06 March, 2008

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Advertisement

Above, ads created for Harley-Davidson by Carmichael Lynch out of Minneapolis: very choice, top notch creative in my opinion. A bold presentation of the sense of individuality that's a trademark of the Harley-Davidson brand. See the individual in the motorcycle.

The time and care that was clearly invested in creating these images, and the method employed, reminds me of another art form. Tibetan sand painting.
In case you're unfamiliar, Zen monks spend hours upon hours intricately pouring colored sands onto the ground to create beautiful imagery. Upon completion, the doors to the temple are flung open and the wind erases the images forever. It's an exercise of patience and humility, a downplaying of the ego and a strong demonstration of the impermanence of all things.
I'll grant that you'd be hard pressed to have a crankshaft assembly delicately float away on the breath of impermanence, but you can see the similarity nonetheless. Once all those motorcycle parts have been cleaned up, installed, and driven off to have half-naked, drunken motorcycle groupies cavort on them at rock concerts and biker rallies, the original assemblage image is gone. Yes, unlike the sand paintings, we have a photograph to remember it, but that brings me to my ultimate point.

The Harley ads are just one small part of a huge body of creative work our industry generates on a regular basis, work that, while permanent in form, is just as ephemeral in long term viewership as our monks' sand creations.

It's inevitable. Every great billboard, TV spot or print ad is eventually replaced. And this process repeats again and again, ad infinitum (no pun intended). With media consumption growing exponentially, this turnover will occur at an ever accelerating pace in the future. So we, as creatives, deliver painstakingly developed, beautifully rendered, multi-faceted campaigns to our clients, and in a month the winds of consumption blow them into obscurity.

Surprisingly, I'm not complaining. There's something wonderful behind sand paintings. They say, "Release your attachments and just let beauty be. Yes, you created something glorious, but who are you? What does your minor achievement mean against the backdrop of a universe so staggeringly big it's impossible to imagine it? Your work is beautiful, and now it's gone."

I originally intended this article to be something of a rant against the mad rush to replace. But the more I write, the more I'm changing my mind. Ultimately, I think it's a very healthy way to think about what we do. We're not Van Gogh or Da Vinci, creating work that will last for centuries (and one could argue that, on a cosmic time scale, even their work is fleeting). We create for the Now. And we have the opportunity to keep doing it over and over again. So I say, fling open the doors, wipe the slate clean, and get to work!

Jason Bloom, Senior Avid Editor

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1 others 'fessed up:

Captain Awesome,  March 6, 2008 at 9:43 AM  

The argument could be made that the best work (or the most memorable) lasts, slightly longer. I guess that's when we do our job the best. But it's pretty cool to work in an industry where nearly every day you're told, "Create something new." I don't know about other people, but that's freaking fun.

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