It started with some hilarious satire and ended in full frontal male nudity. I would say it was a different way to spend a Tuesday evening. This months Creative Social event was all about what it means to be different – what is being different and how does it affect individuals, groups and the creative industry as a whole.
The evening was bang on theme with different spin on the usual proceedings, show casing a mix of speakers from the industry as well as Artists Miriam Elia – known for her sold out ‘We Go to the Gallery’ books and Danny Augustine – talented performance and print screen artist. Joining them as speakers from an industry perspective were the Creative Partners Laura Jordan Bambach and cofounder of Mr.President, Feh Tarty from Stay in School and Dave Bedwood from Analog Folk.
So what does it mean to be different? What is different and what makes something different? Can difference actually be defined or is it subjective based on personal opinion? How can you quantify success that comes about as a result of being different? And how does being different approach individuals or as a collective group? These were all questions I mulled over after a weekend in Amsterdam so decided to get the official definition for some clarity on the matter.
The good old Oxford Dictionary defines different as 1. “Not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality”. 1.1 Informal “Novel and unusual”. 2. “Distinct; separate”. But can difference be so easily defined? What makes things different is surely subjective and based on personal opinion and will vary from person to person. But if difference is a measure of success – as it is perceived to be in the advertising world, then surely what makes something different can indeed be applied to groups of people as well?
With groups of people in mind Laura spoke about The Great British Diversity Experiment. This was developed to create difference from the coming together of a group of individuals from diverse backgrounds – race, age, culture and social position. The findings were that individuals coming from different backgrounds, felt more open to express creativity and define their own ideas, rather than being in a group of similar individuals who would then tend to band together. Being empathic to difference allows proper creative talent and ideas to emerge. As Laura summed up “a mixture of people will create difference.”
The presence of Miriam and Danny highlighted the meaning of being different as an artist vs being different in the advertising world. Danny pointed out that the work he has created has not been a result of a pointed attempt to be different. “There is no formula for being different”. The work of both art and advertising results in a creative final product which can be a tangible object such as piece of art or ad campaign, or an idea, experience or feeling. What became apparent from the evening is that the journey to get to that creative end product differs between the two. One journey is driven with the goal of being different – and the other is a result of organic individual creativity rather than setting out to be different.
Feh’s thoughts on the matter of what makes something different came down to the individual. “What you have to channel is what you are. The experiences that you have had will make you see things a certain way. This is what makes you different.” He noted the effect that living in different cities has had on his creative thinking and being able to develop a voice. He noted the constant struggle of craft vs voice and that being different is how you merge the two together. If you focus purely on the craft the outcome will be derivative – not unique and this is the challenge to overcome when it comes to being different.
Dave also noted voice as a means of setting yourself apart. He agreed that “creativity is viewed differently outside of the advertising world” which became apparent to him after a break from the industry. In a world where nothing is really new or different he discussed his thoughts on how agencies can be different. A couple of his points referenced below:
1. Kill power point (because it’s a “deceitful piece of kit”). The creative process should be messy.
2. Embrace total creativity. Ditch job titles. Get everyone to weigh in and create ideas
3. Allow people to work to their own schedule … think of ways to allow people to work to their own flow
4. Use your own voice
Danny finished up the evening with live performance. To music he stripped down to absolutely nothing, and in front of the group covered himself in blue paint. He then had volunteers from the audience take prints from his body by placing pieces of the paper onto the paint. The result was prints from his body taken from any part of his body chosen by the volunteers. This was a true reflection of art and creativity being produced by individual difference. The prints bespoke and created physically from Danny’s body were his idea but influenced by the choices made by the volunteers. It was a tangible example of people working together to produce a creative outcome – it was different to anything I have ever seen before and certainly something I am not likely to forget. It was a powerful brave performance and poignant in pulling together the various thoughts and ideas from the evening.
So in summary, difference comes down to the individual. What we deem as different will vary from person to person and how that difference resonates will also come down to individual opinion and life experience. We need to embrace authentic difference through diversity – which is still an issue in the industry that needs to be addressed. We need to focus on increasing diversity in general, appointing women into senior roles and working to even out numbers by employing people from a mix of minority groups, cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. Difference is crucial in creating new ideas, being innovative and creative. The way to achieve positive difference is by addressing diversity, encouraging new ideas and empowering everyone to have a voice and an accessible platform for which it can be expressed.