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Grafica e comunicazione

The key to creativity comes before a Martini

Recently, two things made me meditate on the meaning of creativity. The first, the phrase:  "The talented do what they want, the genius does what he can. As a genius, I have always lacked talent." These are the words of Carmelo Bene, as Renato Palazzi says, "he has given the impression of being an absolute genius, the type of genius who subverts all categories, based on his ability to vary between high drama of classical purity and brutal desecration." 
The second is more modest, more practical: rewriting my resume. The last time I did this, literally writing it out, was no less than a quarter of a century ago. Apart from the obvious embarrassment of presenting myself to others, I gave myself a good look to see if the word “creative” was a befitting way to describe my profession. Why did I question this, given that I believe creativity is a central part of my work? Out of caution, or not to fall into a misconception that often leads to the misuse of that word? Or out of fear, to look unrealistic, placing myself at the same level of the great “creatives,” or artists of the real kind? No, it wasn’t the fear of appearing unrealistic but the fear of being misunderstood, something that I want to address further. I employed the help of my trusty Battaglia dictionary and found the 3 definitions of Creative that I expected: the first referring to bringing things into being (and rightly so there is a reference to God); the second indicates an impetus and strength to do, in life and in thought; finally, the third refers to anyone who creates a work of art, something of aestetic invention.

The word "creative," in the context I am reffering to, there is nothing generative; the first definition, which implies God, must be excluded definitely, even if it strongly influences the skeptics ("Creative of what? What do you create? Do you feel God, by chance?"). I find the other two definitions are both realistic, but without depth they are also easily unequivocal. Especially when related an artist’s '"aesthetic invention," which can seem like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. 

Based on my experience and professional stresses (when I am stressed I have the old habit to acquire, or learn,) I have finally come to understant the term creative in the sense of creative professionals (including real artists, including Carmelo Bene) who, at best, assume the risk of presenting to the public an concoction (materials, words, notes, ingredients, images, concepts, colors ...) that may have only a drop of originality. Logic says this, more or less: I put together prior knowledge and things, which may be material, words, notes, ingredients, images, concepts, colors... that I believe have never been combined in precisely this way before, and that for me, have a precise meaning, offering an original message. I top it all with a personal trait, my intonation, my disposition, a brush stroke ... recognizable as mine (I am examining myself, so this "mine" is relative, it is an intention, but nothing more). I created my message and I take responsibility for it, and the risk of presenting it to a specific - or unspecific - audience. In this way, it seems clear to me that I'm exercising a creative role. Beyond the success or failure (hence the aforementioned risk) that follows.

Now I want to pay some attention to the generation of creativity and the source of everything, meaning awareness or knowledge. This is imperative for the rest to be accomplished, so that talented and/or the genius (which are not synonymous with the Good) are ableto express themselves. I am therefore talking about creativity as a residual act. Residual to knowledge. Decisive yes, but no less residual. It could not be otherwise. Even an absolute talent and genius like Bach developed deep musical knowledge by practising over and over again, creating the base for his creativity, which is huge his case, and that differentiates and characterizes him as an artist, creator of sublime beauty and a precise musical idea, and that in fact the residue from above. How much knowledge (and genius and talent) was necessary to create his Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, that wonderful, very musical stylization of the female that anticipates the vanguard by nearly half a millennium? A lot of knowledge, even more talent and the moment of genius that Botticelli was able to pull off so few times in his career, unfortunately. But first, even for him, an absolute genius and talent, came knowledge. Creativity requires the effort of learning a technique to the point of not having to think about it anymore, because only then does the technique become a part of you. In the case of Botticelli, it also required the effort of intelligence to know how to compare himself and his technique with that of other artists, working before him and at the same time as him, with real self-criticism. And finally the effort (and passion) to analyze, plan, organize different orders of knowledge, vast and complex (in this case, among others, classical statues, the sources of the myth, both in a directly or reinterpreted by Poliziano and the lessons on balance and symmetry of Leon Battista Alberti ...).

Creation, creativity, the idea to give birth, even if only that tiny residue that differentiates our work a small inch from what until then we had under our noses ... thus requires effort, hard work, sweat, patience. It requires passion. A lot of passion. It requires a rigorous mental organization. It assumes a lot of stuff, in other words. Before launching his fierce (and unpayable) desecrating acts, Caramelo Bene studied the pure, classical drama with real passion and effot. And even when the artist, or genius, is living in total chaos, in his head it is clear what to do, even when he is in doubt –  he has the clarity of the clairvoyant who works based on intuition. And this clarity, which in most cases becomes foresight, is always the consequence of knowledge, and the effort and passion that it implies. The genius who wakes up in the morning and creates of the blue something original (like God with the light on the first day) in a field that until then no one has ever seen starring this type of effort and passion, simply does not exist. Sorry to disappoint many young drifters who may believe and attempt to be aa lazy artist. They may arrive to this level of creativity, certainly, but surely they will have spent their fair amount of effort and passion. You can bet on.

I referred to the proper artists. The sense of creativity in our profession is more or less the same, although the residual product is quite different in nature and importance. In our industry we are adressing an precise target audience with precise strategic goals, while still having to transmit intellegent messages ... the degree of freedom remains a small and sometimes is even at risk due to an ignorant patron ( a neutral definition in reference to the word’s real meaning, not meant as an insult) but not reluctant to impose suggestions, recommendations, and comparisons. But in the end, it is only one of degree of difference. Apart from anything else in terms of assimilation to the market, we do not differ that much from the artists as such, except that our assimilation is always outspoken and direct, while theirs is mostly masked and delayed (for the few purists still in circulation, only accidentally) .

I go back to the misunderstanding. I understand that very often the overuse of the word "creative" can generate skepticism about the distortion that can be cause especially when used in reference to one’s self: today anyone who is not working on an assembly line is considered creative. All graphic design graduates who respond to the specific question about what they think of themselves at that time of submitting an application, not on what they would like to become, invariably respond: creative. They throw them into the vast sea of creative competition to test themselves and demonstrate to have the creativity of a goldfish; they should be weaned to cherish the hope, I say, just the hope of one day becoming shark. This is why everyone should be able to think of himself as a creative (because it is really others must be to recognize such) only after a long path of knowledge, gained through hard work and study. And only after experiencing the enthusiasm, the absolute passion for that particular area in which we would one day like to be recognized as belonging to.

Moving on. I'd like for some clients seated in front of the producers of ideas, the so-called “creatives,” not to ask us to act like acrobats.  There is widespread belief that creativity does not require effort, it is something that is done in total deconcentration, maybe in the shower, or during one’s spare time, or sipping a martini surrounded by beautiful women. Idle work that should not be budgeted for and that the should be rewarded with a donation, or better, with a pat on the back and a promise of (real) work and future compensation. One way of thinking in the really civilized countries I visit (France and Germany) this does not hold true, while in Italy it is quite widespread. Yet another sign of the cultural decay of our blessed nation. Elsewhere, creativity is viewed with respect, as a true cultural advancement, a sign of progress and mark of pride. Elsewhere because they know that ideas (the "residue" required for growth) are useful. And should be paid for.

To be honest I am also forced to admit that many of my best ideas (strongly residual, it is clear and I say without false modesty,) I have given birth to in the shower or while sipping champagne (or recently a Martini). But as I hope it is clear, the key to creativity is based on the work done before the Martini.

30/03/2012 Filippo Maglione