Even making ads, it’s still possible to be inspired by the masters.

June 17, 2011


The adoration of art history!

Something wonderful happened to me the other day while I was working on a freelance project: I was able to use my modest knowledge of art history in the formation of a creative idea! Yes sir, those classes I took long ago at the University of Wisconsin actually came in handy for work. As a matter of fact, we’ll be using examples from the Renaissance and other important periods in art history not only to inform the execution of our idea but also to help sell it. It isn’t everyday you see Raphael or Tintoretto in a PowerPoint presentation. But you will in ours. We even use the word chiaroscuro…correctly!

Why does that make me giddy? Because for the entire new century we’ve all obsessed about new media ad nausea, especially those of us in advertising, or whatever the hell we’re calling it. And I’m as guilty as anyone. Maybe more so.

My point is we’re so amped on whatever the new, new thing is we often forget how brilliant certain old things are and how vital. For centuries, paintings and illustrations were the primary visual media available to Man. Instead of clicking through myriad links and cable channels, man sought inspiration or entertainment from still images, the best of which were generally paintings. Earlier generations gazed upon frescoes in their church and if they were lucky got to see masterworks at a salon or museum. Granted, lewd and crude drawing pervaded popular culture but the high road was pretty damn high for those who elected to take it.

Pause here for a second…what we make is so ephemeral, isn’t it? The best marketing campaigns in the world quickly fade into trivia. Whatever wins at Cannes this year will be entirely forgotten in 3 to 5 years. Probably sooner. Our masterpieces might be game changers for our industry and even popular culture but they have no value or meaning beyond a few ad classes and even those are fleeting. Few things are more irrelevant than the 2003 Gunn Report.

Yet, I don’t want to lecture about art versus commerce or the dumbing down of society or anything like that. For one thing I’d be a hypocrite. I haven’t been to the Art Institute of Chicago in several years, and it’s 5 miles from my house. I stay up late to watch horror movies from Europe. I blog about advertising! For all my alleged culture you’ll find me on the low road often enough. I guess all I’m saying is that it felt pretty good knowing the old masters were still relevant to the creative process, mine anyway.

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2 Responses to “Even making ads, it’s still possible to be inspired by the masters.”

  1. Tracy said

    A PowerPoint with Tintoretto is a PowerPoint I might actually pay attention to.

    I came back from a May trip to the National Gallery completely excited and and re-inspired. But, I just realized, only where my own personal projects are concerned. I’ve stopped short of carrying it to work. This is a real nudge.

    As an aside, I spent some time with the Tintorettos and El Grecos at the NGA. The only one there, I was wandering around with the goofiest grin that I could not help. The security guard was just staring. I felt obliged to explain that I wrote a paper in school around the two artists (I’ve got a dusty minor in art history) and was thrilled to see them in the same room. There was a really awkward silence and then he said, “that’s good…about your paper.”

    • SRP said

      Great story, Tracy. I can totally relate. I get that shit-eating grin when I’m in the presence of greatness. Gratitude there too as well.

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