In 1969, an artist was having a cuppa with his friend, who expressed the need for a new logo for his lollipop company. Between sips and words, the artist doodled his first visual expression of the logo. The lollipop company was Chupa Chups. The artist was Salvador Dalí.
My former life as a fine art student for some 15 years has cultivated a keen sense of art appreciation in me. From Egon Schiele’s impatient strokes to Claude Monet’s defiance of the art world’s rigidness, drawing a parallel to the advertising universe I now live in is tempting.
If Schiele were alive today, he would be submitting his work under "Best Real-Time Response Campaign". Monet, perhaps, would be that disgruntled executive creative director asking why he can’t submit the same print ad in 200 different colour hues as separate campaigns. Try telling him his work is a "final artwork".
Ask any ad person about the difference between art and advertising and a steady diet of differing opinions will be served for your entire lifetime. You might get nauseous at some point too. Personally, I relate to what Professor Jef Richards, chair of the department of advertising and PR at Michigan State University, said: "Creative without strategy is called art. Creative with strategy is called advertising."
Art does not need the audience to understand it. Ironically, the value of the artwork might rise with the level of public confusion. The effectiveness of advertising, on the other hand, is dependent on the audience understanding the message it is trying to convey. If your audience doesn’t get it, you’re fucked.
Have we since evolved to welcome a common marketplace where both art and advertising meet? We witnessed "The next Rembrandt" by J Walter Thompson and "Portraits completed by Ogilvy", both using the public’s general art-history knowledge at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, we see creative partnerships forged by the likes of Prada with artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.
In my country, Singapore, a city state that is at least 200 years younger than any impressionist painting at the Musée d’Orsay (and even some members of the board of directors), we have a long way to go. The future does look promising – take 3D illustrator André Wee working with Apple, mural artist Ben Qwek with Guinness, sneaker designer Mark Ong with Asics and street artist Samantha Lo for Nike. A decade ago, brands would have treated the local artists as cheap labour.
I traded in my brushes and paint for Photoshop and PowerPoint when I entered the advertising industry. No client would have waited for my paint to dry. I have no regrets, because creativity is not limited to a format or technique. I find myself now playing the role of the agent between an artist and a brand, facilitating the birth of campaigns from the partnership. I relish the role, for it gives me the best of both worlds.
Pat Law is founder of Goodstuph, Singapore