Creativity is a word that is too carelessly tossed around—especially in advertising and marketing, where “creative” is unironically used as a noun. As a longtime creative director (yes, I appreciate the irony), I’ve always felt uneasy about the unnecessary mystique and usually bad attitude that the title “creative” has come to suggest.
Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are “creatives” and some of the most creative people I know happen to be, well, “creatives.” What bothers me is the fact that labelling oneself as a “creative” has become a shorthand to bestow myriad other ingenious traits and problem-solving skills that may or may not necessarily be inherent in the average “creative.” In fact, being a chunky-eyeglasses-and-skinny-jeans-wearing “creative” has become as much of a posture as an actual profession.
Many of us have worked with a self-appointed “creative” visionary whose Very Creative Big Idea is meant to send mere mortals scurrying to help execute on that Very Creative Big Idea, no matter how half-baked or improbable it is. When a “creative” idea is primarily ego-driven, devoid of purpose or vision beyond simple aesthetics or easy pop-culture references, and lacks an executable roadmap to make it come to life, that’s when “creatives” get a bad rap.
Contrast the mythos of a “creative” with the work of an artist. When I say artist, I don’t mean to invoke the image of a solitary, tortured soul who makes “art.” These “artists” are probably just as phony as some “creatives.” The artists I’m talking about are those who have undergone the rigorous training and self-examination that’s required to conceive brilliant, wholly original ideas, but also possess the vision, skills, and capacity to realize them.
While (some) advertising and marketing “creatives” are show horses who mostly prance and bray, genuine artists that happen to work in advertising and marketing are work horses who get shit done.
What has happened is that the terms artist and creative have become interchangeable, particularly in “creative” businesses and especially in advertising and marketing. This can pose a significant challenge when it comes to hiring; however, I use a few simple litmus tests when I’m hiring and recruiting, um, creatives for my team.
Curiosity: Artists are naturally curious and work to contextualize ideas and the world around them. This goes beyond simply glomming onto short-lived pop-culture trends and calling them Very Creative Big Ideas. Questioning extant ideas and challenging conventions and expectations are two defining characteristics that separate mere creatives from true artists.
Empathy: At its core, the role of the artist is to connect, whether it’s people to people or ideas to people. This is only possible if the artist is genuinely empathetic to the desires and feelings of others, an essential skill that is often sorely lacking in many “creatives.”
Humility: While “creatives” sometimes believe everything they do or say is unreservedly perfect at conception, artists often can be their own worst critics, humbled by the innumerable rejections they’ve faced and steeled by the fact that putting themselves out there requires a degree of deference and collaboration.
Rigor: Innovation can come from failure and the work of the artist is often built through trial and error. The artist’s pursuit to create and fine tune his or her creation is honed through a rigor that’s been developed over years of practice and discipline.
Flexibility: Perhaps the greatest difference between an artist and a creative is flexibility and adaptability. Longtime creatives can get stuck in processes that are largely informed by industry trends and standards (not to mention being overly concerned about industry awards rather than solving problems), while artists who are new to advertising and marketing bring fresh perspectives that aren’t marred by the echo-chamber effect of the business.
Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune of hiring and working with creatives who’ve had formal fine arts training, whether they are actors, dancers, painters, or playwrights. Although the work they create in our studio doesn’t necessarily directly relate to the art that they create in their preferred mediums, the discipline and resourcefulness that they’ve acquired as arts students and working artists greatly inform the creative process and perspective that they bring to client work.
That’s why I don’t like to hire “creatives,” and I whenever I receive resumes and portfolios from artists who have earned BFAs and MFAs in disciplines outside of advertising and marketing, I always give those candidates a second look.
By Mark Jarecke
FOUR32C is a digital interactive company. We’re curious digital natives who bring creativity and intelligence to the world’s most beloved brands. We create thoughtful, compelling interactive experiences by starting every project with questions. Our process leads to evocative digital products designed with a purpose for every pixel.