Every year, for around 250 years, The Royal Academy invites entries for its Summer Exhibition.

This is a chance for anyone and everyone to exhibit their work.

About 10,000 paintings are entered, and about 1,000 are chosen.

They’re selected by a committee of Royal Academicians, chaired by The President of The Royal Academy.

A few years back, the committee picked two particularly striking abstract pieces to hang.

They were commended for their vibrant use of colour, the originality of their composition, and their strong structural sense.

They were assured of pride of place in The Summer Exhibition.


The Royal Academy found out they were done by a chimpanzee.

And they immediately refused to accept the pictures into the exhibition.

Which raises an interesting question.

The pictures were considered good enough if they were done by a human, so why weren’t they good enough if they were done by a monkey?

The point is, are you judging the paintings, or who painted them?

Is it all about the image on the canvas, or not?

And, if you are going to be influenced by matters outside the canvas, where do you stop?

Do you need to know the sex of the painter, their race, their age, their nationality, their religion, their sexual orientation, which football team they support?

Maybe The Royal Academy thought hanging a chimpanzee’s work would make them a laughing stock.

So they decided to limit entry to paintings made by humans.

But if the definition is ‘an artwork made by a human’ how do you define ‘made’.

Marcel Duchamp defined ‘made’ as ‘chosen by the artist’.

His ‘readymades’ are worth millions of pounds and are exhibited at the greatest art museums in the world.

Duchamp was certainly more influential than any Royal Academician.

So, according to Duchamp’s definition (and The Royal Academy’s definition) the chimpanzee’s paintings were valid.

Because a human chose to enter them.

But once we start to get involved in things other than the artwork itself, it becomes a matter for argument and interpretation,

A matter for experts and lawyers in fact.

Then the issue becomes about everything surrounding the artwork itself.

And we’re no longer arguing whether they’re any good, just whether they’re valid.

And so the quality of the actual artwork becomes almost irrelevant.

Because the arguments about the thing are now more important than the actual thing.

The interpretation, the analysis, the implications, the precedents, the conventions.

Whoever would have thought it was possible for something like art to get involved in such a bureaucratic process?

For the ordinary person art is very simple.

Do I like it?

Would I hang it on the wall?

Take flowers.

Flowers are beautiful things.

We don’t need to know that they were grown with manure.

We want to enjoy the flowers, not the manure.

It’s the end product that’s important.

Not the process.

The Royal academy has got itself into a terrible muddle.

Luckily, in our business, we’re much smarter than that.

We’d never needs teams of people researching, interpreting, discussing, concluding, analysing, formulating, and evaluating a piece of work to tell us if it was any good, would we?

We’d never get to the state where the argument about a piece of work was more important than the actual piece of work.

After all, we are consumers ourselves.

So we can work out for ourselves whether an ad will work.

When we leave the office, we’re just ordinary people.

So we can make up our own minds.

Just the way ordinary people do.

And for ordinary people the questions about advertising are pretty simple.

Will I notice it?

Will I remember it?