My art and my ‘other job’ overlap in a lot of ways. For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’m also a writer ~ the kind that works at ad agencies, marketing departments and media (the publishing and broadcast kind).
I guess this overlap can’t be helped in that creativity is a requirement for both ~ admittedly, maybe not as much for some of the companies I’ve worked for. So I guess it also can’t be helped that my other job gets talked about here on the jillablog, like how I wrote about what happened with my ad agency co-workers once.
Follow orders to the letter.
So this month’s jillablog post was brought on by something an animator on my team told me very recently about a project we were both working on. There were the beginnings of a video we had to complete, in which I saw great creative potential ~ as in we could really make something ‘portfolio-worthy’, if you would. Something we could both be proud of.
He said yes, at first, probably because I was his manager and I seemed rather enthusiastic about it. But see, I try to be the kind of manager the entire team can talk to, like you’d feel comfortable with telling me what was really on your mind.
Turned out, that *seedling* of a video was a clone of an existing video by another company. Before I joined the team, he’d been asked to come up with something ‘just like that’.
And just like that, any idea I might’ve had of producing a stand-out video ~ whose creativity could help our company stand out in our saturated market ~ was nipped in the bud. Add to the fact that upper management didn’t approve of ‘creating from scratch’ because it took way too much time and wasn’t profitable. So, so much for creativity.
Of course, I quite understood that we weren’t working in a creative studio or anything like that. Our hours were quite literally numbered and that as marketers, we weren’t exactly, directly, bringing home the bacon. Marketing is often regarded as a money toilet by the C-suite in many companies, and whenever any money did come in, all the credit usually went to the sales team.
I am saddened, however, by being unable to encourage or nurture the creativity of the young animator in my charge, even though we aren’t in the ‘right place’ for it. After all, if we wanted to create award-winning videos, we should’ve both gone to work for Pixar or something.
In any case, this incident called to mind other, similar incidents or situations in ‘the right places’ that should have been, by their very nature, hotbeds for creativity. The last places on earth you would expect creativity killers to be, with the last people on earth you would expect to do the killing.
I’m sharing this not just to vent my frustration but also to hopefully help you at least be aware that where you are (or the people you’re with) isn’t doing you any favours in the ‘grow as an artist department’. Maybe there’ll be something you can do to mitigate or alleviate the ill effects and hopefully, in spite of everything, still make it possible for your creativity to flourish.
Believe teachers with sketchy tactics.
One such incident was at a museum ~ not the dinosaur-displaying kind exactly, but the art kind that even held art classes. I was told that one of the teachers there made it a habit to pick out ‘the best works’ in a sort of art contest during class.
That’s all very well for the ‘best artists’, I suppose, but what about all the other students whose work wasn’t chosen? So sorry, but I find that super demoralising, and I think that it’s a teacher’s job to encourage everybody in their class and not just the superstars. I remember telling my mom about that and she said that all those other kids weren’t likely to pursue art anymore. Way to go, Teach.
Other incidents I described in a previous jillablog post involve ‘staying inside the lines’ when you colour, and of ‘art schools’ that tell you ‘your work is wrong’ if you colour messily.
Look, I’m not dissing rules (or following orders, for that matter) ~ I know and fully believe in rules being there for good, solid reasons. I’ll admit how blind obedience is often easier as the path of least resistance, but it can be, to me, a real creativity killer.
Work with people who don’t value creativity.
And then there was one of the ad agencies I worked for ~ again, another place one would think would encourage creativity.
No, never mind the clients, who ~ like the folks who told my animator to do it exactly like what they already had in mind ~ try to ‘save you from having to work so hard’ (read: think). That sort of thing is expected and you just do your best to placate them because they pay the bills.
First, this particular agency itself didn’t believe in having graphic designers. It’s hard to be creative in a place that doesn’t believe in creatives, in the first place.
Oh, I got where they were coming from ~ see, I always try to understand why people do things. In this particular instance, the agency owner had been burned by someone who routinely missed deadlines and basically thought you only worked when you felt like it. So I suppose, who can blame him for deciding to not hire designers anymore.
But see, he figured visuals were part of content (a conclusion which is meet and just), so he expected his content creators, i.e. writers to produce the visuals as well. Not being trained in graphic design (I’m a painting major, after all), my team and I had recourse to Canva.
Stop thinking for yourself.
This leads me to Canva and other tools like it ~ not just for graphic design but for web design and writing, as well, especially now that ChatGPT is all the rage. (This blog, by the way, is 100% Jill A ~ not authored or co-authored by Jill AI. (I’m not saying, I’m just saying.)
For one thing, tools like these were created primarily for small businesses that need design, a website and copy, but can’t afford to hire agencies or professional designers or writers.
It didn’t take long for (much) bigger companies to adopt these tools as a way to save a few bucks. Nothing wrong with that, really, especially if their teams didn’t have the resources for doing otherwise.
But imagine my chagrin (as an artist, you understand), when I was told to use ‘idea generators’ and templates for writing at an agency. If I had felt like some of our clients had us on a leash, those templates were more like halters ~ or nooses.
Okay, here’s the thing. I don’t have anything against AI or any tool that helps you check your grammar or whatever. (Maybe against the ads for certain tools, but not against them, really ^_^) I don’t even have anything against Dall-E or anything like that.
To me, they are tools ~ just like cameras. I think photography is an art, same as painting ~ it’s just that photography uses cameras and painting uses brushes (or knives or squeegees and so on). Same thing with Photoshop or digital image generators.
Be slaves to your tools.
What I do have a problem with is the lazy use of tools ~ which for me is the real creativity killer and not the tools themselves. Tools are only as good as the people using them, and they are meant to help people work better, not become lazy.
For me ‘better’ means ‘better quality’, I realise that for other people (like bosses), ‘better’ means ‘more efficiently’ and not necessarily ‘more creative’. I guess that’s where I get into trouble, and like I always used to say, I have to remind myself that ‘it’s selling, not Shakespeare’.
But, to demonstrate, let me share one of my favourite examples: One of the writers on my team once spelled ‘professional’ with two f’s. When I called her out on it, her smug retort was that Grammarly told her to spell it that way.
Use tools, by all means, if they help you work better or produce better work (whatever that means for you). But don’t become a ‘slave to the tool’, i.e. blindly copy-paste or ‘blindly obey’ whatever the tool spits out. Use tools, but use your head alongside. Otherwise, your creativity will be *buried in a Y-shaped coffin for it is deaded*.
Also, about templates (and other ‘best practices’ like those for SEO, which I confess I had serious issues with), see, here’s the thing ~ they also don’t necessarily have to be creativity killers. They could actually *force* you to be creative in that you now have to find ways to work within that straitjacket. (Houdini had to be creative in wiggling and dislocating his way out of one, after all.)
This likewise reminds me of the character limits for Google Ads (or any other ads for that matter lol) or Twitter posts ~ you have to be creative in finding ways to fit what you need to say in 30 or 280 characters. But yeah, you get the idea, I hope.
How to Save Your Creativity
So if, like me, you’re looking for a place that’s conducive to creativity, well, obviously, in this article, I’m not talking about wide open spaces surrounded by nature with absolute quiet and no one around to ‘throw off your groove’. I’ve written in previous jillablog posts about how you can work in tiny spaces and how you can manage people who might unknowingly wreck your creative process.
I guess it’s more about finding an environment ~ or people, or ‘the right culture’ (if you’ll pardon the parlance) that encourages you to spread your wings and explore. This search applies not just to artists, per se ~ I’ve seen practically firsthand how programmers were so encouraged even when they ran into roadblocks.
In such an environment, you’d be given the tools (up to you to use them mindfully) and the space you need ~ and not just physical / office / studio space, either. You would not be micromanaged, i.e. someone is constantly looking over your shoulder and asking you how much time it will take for you to finish what you’re working on.
But more importantly, the people in such an environment or culture, believe in the need for creativity from the get-go.
If you even have to convince them of it, to begin with, then you, my friend, are very likely in the wrong environment. You may want to consider getting out of there as fast as possible if growing as an artist or a creative person is your priority or one of your core values.
Put another way, you need to be encouraged to ‘do your own thing’ rather than given something to follow or clone.
If you constantly have someone pushing you (like I’ve quoted elsewhere on the jillablog), you’re bound to lose the power of pushing yourself. Your creativity will atrophy and you could become overly dependent on others to give you ‘pegs’ all the time. Just like if you *lazy-use* idea generators, you could gradually lose the ability to generate your own ideas.
Create (or find) conditions that support creative growth.
I guess an example of an ideal environment, the kind that can really work wonders for your individual and collaborative creativity would be Ang INK ~ which I can vouch for personally, at least for the time that I was active with them.
I wonder now whether I was actually doing my animator a disservice by giving him pegs for another project we’re working on ~ I didn’t, at the beginning, honest. But I guess he’d become so used to executing other people’s ideas instead of his own. I don’t know. What do you think?
I guess it’s up to me to create the kind of environment that would allow him and me to flourish ~ at least, as far as the restrictions of our workplace allow. I think you can be creative in any environment, really ~ I mean, I used to work at a bank, for heaven’s sake, and I found it far more fun than the ad agency I ended up in immediately after that.
It’s just that some environments make it easier for you to be creative than others, and if you have the luxury or your circumstances allow you to choose, then…
… maybe it’s up to that animator and me to find that kind of environment with the right *growing conditions*. I guess we’ll see.