Who is more creative: van Gogh or the agency art director?

Posted by on Sep 10, 2013 in views | No Comments


Ok, this post will probably ruffle some artistic feathers, but hey, it’s a view I’ve held for some time. So in the spirit of freedom of expression, here goes… (And for those who disagree, feel free to counter it! I’d love to hear your views).

Being in the business of creative consultancy, I’ve come across many disillusioned designers/copywriters/art directors/etc who felt that as “commercial” creatives who have to listen to the final word of the (cue: doomsday sound efffect) client, they’ve not been given the chance to express their creativity to the fullest. It’s always lamenting about why the client prefers the “safer” approach over the more “creative”/”bolder” option… etc. Or why the client fails to understand the awesomeness/beauty/greatness/uniqueness of our proposal… yada yada.

So invariably I have had to sit down with a few broken-hearted creatives to counsel them out of their misery. And here’s the question I always ask them: do you think van Gogh, if still alive (and no disrespect to one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever seen), is more creative, or you?

Well, what kind of question is THAT? van Gogh was a genius (albeit a little mad and deaf) and his works are/were worth millions. People worship him! He had to be!

And my respone to that, would be a simple: “Nope. I think YOU are.”

Here’s why:

An artist like van Gogh paints for himself, has unlimited time to finish his work (if he ever does), has unlimited colours to use on his unlimited canvas. He can choose freely what size of canvas he wants to work on, what time of the day he feels like painting, and whatever colours he prefers to use. If he doesn’t like what he’s painted, he can ditch it, and start another.

Best of all, when he finishes, he won’t expect most people to like it (or it’ll be too much of a mass appeal). In fact, he just needs ONE wealthy person who identifies with his work to rake in his keeps. No one else needs to understand the angst or meaning behind the painting. Just ONE buyer would be enough. Just ONE appreciative collector.

A creative in the modern world who slogs for a creative agency, on the other hand, do not have van Gogh’s luxury of unlimited time, canvas or palette. Typically, the agency creative is usually given a tiny little canvas (no budget), with limited colours to use (brand guidelines), limited photography/stock images (from client’s own stock library), limited typography (guidelines again) and limited time (due yesterday) to produce amazing work.

And the agency creative is not even “painting” his own vision or expressing his own artistic ideas… he/she is always expressing and “painting” WHATEVER THE CLIENT WANTS TO SAY for WHOEVER THE CLIENT WANTS TO SAY IT TO (i.e. paint someone’s vision, for someone else to understand, appreciate and buy into).

The agency creative do not have the luxury of just needing ONE wealthy appreciative buyer. He/she has to ensure that whatever is painted or created MUST HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD every single time for EVERY SINGLE TARGET AUDIENCE that is listed in the brief. Or that would probably be the agency’s last job for the client.

To me, the van Goghs of the world are merely self-expressive geniuses expressing their own artistic visions on their own terms and time. Without even a specific audience in mind. The agency creative, on the other hand, in this merciless, cut-throat advertising/marketing communications industry, have much much more restrictions, yet have to deliver work that hits the spot every time. On demand. On time. On budget. On cue. On tap.

So, who has to be MORE creative to survive?

You tell me.

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