Looking out the window at O’hare airport

I’ve been shooting very random pics of people, places and things on my battered Blackberry then loading them onto Facebook. They are not very good.

Or are they? Upon further review these photos are some of the coolest pictures I’ve ever taken. Off kilter, blurry and of nothing spectacular, they somehow capture the inane beauty of life. If they were oil paintings I’d buy them, fancying myself hip and aware.

Mundane yet transcendent, the flotsam and jetsam of life made beautiful when isolated. My word for it: trans-mundane. I know I didn’t create or discover the ‘art of the ordinary’ but I feel like I did. Anyone can!

Waiting for bags in the jetway

Dubai, from a moving elevator

It’s like when you’re going through your photos, keeping the good ones and discarding the crap; you come across one that fits neither category. A mistake but it’s gorgeous, partly because it was unplanned, almost like God composed it when you were trying to do something else. Maybe He did.

Try this at home. Look out a multi-paned window and isolate your focus onto whatever appears in just one of the panes. Maybe it’s half a tree and the side of a building or an old gutter. Whatever. Now look at it again. Suddenly it seems like a perfectly composed landscape or still life; in other words: art. I think that’s so cool.

One of my favorite modern-era painters, Edward Hopper found tremendous beauty and emotion in seemingly ordinary things. The average painter could never do that. Yet, with a typical smart phone we all can!

In my other blog, The Rogues Gallery I feature artwork created by ad people when they’re not making ads. (Please, do submit!) Below are a few marvelous “found” photographs. Weirdly stunning.

Katie Sweeney, from her series Broken Umbrellas

Brian Brooker, a man’s boot

Mitch Gordon, out a moving train at dusk

Can’t. Stop. Writing.

Per my agent’s request, I am expanding a short story I wrote into a detailed movie treatment for Dark Castle Entertainment. Surprise: it’s a horror piece, an allegory about man and nature.

I post this news because it’s my news but also because the writing of said treatment comes at the expense of other endeavors, including this blog. While writing is homework for many people, it is nothing short of my passion. And like most passion, it’s all encompassing. In other words, once I start writing I don’t stop. It is like climbing a mountain. You want to get to the top. If I pause too long between efforts there is fear, perhaps unfounded, I will lose the motivation to continue.

But it’s more than that. Selfishly, I also do not want to stop. Getting in the zone (be it on a screenplay, novel or advertising campaign) is one of the most exciting feelings I know. My whole being is focused on the task. I think of nothing else. I want to spend time with nothing else. If this sounds like a love affair between man and story that is because it is. Obsession would be an accurate description.

I once read that former adman and famous screenwriter/director, John Hughes wrote many of his screenplays from start to finish without stopping for anything, including food and sleep. In longhand! His passion is obvious in the stories he created. But even if it wasn’t, Hughes’ obsession is completely understandable… to me anyway.

I started writing my treatment on Sunday and I’ve logged ten hours or more on it every day and night since. I will be done this weekend. Since I am not employed right now so-called real work is not a distraction. Yet, I am a husband and father. Though tempting, to not honor and take pleasure in those roles would be sinful. My middle child celebrated a birthday and my father is in town. I also take my children to various activities. In addition, I am equally fanatic about working out, finding one hour every day to do so.

Therefore, there have been plenty of breaks. Good, important, life affirming breaks. Yet, you’ll notice I call them “breaks” as if my real life was about writing and all the other stuff merely a distraction. I’m hoping other creative people can relate.

My solution has always been the same. It’s also the same message we tell our clients when they wrestle with branding versus selling: You gotta do both! It ain’t easy. In trying I sometimes make painful decisions, choosing art over everything else. But it gives me so much joy and satisfaction…

I wonder if some of you are “wired” the same way and, if so, what do you do about it?

David Byrne of the Talking Heads

I assume most of you, regardless of age, are familiar with the musical group, Talking Heads. And in particular their signature tune, Once in a Lifetime. Below are the opening lines to this pop masterpiece:

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

I bring the song up not because I’m a big fan of the band; I’m not. It came to mind because I caught myself thinking about the mundane aspects of my life (kids, dogs, stairs made of wood, the rain outside) and suddenly, for a split second, I was genuinely amazed by it. By all of it. And I had to ask myself: How did I get here? My God, I have three little girls. I’ve been married 20 years. I’ve read like a thousand books!

And then it was gone. Poof! And I continued walking up those stairs made of wood to my office at the top of our house. But that question: How did I get here?

I wrote it down. Then I Googled it. The top responses were all about the song. And why not? Cerebral and poetic, no wonder college kids adored it. The Talking Heads captured a fleeting but fine moment of our existence and put it to music. That simple. Once in a Lifetime is now forever obtainable on my Ipad. Such is the power of art.

At times, I think advertising –or whatever we’re calling it- can harness this power, capturing our humanity, or our dreams about humanity. And boom! We are spellbound. Moved.

Obviously, as with pop music and other art, this power is often diluted or corrupted. To use the parlance of drug dealers, the pure rock is stepped on over and over before it hits the streets… just enough to give us a taste.

We’ve all read and experienced how social media is diminishing the power of brands to tell stories. We all live on the surface now, surfing the evermore glossy and growing veneer. I’m not denying it. But what about those crucial moments, however fleeting, when we realize what a miracle life is? Thirty years ago a five-minute song nailed one. A few Yesterdays ago, the Beatles did so over and over in half that time. In 60 seconds, Hallmark and Apple and others have done it. What about now? Can Once in a Lifetime be done in 140 characters or less? Just a thought. Poof!

The lyrics to Once in a Lifetime.

Art in a box!

Even if they are neighborhood rivals, I’ve got to give Energy BBDO props for creating a spectacular experiential marketing campaign on behalf of the Art Institute in Chicago.

Made to coincide with the opening of the Art Institute’s hyper-stylish Modern Wing, the agency (in partnership with the museum) developed “500 Ways of Looking at Modern.” In it, 500 creatively constructed cubes –some big, some small- were hidden all over the city. Each contained a code, which could then be registered on a website for prizes and the like.

In an article for the Chicago Tribune (the second on the subject), Lauren Viera wrote that only 314 cubes have been registered. With tongue firmly in cheek, she reported that perhaps the remaining cubes end up on Ebay as collector’s items. Along these lines, the museum added another link to their website, 500-Ways/lost in hopes of finding the remaining “lost” cubes.

It’s all in fun, of course. And it’s brilliant. Creating a game around these boxes gets people thinking outside their boxes –about modern art and the Art Institute. The campaign manages to be childlike and sophisticated at the same time, which, correct me if I’m wrong, is just about the perfect definition for modern art.

Using our city as a backdrop and activating its citizenry is spot on for the brief: how to find modern art in Chicago. Employing social media during the hunt and being able to register cubes online closes the deal nicely.

The fact that the Chicago Tribune has written two decent stories on the event is a success in its own right. After all, isn’t publicity what the Art Institute was looking for? That numerous cubes are still “missing” makes the idea even more fun, not to mention giving it social currency and staying power.

Bravo, Energy BBDO. This is pretty cool.

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