What do you do as a living?

A. I work in advertising

Q. Are you a creative?

A. Yes, I am a planner.

Fuck art. Let’s advertise


[A thought experiment]

Let’s be honest – deep down many of us fear advertising is inferior to art. And (less deep down) many others fear that advertising aspires to something loftier but pointless, namely art. However, nobody need worry. For art – the contemporary visual kind – isn’t anything special. Including everything and excluding nothing, it has disappeared up its own backside in a puff of regarding self-regarding meaninglessness.  

Novelist, essayist, and copywriter Sean Condon skewers the empty, limitless megalomania of ‘Art’:

For people like Tracy [Emin] and me, Art and Life are both capitalised and inextricably intertwined: everything we do, from getting up in the morning and not showering, to sitting at the kitchen table sucking on a fag and lovely cup of hot, sweet, milky English tea while flicking through Tatler magazine looking for pictures of ourselves at cocktail parties, is about Art. We are never not thinking of ways to make Art. It’s almost like a sickness, a disease we have contracted  – but one which we have the grace, generosity, and first-class college degree to share. We are merely the hosts of an exclusive virus whose effects can be enjoyed by everyone. All we require is a sneeze of inspiration, the wet, hacking cough of execution followed by the fever of a gallery bidding war and, BANG – Art!”

Similarly, philosopher and cultural critic Nina Power points to all-encompassing nature of art:

The art market has expanded exponentially and has been losing its shape to achieve monstrous proportions. It is occupying all the space, wildly metastasizing in every possible direction. It is so bloated at the core that it doesn’t seem able anymore to digest all the data. It is on its way to surpass its function. … Today it is difficult to imagine anything that could be excluded from art. Its field has expanded exponentially to include the entire society. Along the way, it has grabbed anything that could be used for its own purpose, recycling garbage, forging communities, investigating political issues and perfumes, tampering with biology etc., simultaneously appearing and disappearing with an ambiguous promiscuity. Art has finally fulfilled the program of Dada with a vengeance, embedding art into life.”

When, as Google have recently done with their Deep Dream project, you take what you yourself confess “is just random noise”, put it in a frame, declare it to be Art, and get people buy it for thousands, we know that what Duchamp started has reached its logical and terminal conclusion. Art is dead. Now we’re just dancing on its grave.

Small wonder that sociologist, philosopher, and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard was moved to write art’s obituary:

The adventure of modern art is over. Contemporary art is only contemporary of itself.”

It has ceased to matter in Western culture, and does next to nothing to shape or challenge how we think about ourselves and the world around us.

Granted, there might be some quite wonderful exceptions, but the fact of the matter is that contemporary art’s only consistent line of vigorous enquiry is what it – Art – is. Its only real concern is to declare and sustain its existence. One need look no further than the language it wraps itself up in. With its tortured syntax and breathless insistence on its own perceptiveness and iconoclasm, it serves only to signal that it is Art, and to exclude everyone else:

Combining radical notions of performativity and the body as liminal space, my practice interrogates the theoretical limitations of altermodernism. My work, which traverses disparate realms of object-making such as painting and performance, investigates the space between metabolism and metaphysics and the aporia inherent to such a discourse.”

Self-aggrandising, infinitely self-regarding, endlessly self-examining, incapable of having anything other than a conversation about itself with itself, contemporary art is entirely self-serving. In its bid to draw attention to itself, as the philosopher Roger Scruton puts it:

It is indistinguishable in the end from advertising – with the sole qualification that it has no product to sell except itself.”

Art may well give us the occasional cheap thrill of spectacle – so Instagram-friendly, so good for cool-signalling. But it has no claim to moral, spiritual, or ethical superiority. It isn’t anything special, isn’t anything exalted, and rises above nothing. So we really need not fear that advertising is inferior to art. 

Indeed perhaps it the artist who has reason to be fearful. For I would suggest that advertising is eminently superior to contemporary art.  It has a purpose beyond its own existence in the pursuit of which, its craft and aesthetics are marshalled. Unlike so much of contemporary art it seeks not to merely proclaim its existence (“I am Advertising!”) but actually to make a difference, to have an effect in the real world. In doing so it publicises the things that give us pleasure and satisfaction, it recognises that it is nothing without the engagement of its audience, and it seeks to find a common ground of interest and meaning with that audience. It is transparent about that purpose. And there is no conspiracy and no con-trick.

So fuck art. 

Let’s advertise.


Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art

Sean Condon, The Secret of Success is A Secret

Freize Magazine, ‘A Serious business: What is means to be a professional artist’, 12.03.09

Roger Scruton, ‘The great swindle

Switching off the autopilot


He was thinking, not only dancing.”

So wrote Suzanne Moore, writing of the continuous invention and reinvention that characterised the art of David Bowie.

Thinking, not only dancing.

The words have rattled around my head since I first read them.

Thinking, not only dancing.

​And it prompts the thought that we should ​beware the organisation ​(whether we work in it, or with it) ​that does not have an intellectual life.

Now given that the word ‘intellectual’ is feared so much by those who like to present themselves as doers, makers and generally amongst life’s practical and unpretentious go-getters, let me clarify.

​We should beware the organization that does not at every level ​exhibit and encourage a healthy degree of spirited debate.

​T​hat merely absorbs the current orthodoxy​.

​T​hat feeds upon the speculation and ‘best practice’ of others​.​

​T​hat cannot accommodate heresy​.

That indeed, believes heresy IS something which exists.

And that is too locked into ​the comfort of ​habit to question ​it.

Of course the bigger the organization, the greater the need for process, systems, and rules.

Which presents us with a rather delicious paradox.

There’s nothing like size and success to make an organization stupid.

And while this is a paradox, it is not excuse.

The balance must be found.

The voices must be heard (and insist they make themselves heard).

The safe spaces and forums created.

The future must be visited.

And the experiments run.

 For the organization that can not or will not, isn’t merely dancing.

 It’s dancing in the dark.



Suzanne Moore, ‘My David Bowie, alive for ever’, Guardian, 11.01.16