Our Interactive Creative Director Andy Cameron writes a column for Creative Review about digital creativity and stuff. Here is this month's column:
We've all heard the saying “property is theft”, first coined by French anarchist Proudhon in 1840. I'm appropriating it for today's column. I'm not just stealing it – I'm going to jazz it up a bit, improve it a little, make it my own. I'm going to change property is theft to creativity is theft.
All artists and designers know this to be true, that creativity is a form of daylight robbery, that the creative process is never entirely original, and that there are always references to, or borrowings from, prior art created by other people. Artists and advertisers have had a long and fruitful (and sometimes fractious) relationship based on the exchange of creative ideas. Where art goes, advertising follows. Artists are sensitive about advertisers making free with their creative property and nowhere is this sensitivity more acute than among media artists – artists who work with new and emerging technologies.
Media artists tend to push the boundaries of what you can do with technology, and in doing so, happen upon forms of engagement which advertising agenciesfind irresistible. The oft-repeated story sees the artist post a video of new work online, someone in an agency somewhere sees it, realises it's just the thing to put in that client pitch – and the client falls in love with the idea.
And the ensuing debate (like the furore that ensued online last year surrounding Chris O'Shea's Hand From Above billboard installation and Space150’s very similarly executed project for Forever21) probably isn’t going to go away. As media and interactive artists explore new forms of engagement, the solutions they come up are more and more relevant to agencies trying tofind new ways to keep up creatively. Media artists are increasingly being referenced in agency creative sessions. (It’s no coincidence that London's NexusProductions has launched Nexus Interactive Arts to represent media artists and bring their work to creative agencies and clients, in the right way.)
So whose work gets referenced the most in agencies at the moment? Chris O'Shea has got to be a contender – his Hand from Above demonstrates the awesome power of digital outdoor to engage passers-by in public spaces.
Another favourite is Golan Levin who for more than 15 years has been exploring the links between nonverbal communication and interactive play in a series of works that are fresh, innovative and fun to engage with. And very much on the way up is Zach Lieberman, co-founder of OpenFrameworks, whose work with computer vision hints at broader creative opportunities in using cameras as primary interactive input – whether for commercial projects like the ToyotaIQ typeface, or to empower disabled artists as with his EyeWriter.
But perhaps the single most referenced artist in agency creative sessions is Jonathon Harris and, in particular, his project We Feel Fine.
The reason that Harris's work is shown so much in agencies is probably down to the creative industry's preoccupation with social media: we know it's important and we know we're not quite getting it. Here’s a quote from Jonathon Harris about why he thinks We Feel Fine resonates so broadly.
"It is about creating an ever-changing portrait of the emotional landscape of the human world. It is about creating a two-way mirror — where viewers simultaneously experience a God-like voyeurism (spying on the feelings of others) and a bashful vulnerability (realizing their own words and pictures are in there, too). When these two feelings mix together (voyeurism and vulnerability), the hope is that they produce a kind of humbling empathy — demonstrating that individual experiences are actually universal."
Jon's work offers a glimmer of optimism – that crowd-sourcing isn’t just a creative cop out, but at its best can deliver a powerful emotional connection and tell the old story – the human story – in a new way.
We never really own ideas, we just look after them for a while. A creative idea ALWAYS starts with someone else's creative idea. Dizzy Gillespie got it right when he said “you can't steal a gift”. Or as Jean Luc Godard put it “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”
And do you know what? It goes both ways. Wieden+Kennedy Portland's Old Spice TV ad has been shamelessly copied by countless admirers, including Sesame Street and the Sun newspaper. Nobody seems particularly bothered.
So here's another idea – stolen from Iain Tait no less. Wouldn't it be nice to have a league table of those digital artists and artworks most referenced in ad agency creative sessions? It would give us a sense of where the creative market is right now – who's up, who's down and who's on the money. Yes – good idea, Iain. Cheers.
For another view on a similar topic, see this earlier post: 'All creative work is derivative'.