Initial thoughts on the art of erasure…

I was thumbing through an art magazine when i stumbled upon a profile of a European artist who created sidewalk art by sprinkling powdered sugar through a stencil pattern, creating delicate lace patterns across the paving stones in public squares. I’ve been trying in vain to research her name and info because it’s obviously something that has stuck with me since i saw it. (If anyone knows who this is, please leave a comment).

Anyway, she said that the most interesting part of her work was to watch as people walked across the sugar pattern, eroding and smudging it over time. The work contained elements of chance interaction, impermanence, and performance.

Then last week i saw a piece on Scott Wade, the guy who does illustrations in the dusty back windows of cars. He painstakingly works out the illustration, making marks and using fan brushes to create a surprising range of tones. Again he mentions the same satisfaction in watching a Texas rain shower erode his masterworks into oblivion. Seriously, check out these drawings…they’re a hoot.

Erased De Kooning by Robert Rauschenberg

Erased De Kooning by Robert Rauschenberg

The things that stand outs about these and other artists is that their work has the sense of impermanence caused by the act of erasure. Some may think of Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning as a famous example of this category, but i think it’s somewhat different, in that Bob’s work still exists and is proudly displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bob had a revolutionary idea and left us a “souvenir of the occasion”, (as Harold Rosenberg would call it), to mark the time and place. Bob is regretfully gone, but his work is a remembrance.

There is a certain honesty and even transparency that comes though when impermanent art is created. It’s kind of like the way you dance when no one’s watching…or the loose freedom you feel when you draw with one of those Zen water easels. This aesthetic freedom and honesty creates a direct connection with the audiences, and allows the artist to present himself with a refreshing degree of transparency.

Think about what it means to erase something…what is the process? What dynamics are created and what kind of statement are you making? I’ll elaborate in a few days, I just wanted to get people thinkin’.

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The Commercial side of DPA

Occasionally I’m asked about the title of this blog, and the significance of Dirt | Pixels | AIR. While the core message references the creative process and how it’s impacted by digital and organic influences, I confess that there are two different ways that I go about explaining it. One is from the fine arts perspective, and one is from the commercial perspective, since my creative and strategic practice is also called Dirt | Pixels | AIR.

Todays entry presents the commercial side of DPA…– DG

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The core marketing task of identifying an audience and reaching them with a pointed and relevant brand message seems more complicated than ever. Traditional communication touch points such as print, TV, and radio are being replaced by an evolving digital landscape that now includes mobile advertising, social networks, and three other trends that have launched since you started reading this. Just when you thought your web strategy was becoming more stable and measurable, these new variables dot the horizon, raise questions and doubt, and throw everything out of balance.

This climate of new trends and technologies often causes companies to make one of two fatal errors. Some will erroneously sit back and do nothing until the trend is so well entrenched that they have no choice but to react and play catch-up. Others mistakenly jump in and wrestle with the new trend without thinking about the brand, the business, or the overall communications strategy. Like the Marketing Director who told us that her boss just got back from a conference and wanted her to get them involved with social networking by next quarter. Never mind that they had huge gaps in their web strategy and overall audience communications…they were going to do “something”.

Dirt | Pixels | AIR takes a holistic, audience-centered approach that identifies and the target(s), formulates a strategy, and uses high and low tech tools to execute and measure results. It sounds simple, and yet, with so many new innovations and buzzwords, things can get convoluted very fast.  What’s relevant for my core business? Do I really have to loose control of my brand to do social networking? What about mobile…or video? And how do I identify the tipping point that indicates when I should adopt a new technology? It can be like an elusive tomato seed that squirts out from under your thumb just when you think you have it pinned down.

Finding ideas in the Dirt
The good news is that marketing campaigns and effective web strategies have always had certain commonalities; they’re intuitive, memorable and they resonate with their audience. Simply put, effective brand messaging is emotional and personal, forging a bond of trust and understanding between brand and audience.

This is our starting point for any project… in the organic, occasionally random, and sometimes messy emotional messages that are so rich with significance. We all know firsthand that human emotion is never neat and tidy, and it resists being overly packaged or formulated. How do you convince your audience that you’re trustworthy, innovative, or timeless?  How do you convey core value propositions like integrity, honesty, and strength. This is the Dirt in our equation…the gritty, tangible and real elements that make people respond, remember, and act. And it always lies at the heart of a great idea.

The Pixels facilitate
This is the part most agencies focus on. They love to talk about the next new thing, be it Facebook widgets, coupons on cel phones, body scanners in retail stores, or outdoor digital. These new areas are like a series of waves that follow one after another in succession…and agencies love to climb atop them and promise they can harness their power for the good of their clients. Their ability to master these waves is a point of differentiation, and they use it to set themselves apart (it’s also used to justify high bill rates).

The elephant in the living room in all of this is that new technologies are seldom if ever measurable, and it’s hard to discern when to climb atop the wave. In the absence of real metrics, agencies will often make broad assumptions along the lines of “since all teens have cel phones, sending a mobile coupon to them will work wonders!” They never consider that perhaps teens will resent this as an intrusion rather than a welcome message. This is a basic example, but the point is that it’s difficult to evaluate new technologies on their own terms, and it’s hard to resist oversimplification in the quest for validation.

And yet, pixels are the building blocks that all design is built on- and pixel-based technologies such as social networks and mobile advertising are the conduits that deliver our messages. They’re powerful, flexible, and very effective, and yet they’re just a collection of tools in service of the idea. They should be used carefully, within the proper context…and as a bridge to creating meaningful dialog. That’s why we place them in the middle of our equation; helping facilitate and express an idea…making the concept tangible.

The ethereal lightness of …
Well executed ideas embody a delicate and absolute perfection.  As a result, they exceed expectations and forge lasting and memorable relationships. It’s important to realize that it doesn’t have to be a “big” idea. In fact, it’s imperative to right-size all design and messaging efforts for the needs of the business and the audience. A small trucking firm that operates within a limited geographic area can achieve this delicate balance with a clean web design and a basic marketing strategy, while a larger company will be more strategic and diverse in its message and touch-points. Conversely, an audience may not want to be inundated with excessive messaging when a simple text message will get the point across quite well.

In the end, a well-crafted idea reveals itself at the convergence of brand, message, technology, and a dozen other factors. It’s also accessible, relevant, and meaningful to its target audience as well as the culture at large. It’s something that floats and breathes… suspended between the tactical and the strategic; Actionable, aspirational, and irresistible.

The AIR is the space where these lofty elements combine and interact. And while it’s not always possible to bring all of these variables together in this synergistic nirvana, it certainly is something to strive for. Not only that, the results are always interesting, fresh and compelling, which goes a long way towards facilitating a meaningful dialog between a brand and its audience.

That’s what we strive for with every project…

Dirt | Pixels | AIR

ArtFeed- breakthrough content or just more marketing?

the Brooklyn MuseumOne glance at Twitter or just about any art museum’s website reflects how their marketing departments seem to be the only ones interested in adopting social media tools.

Don’t get me wrong, I think advertising events and such is valid and sometimes even helpful, since these are institutions we’re interested in. And yes, selling memberships is a good thing… But I can’t help feeling a bit like Peggy Lee and breaking into a chorus of Is That All There Is. Since these are creative institutions concerned with the art and culture of our time,  their outreach can/should carry the creative content rather than just point people to it. Give me something different and creative…Something that will make me like you.

That’s why I’m curious about the Brooklyn Museum’s announcement that it’s  about to launch a special feed on Twitter that will showcase the ideas of a specific artist once each month. It’s part of a special $20 “Social Networking Membership” called 1stFans, that combines this special art feed with exclusive events one day per month, free movie passes, and other sundries. They brazenly proclaim at the top of their page that 1stFans + Twitter = ART.

Man, that’s a huge statement to back up.   Huge.

When thinking about this initiative I have two concerns and a lot of hope. I mean, sure… I worry that they cannot back up their art claims, but Im also concerned that their packaging is all wrong.

I’m most interested in the art feed because I’m hopeful that it will not only present as a more interactive and creative way for people to experience the vision of the museum, but that the social dynamic will become a component of the art itself. They’re saying that they’ll have guest artists who will exploit the medium and create an interesting dialog. In fact they’ve even announced an open call for artists to participate. The museum has currently closed off access to the feed unless you’re a subscriber, so I’m in the dark as to how it’s being presented, but it’s a cool idea if they do it right.

Even if they do, Im concerned that combining it with membership could kill it. Look, if I still lived in the NYC area I’d probably join, in that I’d be coming to the museum anyway, and would want to connect in as many ways as possible. But I’m in Chicago now and while I’d like to connect and align myself with the BM brand, it’s not worth it to me….thus, I’m outside the fence, jumping up and down hoping to catch a glimpse…not a good brand impression.

This underscores a broader issue: People don’t pay for content online. In his most recent Digital article in Ad Age, Mike Vorhaus tells of a recent survey where they gave users the option of eliminating all display ads on their favorite sites for just a few dollars per month…a surprisingly low percentage said they would. People expect the internet to be free, and they virtually demand their social nets to be free. That’s free from cost as well as free from overt packaging. When the marketing groups get involved, it leaves  an odor that seems to drive away mass viral adoption. (and I say that as one who LOVES & respects marketing)

Combining membership dues with social networking could be a fatal step in the BM’s efforts to innovate and provide something really cool. If it’s a true art-as-social-media play, then take the walls down and open it to the world. The buzz and global acceptance will more than compensate your efforts. Add some other perk to the membership package if you need to, but don’t put up a wall between me and social online content.

It feels more like the guy with the idea for a Twitter art feed is getting comped based on the number of memberships he sells. It’s happened a thousand times – an early adopter puts too high a price tag on a great idea and falls victim to someone who comes along and does it dirt cheap (in this case, for free.). There could be far more negatives for the BM than positives, and their efforts could be nothing more than trailblazing a path for someone else to come along and do it right.

The Brooklyn Museum currently has 1196 followers on Twitter. The ArtFeed, which was launched just a few days ago has 12. Let’s see how this plays out…I wish them well.

OK, everyone in NYC, go see the Morandi show before it closes!

I’m feeling sad and a bit anxious that the Giorgio Morandi show at the Met is closing on Dec 14th, and it’s looking increasingly like I’m not going to make it. Morandi has been a major influence for me since I was in grad school at Bard, and it’s always been a challenge to place myself directly in front of good examples of his work.

Oh sure, there was a small minor work at the MFA in Columbus in OH (no, that’s not an oxymoron)…but it was a constant source of frustration that they presented it horizontally, on a table, under thick glass. Seriously, I’m talking about a painting here. Can you imagine?

Still Life- Georgio Morandi

Still Life- Georgio Morandi

Then there are the handful of works viewed out of context at various museums across the country, including  a small work at the Art Institute here in Chicago, memorably titled “Still Life” (Yes, they’re all titled “Still Life”). But to see multiple works in one place and dig into the nuance and subtlety of the work? THAT is a hard thing to come by. It got me poking around the web looking for comments about the show and how it was being received.

The one article that caught my eye was an October 28th posting of Bones Beat in the Village Voice. Bones starts off by admitting that he/she had met Morandi and forgotten him. Bones then notices that Morandi was an anagram for Mondrian (which I found pretty cool…Ill repeat that one and take credit for it). Bones goes on to say that Morandi is forgettable because he painted basically the same works over and over again, with tentative brush strokes, in a repetitious fervor that makes it impossible for people to recall a single, specific work. He goes on to say: “By the electrified, hungry standards of the last hundred years in art and society, this makes for boring, bland art that will struggle for footing.”

Ouch.

See, that one hurts because part of me thinks he’s right, and it makes me wonder if I want to be a part of the art world that would take such a position . I mean, compared to Jeff and Damien, Morandi is an awkward schlep…Koons married a porn star (who he provocatively presented in his work), cast Michael Jackson and his chimp bubbles in porcelain, and is basking in the glow of a recent retrospective.  That’s nothing compared to Damien Hirst, who sold a stuffed shark this past September at Sothebys in London for $17.2 million dollars. He also has presented rotting cows to simulate copulation, and displayed sheep preserved in formaldehyde and maggots attacking a cow’s head.

Now consider Morandi, who spend his entire life in the same Bologna apartment with his mom and three sisters; teaching in the morning and painting in the afternoons. Every afternoon. Without fail. He walked through day after day, trying to do what he loved, overcoming the monotony and repetition by clinging to the things that gave him hope. I think Morandi’s repitition is a point of commonality for most people…they all scramble to work, watch their days blend together, and try to remember points of significance along the way. And yet Giorgio doesn’t quit, and he remains heartfelt and genuine.

So yeah, to a world that likes to show up on the free admission day at the local art museum, visually skim across the walls, extract the controversy, and quickly categorize the experience, Morandi is sadly forgettable. And yet, when you connect with his work within the moment, and you feel him optimistically working it out fresh and new each day- his work can be as irresistible as a whisper and as satisfying as an erotic touch.

It’s easy to miss genuine heartfelt emotion in this world we live in..most of us probably brush right past it 10 times a day.

I’ll come back to Morandi in future posts and explain what I mean…for now, just get to the show if you can- don’t brush past it.

and Heeere Wee GO!

I’m a bit befuddled as to why it’s taken me so long to start this. I mean, there are so many ideas to explore, although you’ll find my threads leaning towards art, design, and religion, with a healthy does of digital media, social networking, and marketing strategy thrown in for good measure.

Give me a few days to get the hang of the tools and what they can do…don’t wander too far.

-Danl