In the 20th century, binary oppositions ruled. Male or female. Domestic or foreign. Rational or emotional. Material or spiritual (based on the Cartesian duality of mind and body). Hetero or homosexual. Republican or Democratic. Analog or digital. And the ultimate binary: Self or Other. This last binary is at the essential basis of all fundamentalism, xenophobia, even genocide. The idea that there are those who are “self” or “human”, and those that are not.
Today, so many of these false dichotomies are breaking down or being revealed for the fallacies they are. You don’t have to be trained in the theory of Deconstruction to realize, as a thinking human being, that life is far richer than these simplistic ‘either/or’ constructions would indicate.
What I find inspiring about the generations that came after mine, the so-called Millennials and Gen Z, is the pronounced tendency to defy, or completely ignore, these binaries. Never before have we seen so many who quite naturally toggle from one identity, or one modality or tool, to another. Can I be a jock and an artist? Can a musician fuse old school and new? Can we make money and do social good? Of course we can. What a great time to be a human being!
In our industry, one of the most important dichotomies that are being continually resolved or blended is the divide between Art and Commerce. We are fortunate enough to live in an era when the two are so fused together making it meaningless to talk about just one. What is an iPhone but a commercially rich opportunity to make art? Or the application of art and design to a commercial venture.
We know that storytelling and design are big business. And they generate intellectual property that creates wealth. After all, what is a popular video game, or a blockbuster film, or a successful tourism campaign, than a seamless blending of art and commerce?
Next question: Is art only for the chosen few? Or only for those who went to art school? Absolutely not.
Is someone in account service, for example, only attending to the business side of the equation? In my opinion, in a good agency, an account manager is inherently creative, not only in the sense of having artistic or aesthetic judgment, but because it’s their job to solve problems and find new opportunities through ingenuity. The classic question “What if?” and “How can we…?” are often utilized by great account people to find a way to achieve the nearly impossible. What if we could cleverly reach two totally different generations at once with a single ad? How can we finish this YouTube commercial in time for launch while meeting regulatory approvals, staying on brief and on budget? Immense creativity is required to thread these kinds of needles in real time.
Continually strengthening the artistic bone is essential. I encourage anyone and everyone working in advertising, whether they’re a copywriter, art director, account executive, strategist, producer, media buyer or finance director – to pursue an art form of some kind. It keeps us sharp, expands our imaginations. And it’s just plain good for the soul.