In the winter of 1992, my high school Commercial Arts class boarded a bus for The Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) in Calgary. I remember not knowing what to expect, but hoping to learn something – anything – from those rebel artists in serious training for careers in creation. For me, this was an incredible opportunity to witness young gods in action as they birthed strange, beautiful life into the world. Or at the very least, I hoped that someone could finally tell me just what the hell ‘commercial art’ was. As far as I, my classmates and even my teacher (it seemed) could tell, was that fine art was a passion or a hobby, while commercial art was something you could actually do for a living and sell… well, commercially, I supposed.
During this time, the general consensus was that ACAD rivaled only Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design as arguably the premier learning institution for creatives in Canada. Whether valid or not then or now is really of little importance. In fact, I would argue that where you study your craft matters less than where and how you practice it. What truly matters during these early times is the work ethic and passion instilled in you by teachers, mentors and peers who have lived, worked and lost blood, sweat and tears on the front lines.
Such was the mentality that eventually drove me not to ACAD, but to its sister school (not-so-distant cousins maybe? Either way they share a campus…), The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) to study Journalism Arts at the feet of seasoned writers, editors and photographers. There I would learn not just the mechanics of reporting, creative writing and ‘run-and-gun’ photojournalism, but such real-world words of wisdom as “Max Shulman’s opening line of Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin, and I was off on the biggest adventure of my life… from his 1950 novel ‘Sleep Till Noon’ is widely considered to be the greatest opening line ever written” (a great example of a marketing hook by the way); and “When interviewing Columbian drug lords with a gun to your head, remember to keep your cool because you’re a writer goddammit, and you hold the power position above anyone else…”
Now I’ll admit that I’m paraphrasing the last line there, but to my defence I was absolutely swallowed up by the story, lost in my own thoughts of self-importance as a blossoming writer and near-to-tears with the understanding that I had again found a like-minded community to which I truly belonged. I was always a firm believer in the notion of the pen being mightier than the sword, and the realization that while inspirational leaders usually make great orators, the cruellest and most influential of dictators were all published writers, poets or reporters prior to, and most importantly during, their ascension to power, was not lost on me (and has resurged to my attention through Daniel Kalder’s compelling read: The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy).
A pen, however, can be used to draw a picture just as well as it can form the written word… and this was my focus that piercingly cold prairie winter morning as I entered the halls of ACAD. Everywhere the air seemed thick and electric with collaborative creativity and cigarette smoke (it was a different world, kids) as artists of every medium congregated in classrooms, common areas and stairwells to passionately share ideas, critique or simply revel in their existence as true masters of bad-assery. At that point it didn’t really matter if they were actively looking to spark a movement or simply huddling for warmth – I was enchanted with the lifestyle of the art college student. They seemed to be electrified – not by grades, but by a communal thirst for knowledge and a hunger to make a statement, prove a point and expose the truth in order to inspire reform and create happiness.
This changed everything…
Even as commercial art gave way to desktop publishing, graphic design, and brand visualization and storytelling, and I evolved from writer and designer to brand and communications strategist, I remained ever faithful to this idyllic version of myself. Never in my professional career have I ever been driven by promises of wealth or power or accolades. Even as I transitioned from production studios to traditional advertising agencies (where creative was / is king) to marketing firms (where brand strategy rules all), I have (as have countless other creatives, I’m sure) fought the stereotype of professional liar as I sought to discover, understand and expose the beating brand hearts of my clients, pin it to their sleeves and compose for them a rallying cry sure to build a community and incite action.
Just this. Just the ideal me: an agent of cultural and social change.
The truth isn’t out there. It’s in the halls and hearts of students and their seasoned mentors. It’s in our passions and beliefs. It flows from our minds and our hands and our pens. It’s the idyllic beliefs woven into our corporate cultures, our practices, and the lasting impressions we leave with our customers.
Never lose sight of Who and Why you are. Therein lay the truth of your brand.
So who is your idyllic you? Contact us today. We’d love to meet and find out why…