My buddy’s daughter is a talented graphic designer. To fulfill her life’s dream she took a job with a very famous movie studio with the promise that she’d get to design posters and campaigns. The people who hired her insisted they brought her on because of her great portfolio and her desire to shine.
Now nearly five years later she’s come to the sad conclusion that she’s never going to do the kind of creative work she signed on for. She’s disappointed and discouraged by how her company’s bureaucracy controls all of her time and talent while squashing every good idea.
But not to worry, she’s a tenacious survivor and her dream will not be denied. And so she proudly announced that she’s accepted a job in the graphic design department of a big insurance company nearby. They were wowed by her portfolio (it still contained the work she had done more than five years before) and want her to improve their creative output. Not only that, but they’ll pay her 50% more than she’s currently earning.
She was so bright-eyed and bushy tailed when she told me about her new opportunity that it was all I could do to congratulate her and bite my tongue. After all, who am I to spit on her parade? She clearly saw the smile on my face but she didn’t see the tears of the clown.
It would have been disingenuous to leave it like that so I pulled my friend aside and told him my opinion of the situation his daughter was getting herself into. Namely that her new job wouldn’t allow her to do work any better than she’d done in her old job. But at a 50% higher salary it would be that much harder for her to leave when her lack of opportunity became clear. After all, townhouses and BMWs are nice to have but hard to pay for and even harder to surrender.
It’s ironic that people who work so hard on their portfolios (or reels, or resumes) and use them so assiduously in their interviews never bother to ask their potential employer to show them their portfolio. Because the simple truth is that an organization that hasn’t had good creative output before you joined won’t create any better work once you’re there – regardless of your brilliance, desire or drive.
It took me a long time to understand – and even longer to accept – the counter-intuitive notion that great commercial creative work is not implemented by artists (that would be me) but by their patrons (that would be my clients).
Michelangelo would have been just as talented without the Medicis. But his work wouldn’t have ever graced the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without their backing.
Jay Chiat, founder of legendary ad agency Chiat and Day, and creative director Lee Clow would have been just as talented without Steve Jobs, you just wouldn’t have ever seen their work if Jobs hadn’t believed in them.
The Beatles would have been no less talented without George Martin either. But it is possible that without him they’d still be playing back-to-back gigs in the Cavern Club.
Great clients create great art. And even though it’s the talent, technique, and imagination of the artist that creates the vision, it’s the resources of the client that realizes the artistic product.
Knowing how to create a brand also requires both components – the talent of the creator and the resources of the patron. Talent without resource results in silent masterpieces – great works that no one will ever enjoy. And resources without talent (or the willingness to support talent) results in the kind of work that my friend’s daughter is going to be stuck doing at her new job – mindless, soulless constructs built only to appease a bureaucracy and a deadline, not make their customers’ hearts beat faster.
When a writer friend of mine got lucky enough to show his screenplay to Martin Scorsese, he was thrilled when the director told him that “he couldn’t wait to see it in the movie theatre.”
“You really like it?” my friend asked excitedly.
The director nodded.
“So you’re going to make my movie then?”
Scorsese shook his head slowly. “But if you do make it,” he offered, “I’ll go see it.”
“I don’t understand,” my friend asked. “If you like my movie so much why won’t you make it?”
“Because,” Scorsese answered, “the industry I work in is called show business, not show art.”