When I was about eighteen I wanted to be an artist.
Dad used to work nights and, after Mum had gone to bed, I’d stay up and paint all night.
One morning I’d just finished a big canvas.
Dad had come in from work.
He was having a cup of tea and reading the paper.
Mum was frying his breakfast.
I was cleaning my brushes and palette knives.
I said to them both “Well, what do you think of it?”
They both stopped what they were doing and looked at the canvas.
Then they frowned and tilted their heads from side to side.
Then they looked at each other, they didn’t know what to say.
Eventually, in the embarrassed silence, Mum said “Oh, you know us David, we don’t know anything about art.”
And that was that.
They carried on doing what they were doing.
That was lightbulb-going-on moment for me.
I was sidelined.
I’d gone down a tributary, away from the mainstream of life.
The world was rushing by and I was in a cul-de-sac, doing something only a very few people understood or cared about.
I didn’t want that.
I wanted to find a creative way to be part of the mainstream.
That was when I went to New York and switched to advertising.
Creativity that’s part of the mainstream.
Creativity that surfs the mainstream.
Creativity, not ‘art’.
Ridley Scott had a similar experience after he made his first film ‘The Duellists’.
The film is like a jewel: absolutely perfect in every detail.
He shot everything in chiaroscuro lighting, like a Caravaggio painting.
He researched every detail, so it was historically flawless.
He put his heart and soul into it.
The critics loved it.
Everybody who knew anything about film said it was a masterpiece.
And that was the problem.
It was made for people who knew about film.
After he’d made it, Ridley saw a huge queue outside another cinema.
But it wasn’t for his film, it was for a Hollywood blockbuster.
Then he saw another massive queue outside another cinema.
All for the same Hollywood film.
A film that was made for people who didn’t know anything about film.
And Ridley thought “I don’t want to be outside the mainstream. I want to be part of the mainstream. I don’t want to make movies that just a few people want to watch. I want to make movies that everyone wants to watch.”
And he went to Hollywood.
Now the people queuing round the block are lining up to watch Ridley’s movies.
And his films have been nominated for 30 Oscars and won 9.
Paul Arden had a similar experience.
Paul did a book.
I know several people who turn their noses up at Paul’s book.
These are writers, people who’ve been shortlisted for literary prizes.
The sort of literary prizes that critics appreciate.
The sort of prizes ordinary people haven’t even heard of.
Paul said to me “I’m an art director. I can’t do words, so I thought I’d do pictures instead.”
And Paul did a totally different type of book.
It wasn’t made to attract the critical approbation of the literary establishment.
And it certainly didn’t.
But the last I heard, Paul’s book had sold around two million copies, worldwide.
In two dozen languages.
Because the sort of people who appreciate Paul’s book are ordinary people.
That’s why we have to decide who we’re doing our work for.
The mainstream, or the critics.
The punters, or the cognoscenti.
The many, or the few.
The public, or the experts.
To cut through in a crowded commercial break.
Or to cut through to half-a-dozen judges in an awards jury.
It’s important to decide what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it for.
Because not all creativity is art.
And not all art is creative,