Can art solve…anything?

In summary As words and pictures, advertising is dangerously close to...literature and art!

“You’re not an artist. You solve problems.”

I didn’t say it. Don Draper did, to Peggy. He was just reminding her that advertising is a business, like any other. But unlike most others, words and pictures are the tools of our trade. Words and pictures! That’s so close to…literature and art! Some advertising does transcend its original purpose–eventually. Instant classics are rare in this gig. Still, that won’t stop me–or countless others before and after me–from trying to make a difference on another level. I’ll solve the client’s problem, all right, but I’m going to do it in the most compelling verbal and visual way I can. Sometimes that means touching an emotion. Kinda like art.

A few weeks ago, the manager of my kids’ elementary school cafeteria succeeded in obtaining permission to adorn its blank walls with positive character traits. Since my wife is a tireless volunteer at the school, and I’ve got a not-so-secret hobby of cartooning, one thing led to another and I was offered up for the job.

I was emailed a list of traits. No sketches, no suggestions–a blank slate. Hearkening back to the style of my youth (both artistically and that of the kids’ clothes) at Aspen Hill Elementary, I chose to show the traits wherever possible. Writing is always more effective when you can show vs. tell, and what parent doesn’t know the power of setting a positive example? And speaking of examples, one of my sons asked if he could contribute his own drawing to the mural. How could I refuse?

Over the course of two weekends, several other families and teachers pitched in to transfer the drawings to the walls, then completed them with an assortment of semi-gloss paint. Everyone’s been very happy with the results so far. More importantly, the kids were actually talking about it to their parents. Who knows if it will make a difference? Will just seeing an illustration of “Kindness” day after day make a kid kinder in the long run? By itself, no. But it certainly couldn’t hurt. And it’s sure more stimulating and inspiring than a big wall of nothing. It wasn’t my idea, but I’m glad I was a part of it.

Bottom line: the cafeteria is prettier now. I used art to solve a problem. Does that make me an artist?

Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive after all, Don.