Faking Vs. Making Creative

I gave a talk today to a class at a local university about the creative process. I gave them the standard advice of learn photoshop, pick the idea then the photo, don't parody etc... But then I wondered, what if nobody in their groups was creative? The teacher told me beforehand that the reason he wanted me to speak was that this class didn't have much hope, that they were dire in creative and that he was hoping to see excellent work in the research, pr, media parts because he knew he wasn't going to see it in their creative. He was hoping I'd provide a spark but I'm from the school that creative can't be taught.

So what did I do? I told them to copy. That's right- I told them that there are a lot of good ads out there with their theme and that they might be better off following a former great idea than a crappy one of their own. I told them how Shakespeare had updated old fairy tales into great plays, how the art masters would copy former masters before adapting their own style and finally I pointed them to Joe La Pompe's website to show them how many times its been done by big professional agencies.

I didn't know what else to say. Apparently none of these kids want to be on the creative so I don't think I did a disservice but at the same time I don't think I set a very good example. My opinion is that I gave them great short-term advice but following this advice forever would really mess up a career and that's not what I wanted to do. So what would you have done? I'm interested to know how other people would have handled this situation.


ivan's picture

I think you did well. They have to start by copying. It will teach them styles, concepts, etc quickly. The ones who have talent will eventually find out that only the original work is rewarded. But still, this is the fastest way to excellence in my opinion.

addyhoch10's picture
Activity Score 2592

i agree, in a way.
the best thing to start is to copy awarded ads, to deconstruct and reconstruct them, to analyse both their visual composition and the pattern of their idea.
but this should be only the very first step. the problem is that there are so many people in advertising who started with copying ads and never learned about the process of creating them, about starting with nothing but a blank sheet.
the second step has to be the creation of own ideas and ads. that's the point where most people realise for the first time how difficult it is to create ideas on their own and to throw them away when they're not good enough.
i think the best way to exercise this is to give the students a (realistic) brief and to let them create about ten different ideas, depicted as rough scribbles. this exercises abstraction and forces them to make it short and clear. it also gives the possibility to discuss every single idea in class, that's the fastest way to learn which idea works and which doesn't.
it's important to learn the common programs as well but i wouldn't use them 'til everyone's able to depict his or her idea without them.
of course there are always students who are very talented in creating ideas but have no appreciation of depicting them (or the other way round). i would tell these students to use good ads as a source of inspiration as far as the visual composition is concerned. better be good at one thing than mediocre at everything.

sorry for misspelling and i hope i didn't miss the point

Minimum's picture
Activity Score 1490

Better to be good in stealing than bad in creating

ellehcimeo's picture
Activity Score 3516

we were taught to pick a few good creative people and copy them as best we could. that we would get better and better and eventually be able to find our own inner creative. it was so true. you learn by copying, you learn to speak by copying sounds from your parents. you copy letters and numbers. even great masters of painting and sculpture once copied. it's part of the learning process and i think you did them a great service by telling them that.

gabsterhamster's picture
Activity Score 8

I think that while it's true that creativity can't be taught, you can't just advice to copy advertising.
Great masters did study what has been done and the great ones rebelled against what was being done.
If everyoen just copies everyone, we are stuck in seeing the same boring crap we have been seeing for a while.

howboy's picture
Activity Score 2

You did good. Need not feel defensive. Copying is not only the greatest form of flattery to the original artist, but is a common practice among all artists (and many many agencies, truth be told). Indeed, originality is a bit of a myth. Think of the Beatles debt to Buddy Holly or Dylan's to Woody Guthrie, the many, many fine artists who do covers of other people's songs etc.

But even more importantly, we live in a "mash up" culture now, and the chances are that if you talk the language of rip, mix, mash, folks will get what you are saying right away.

Copy on!

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Mochica's picture
Activity Score 2

Agreed with your approach as well. Many people learn first through observation and recreation or mimicking. Reviewing good work and trying to recreate it can help them unravel the creative process so they can see the formula or structure that strings it together.

I myself do not believe there's such thing as original thought and did my graduating thesis on that topic. The closest I got to viewing it was an outsider art museum in Baltimore, MD where all artistic works were created by people in mental institutions that had created a work out of trauma. Some just doing one and others being more prolific and making many. There are unique combinations of things that already exist but very rarely considered original thoughts and is one reason for the phenomenon of simultaneous creationism. Anyway ... I digress.

What one would hope for would be that the students would perhaps be exposed to the bar of what determines 'good' or effectual advertising and why (that's another debate in and of itself ... what the industry embraces and what the consumers do). Perhaps helping them set their bar or even directing them to the industry's sources for measuring such things, would be a basic and helpful step towards creating good talent.

Copying can at least teach them composition, information architecture and treatment of imagery. What may have been useful with telling them to copy, would be a bit of an ethical conclusion of making sure that they did not take credit for the work in saying that it's their own nor present it as viable work to a client or within a creative portfolio that would be reviewed by a CD for a possible hire. That's considered unethical in this business and would most likely prevent a hire at a 'good' creative shop where the creatives study the books.

Intellectual property law is still alive and kicking in my area ... not sure how it is in other places. True that the FCC is not that great at placing Cease & Desists on things anymore but intellectual property law and patent and copyright protection is where a lot of lawyers are making their pay dirt these days.

ellehcimeo's picture
Activity Score 3516

truly well put.

Inciter's picture
Activity Score 28

The best thing to teach is, sadly enough, almost unteachable.
It's called Insight.

Don't worry, copying isn't a bad thing to teach, though.

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