The Adman versus the Artist

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve got a feeling that the practice of carrying out group ‘crits’ of work is standard practice on Art and Design courses, but for me it’s a new experience, so here are my thoughts.

For one thing, it seems to make more sense as a process with advertising than with, say, fine art for the simple reason that although both deal with creative ideas, advertising is more honest about those ideas.

The little I know about art (and it is a little) tells me that artists are in the business of making simple ideas look very complicated. Probably most of the time they’re making very vague ideas look even more vague than they already are.

Perhaps the key lies in the execution of those ideas – in the making of a beautiful object – and I’m missing the point entirely, but I stand by the assertion that advertising beats art hands down on the ideas front. And it’s in a group crit that this is proven.

There is nowhere to hide when 12 other people are looking at your work and evaluating it. If they don’t understand or like it, you simply cannot argue. An artist, however, would. This work is highly personal, they might say; or better still: if you don’t understand it it’s your fault, your failing. The problem with the artist’s approach to outside opinion, though, is that it forms an impenetrable shield against all external evaluation. If non-comprehension is taken as confirmation that a work is vital and interesting we can all consider ourselves creative geniuses, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to create something no-one understands.

It’s far harder to create something intelligent and simple. Something that includes people rather than excluding them. This is what group crits teach you: that communicating with people is hard. Very hard. When somebody doesn’t understand you the natural reaction is to be angry with them, to see it as their fault. It’s not, though. If you are the one trying to communicate something, and the other person is genuinely listening, it’s your fault if they don’t understand.

At university I became accustomed to treating my ideas like precious trinkets, little ornaments never to be shown the daylight. My process when writing an essay was always read for a long time, then scratch around for an afternoon in a quiet room trying to write something that wasn’t manifestly lifted from someone else’s writing. Often this was a futile and frustrating exercise and I learnt to content myself with the thought that somewhere in my mind lay deep, rich seams of untapped wealth that I would someday harvest, astounding everybody.

Sadly I now believe this to be a largely flawed supposition, for the simple reason that if I am never able to tap this untapped wealth it isn’t really wealth at all, is it? It’s like having a bank account containing large amounts of money, but you’ve forgotten which bank it’s with. And you never had the pin number in the first place.

Group crits are helping me to understand that ideas, as soon as they are formed, need to leave the dark cerebral space in which they are precious trinkets and face the cold hard light of day. This light may show them to be cheap rubbish, and you may not love them anymore. But if those golden shafts fall upon your ideas and show them to be as beautiful as you’d hoped, the pleasure you gain from them thereafter will always be the greater because you took the risk of exposing them.

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