Monday, August 10, 2009

All the Notes, Just as You Wrote Them

Room 152, 2009

“There are simply too many notes. Just cut a few and it’ll be perfect.”

Emperor Joseph II, Amadeus

What person, having just poured his or her heart into some form of creative expression, hasn’t been told by some insensitive oaf to “Just take out some of the notes”?

Society in general is uncomfortable with original thinkers. People who work in the create-on-demand world know this only too well. Keeping the creative juices flowing and defending unfamiliar concepts is especially important in advertising, where those who merely echo the familiar are pretty much guaranteed to create advertising that nobody notices.

I once had the hilarious experience of watching a thirty-something ad agency account guy try to explain to a staid, sixty-something bank client why Pink Floyd’s Money spoke so compelling to young people in the early 1980s and why it made sense to use this song in a campaign promoting automated teller machine usage. The banker didn’t understand any of Pink Floyd's notes, thought they might be dangerous, even subversive, and wanted the agency to instead select a song from, say, the Beach Boys for an ATM campaign targeted at college students. (The campaign ran with the Pink Floyd track and was wildly successful.)

The late Gordon MacKenzie, artist, self-titled "Creative Paradox" at Hallmark and author of the wonderful Orbiting the Giant Hairball, used to draw a picture of an auto muffler to illustrate how good ideas could enter the client realm strong and go out weak. My favorite story of Gordon's, though, was this one, which he told to demonstrate the importance of getting in the habit of standing up for your creative visions:

Before you’re born all things are possible. It’s as if God hands you a blank canvas on your way down the birth canal and tells you, “I want you to interpret the world for me on this canvas. Make your own masterpiece.” But when you’re born your parents take the canvas away from you and tell you they’ll give it back to you when you’ve learned how to paint. Only when you get it back, the blank canvas has been stamped with a paint-by-numbers template.

The flip side of this argument, of course, is that there are times when a jumble of notes is a problem. The late photography historian and critic Bill Jay noted that:

“The best photographers know what not to photograph.”

Bill Jay, Lenswork #83

In the photograph above, I was tempted to “dress” the scene a little. But instead I decided that less was more, and that if anyone was going to “take out some of the notes” it was going to be me.


  1. Wonderful photo!

    And well said! I was determined with my son not to "edit" what he should become, but to let him become who he was meant to be, on his own, and I'm really glad I was, for the most part, pretty successful there. We all have enough people out there "editing" what we say and how we act, and how many notes there should and should not be.

    ( That said, I now very often do wind up having to ask him, "How the hell did I spawn you?!")

  2. I think you should crop this a bit - maybe take a little off the right. Too many pixels!