Friday, May 11, 2007

Traipsing around the Tate..(Pt 1)

Juan Usle - Bilingual. NB: This was before I realised the Tate doesn't allow photos. Oops.

Had a very interesting day last week; met up with Lauren (sheseered)at the Tate Modern. A good time was had by all - I recommend the cafe at the Tate Modern, even if it IS a mite pricey and chock full of 'art' food; it was tasty, and just enough for a light lunch.

Anyway, I had a few observations about the Tate Modern, seeing as it was my first time round the place, and how they tie into communications. Lots of these are highly tenuous, but hey....just bear with me.

Now, bear in mind that before going round the Tate, I was someone who regarded much modern art as...well.... not really art, to be honest. Happily, that's changed - some of the pieces really struck me. Usle, Bacon and Giacometti in particular.

It is such that the thing which really, really struck me (and why I'm happy I was able to take that photo of Juan Usle's 'Bilingual') was the need to be intuitive and to be true to yourself.

Usle's painting is all about the balance between two differing languages, expressed visually. It's the thing which unites the two. Everyone, regardless of language, can judge it - and have an inkling into how Usle thinks.

Creatives (and increasingly planners and account handlers), are being called upon to 'know what's right'; what constitutes good creative work. It has never been more important in this age of information in tap, where everyone's opinion can be just as valid as the other. No more top down messages. It's far more circular now.

As Cynical Rob rightly points out in his APSOTW assignment, there is no wrong answer; just different ways of doing things.

Yet you try quantifying intuition. Can't be done.. but the best account men/planners/creatives have always been able to sell magic. There's some truism that suggests magic should just be shown, and not sold. Bollocks. Selling is the name of the game, and selling brilliance can be just as hard as mediocrity, if not moreso; you have to get people to understand someone's intuition, which (frequently) has never been seen before.

Claude Monet - Waterlillies. The last naughty pic.

Consider Monet's painting. It's now considered a stone cold classic by all. But in its day, it was radical. How has this shift occurred? Well, history moves on, and people react to the paintings in different ways, and things get reappraised. This has happened because Monet had the balls to continue ploughing his furrow. Though he may never have directly sold his work, he knew that what he was doing was right.

Quoting that Wiki entry:

"The critical response was mixed, with Monet and Cézanne bearing the harshest attacks. Critic and humorist Louis Leroy wrote a scathing review in the Le Charivari newspaper in which, making wordplay with the title of Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), he gave the artists the name by which they would become known. Derisively titling his article The Exhibition of the Impressionists, Leroy declared that Monet's painting was at most, a sketch, and could hardly be termed a finished work."

God knows what would have happened if ol' Claude had just listened to the critics.

These artistic pioneers helped to reawaken the debate about high and low culture in my mind. Who says what's brilliant, and what's crap?

Personally, I think it's down to individual intuition.

Take David Patton being appointed as Chief Exec of Grey, for example - he's clearly someone who has a great deal of intuition, given his commission of award winning Playstation and Bravia spots. He just 'gets it'. That can't be taught, but knowing a brand inside out certainly helps. Knowing what's art and what'll sell x number of televisions is clearly immeasurably important in this business.

Indeed, it poses the question: Before you slag off that ad you've seen in Campaign, who is to say whether you fully understand it? Have you lived the brand in the same way?

Yet, even to that, there is a counter argument... if you are too attached to a brand, it can often lead to people not being able to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes thin-slicery DOES work very well, and is just so.

It's what I think Jon Steel was driving at in his talk about chucking your Blackberry away. Taking time away from the daily grind of living the brand clears your head, and gets you thinking away from the conventional.

There is a very palpable lesson to be learned from the Tate Modern's art. Keep your objectivity and subjectivity (so often Yin and Yang to each other) balanced. It's crucially important.

I think everyone involved in communications would benefit (if they haven't already) from a jaunt around the Tate Modern. It certainly led to me reappraising my thoughts about a lot of modern art.


Dan said...

Quick question: if you (as a consumer) don't 'get' an ad, isn't that reason enough to slag it off?

Will said...


Nice to hear from you again. Bluntly, yes, it is.

However, I think the industry fights a constant battle between being 'real people' and 'ad people'.

There are executions which I think are great, yet are slagged off by my friends.

I'm going to fall back on the 'target audience' statement. Was it meant for me, yada yada... and even then, I think trusting what you know is the most important thing.

When making good ads, gut feelings have a place, basically. Not at the expense of overall sales figures and effectiveness, but a place.

Dan said...

Of course they do, Will - and it's having a good enough gut feeling to work out whether consumers are going to get and like ads that makes good planners/account men/creatives.

You're absolutely right - you can't quantify intuition. But give a piece of communication a decent period of time and you can damn sure quantify whether it's worked or not. And you can only demonstrate a genuine sense of intuition by proving that you can pick a winner more often than not - and even then the folk who don't pick the occasional stinker are few and far between.

There's a bigger (and slightly different) discussion here of course - how do you quantify success when it comes to advertising? 'Surfers', for example, is a stunning piece of film, and a classic of the genre - the only problem being that the 'genre' could just as easily be 'ads that didn't work' as it could 'ads that are fabulous'. And that's where I'd argue Ads and Art (both caps deliberate) can never quite be the same thing - the joy of Art is that it is allowed to exist for its own sake, which can never quite be true of Advertising.

But as I said, that's a different debate, and it's late - drop us a post on that, Will, and we can go from there. In the meantime, I'd wholeheartedly endorse your recommendation of the Tate Modern - aside from the aesthetic splendour you'll find within, there are few better places to enjoy a summer evening bottle of wine than the balcony of the 7th floor bar...

Will said...

Dan - You are quite right that Ads and Art exist in different spheres. But would you agree that those do cross over, quite a bit - ads for ads sake may well be those tasked with 'improving brand awareness' or 'repositioning' (whatever that means, in the broader sense of the word).

Yes, the quantifying success post is one for another day. It will come... but I have other random Tate thoughts to post.

I shall have to go to the Tate Modern on a summer's evening. Sounds great.

lauren said...

"the joy of Art is that it is allowed to exist for its own sake" - sounds like a point we were discussing on the day, will.

glad you enjoyed the gallery as much as i did! i'll be going back next thursday for the rest of level 5.

neilperkin said...

Like the post, Will. Shamefully my new work building is right behind the Tate Modern but I haven't been in it for over a year.You have inspired me to make the time!

Juliana said...

Being a bilingual myself (that sounds weird! What I mean is I speak portuguese and english) that paint shows exactly how I feel which is more like a confusion, series of cross lines, words that sometimes work better in one language than in the other and how that makes you create a new language as a mix of those two languages. It doesn't really feel balanced to me, it is more like caos!

Dan said...

Just a quick one, because the chat's moved on, but even 'ads tasked with 'improving brand awareness' or 'repositioning'' will have been written to a brief which will, at some point, clarify how success will be measured, and so can't be described as ads for ads sake. And certainly not by a planner... ;-)

Will said...


No, of course not. All ads (and every piece of planning) are vitally important to the success of every campaign. *Removes tongue from cheek*

Yes, I suppose any activity with commercial intent can't be 'pure' art, in that sense. Sigh.

Lauren - Sounds good. I need to scope out the 5th floor.

Neil - for shame my friend.. there is a new event (the Harland Miller one with Jarvis -

I'm tempted to go.

Juliana - The chaotic element of it really drew me to it - though if you look at it up close, I'd swear you can see obvious patterns.

Dan said...

Mr Humphrey - Bullmore had some very concise thoughts on this very topic this morning. He's a very wise man...

And thanks for your message last night - I'm far from resigning from the blogosphere. I just don't really get Twitter. It all seems a bit onanistic and self-congraulatory to me. Which is fine on a blog (with which you choose to interact), but when it keeps beeping in my pocket, it all got a bit much...

Hope you're keeping well,


Will said...


I haven't seen Campaign this morning, but when get my hands on one, I'll have a butchers at it.

Twitter is a little strange, but it's quite nice to read/see what people are up to. Also - you can turn off the automatic updates, which I've done - if you have more than 10 friends, it gets a little silly.

Hope to see you soon mate - pint sometime?

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