Portrait of a young man as artist…

I’m in the Admiral’s Club at Laguardia airport when a young boy walks by me. He’s a regular looking kid, a bit disheveled in his ill-fitting blue sweatshirt and no-name blue jeans. But something else: He’s wearing a multi-colored cap with a propeller on top!

Really? I think to myself: silly enough here but a death warrant in the schoolyard. I mean what symbolizes dorkiness more than a beanie with a propeller on top? It’s like something Spanky wore on the ancient TV show, The Little Rascals.

The Little Rascals: Spanky’s the chubby one donning, yup, a beanie

Anyway, the lad sits down in front of a house computer and begins doing his thing. Again, like any other kid. But I can’t get over his crazy chapeau. It’s remarkable to me, in this day and age, that an adolescent boy would be caught dead in public wearing something so silly. He might as well have had a “Kick Me!” sign affixed to his back. I decide to sneak a picture. I don’t want to mock him necessarily but I do want to document this most anti of fashion statements. I upload the photo on Facebook, adding my line about the schoolyard.

Your comments come quickly and while some are snide (like mine) others are deeply supportive. Here’s a perfect example from my Facebook friend, Brian Collins:

i think the kid is astounding. he is wearing it with some pride. and it looks like it’s motorized. even better. if this makes the kid happy that’s perfect. and he looks deeply engaged on the web, too. great.

what we don’t need are any more cookie cutter kids dressed in oversized nylon football jerseys, cocked baseball caps and ratty jeans with their lifeless eyes glued to espn.

go, beanie boy, go.

Brian, you are so right. This kid deserves applause. He’s not a dork. He’s a maverick, a rogue, a boy who’s not afraid to defy convention. A while back, I wrote a post about how an advertising creative department is a lot like Romper Room. I think of that now…

The older I get the more I realize how important it is to stay connected to my “inner child.” The best creative people do not grow out of it when they grow up. We remain inquisitive like children. Lovers of fun. You see it in our bicycles in the hallway. Our dubious wardrobes. Our playlists. Our flirty snapshots on Facebook. Alas, you also see it in meetings, where we become pouting and defensive, wilting under criticism, frustrated by the grown-ups ruining our fun. I know we can be insufferable. Imposing MBA logic in Romper Room is bound to create problems.

And so we are. And so what? Defying convention is what makes us creative. I don’t want to lose that. Ever. Young man, I echo the words of Mr. Collins: “Go, beanie boy, Go!”

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.

Postaer Men (L-R): Me, Jeremy, Daniel, Jasper, Larry, Jack

My original post was about a new blog that I want you all to experience. Unfortunately, Tumblr hosts the blog and is currently beset by “an issue in one of their database clusters.” It’s been down for 36 hours and counting. Serves them right for playing outside without a sweater! Anyway, I’m not going to pimp a new blog while it’s inaccessible.

So, I’m running an audible. First, by updating my “novel slash social media experiment,” Sweet by Design. About 90 pages remain to be published. I’m trying to speed up the text conversion but the cover design contest will be open until it’s completed. That means you still have time to win the Ipad. You can also vote for your favorite covers so far, by viewing and commenting right here.

At top, I posted a unique photograph comprising four generations of Postaer men. Taken this Thanksgiving, it’s the first one like it and likely to be the only one like it. Grandpa Jack is 97 years old. A Chicago cab driver, shop owner and hardcore sports fan, Jack Postaer gives us all inspiration. Also in the photograph is my father, Larry Postaer (Founder, RPA), brother Jeremy (ECD, JWT), brother Daniel (Director, DMG Media) and nephew Jasper, 4 years old. Besides the advertising that runs in our family, it’s pretty cool having four generations breathing air, let alone in the same area code!

My girls are not in this photo because they’re girls. (It was a guy thing.) But here’s a favorite photo of them taken last summer. Safe to say they do not look like the men. Thank God.

Colette, Camille & Lily

Assuming Tumblr corrects their “data cluster issues” my next post is a doozy. Until then, from my family to yours: Happy Holidays!

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.

Redemption. Another defining moment?

Tiger Woods is making his “comeback” at the Master’s golf tournament in April. I’m not sure comeback is the right word, but for Tiger it’s probably the right move. Getting back on the course is where he can do the most to repair his battered public image. His private life is another matter. Lord knows it must be wearisome dealing with his issues, let alone an angry, disappointed wife. We reap what we sow.

During a segment on ESPN, the reporter read from a letter Woods wrote to course officials after winning his first Masters in 1998. In it, he’d written –and I paraphrase: “Playing at Augusta, I left my childhood behind and became a man.” The reporter then deftly added, “Tiger now will return to Augusta and try to become the man he aspires to be.” Again, I’m paraphrasing both individuals. Here’s my point. For Tiger Woods, setting foot on that storied golf course will represent two defining moments in his remarkable life, both relating to “becoming a man.”

Have I ever had a defining moment? What about you, Gentle Reader? Tiger Woods was the first African American and youngest person ever to win the Masters. I get why that’s a defining moment. For us regular folks, however, defining moments are perhaps a bit more ambiguous. Do they even exist at all?

Most men view losing their virginity as a passage into manhood. I wonder. My first foray into the pleasures of the flesh was definitive only in that I got from point A to point B…sort of. Though incredibly romanticized by popular culture, I’m guessing sexual initiation is far from a defining moment for most of us, including women. Ironically, sex proved to be Tiger’s destroyer not definer.

So what is a defining moment? Hallmark would have you believe that certain dramatic events fit the bill: getting married, having children, anniversaries and so on. I don’t know. Those things are pretty great but, alas, they are not the same as winning the Masters. And for one simple reason: anyone can do them. As joyous as it is getting hitched and having babies, it’s also mundane. These events represent big changes in a person’s life but they are not defining moments. Unless…

Unless they become transcendent. For example: a parent dies leaving behind young children. I think it’s a defining moment if one of the kids steps up and takes over that role. If nothing happens other than a funeral, shared tears and the hiring of a nanny, I’d argue that this is merely the circle of life.

What about in one’s professional life? A lot of people think winning the Kelly Award for best print campaign in America was my defining professional moment. It certainly was pretty cool, especially given my father and brothers were there, two of them competing for the same prize! But what did it define, exactly? That I got lucky?

Is it possible creating the campaign was more of a defining moment? I don’t know about that either. For one thing I had no idea how big the campaign would become at the moment of its creation. Perhaps the defining moment took place before creation or winning of any prizes, when my partner and I elected to embrace a piss-ant brief when no one else in our agency, or any other agency Kraft contacted, would. Maybe that’s it!

On the other hand maybe all of the above are examples of defining moments. After all, they do involve decisions and/or choices, which arguably changed the recipient’s life forever.

Yet, is it wrong to expect defining moments? Life itself is a defining moment. If one leads a good, meaningful life he or she won’t require a defining moment of redemption.

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