Recently, it dawned on me. For most of my professional career, I’ve gotten it the wrong way around. As a copywriter, I’ve forgotten that I am a writer first, a copywriter second. An artist first, a commissioned artist second. A creative first, an agency creative second. I believe the distinction is important because it affects my identity as a creator, and thus the quality of work made. If left unchecked, it erodes the personal style good creatives must possess: the one we are valued at, engaged for, and must thus protect.
The ownership of personal style translates into confidence. Without a client to blame for not creating an idea, discipline is forged. At a deeper level, I will say when external factors are stripped away, creation becomes meditation. And only in this serenity, is pure expression born.
In the documentary Sky Ladder famed pyrotechnic artist Cai Guo-Qiang fluctuates between personal and commissioned projects. Among his life-long pipe-dreams is to create a 500m high ladder made of fireworks, aptly named Sky Ladder. Everyone, including his wife, was highly skeptical of a successful endeavour. And who could blame them? It seemed like a fools’ errand, one he had failed at three times before. One day, he was commissioned by the Chinese government to orchestrate a fireworks display for APEC. As a pure artist, he began by weaving a crafted narrative into his proposal, but this was quickly shot down by his clients who wanted something less expressive. I believe that his disappointment only fuelled his dream to create Sky Ladder.
When he finally achieved the remarkable feat in June 2015, one gets the feeling that all other projects were just speed bumps along to way to that defining moment. He was making a statement that he had still retained his style. This was his own thing. He had succeeded in pulling something out of his imagination and turned it into a reality.
Every morning, I remind myself how incredibly lucky I am to be employed to do just that: turn imagination into reality. Despite the initial rush of this honour, it is also true that a large percentage of my ideas never see the light of day. But while many have died due to the fact they weren’t good ideas to begin with, some stick my mind for months after rejection. I have more than a handful which have become itches that need scratching.
For me, 2017 will be a year of creation, in and out of the office. Side projects won't stick to the sidelines any more. My personal art projects will take flight in cadence with my professional work. No, I don't plan on building any pyrotechnic ladders just yet, but at the very least, my prototypes, pastimes and projects will lead to a development of new skills, a mastery of current ones, and a rigorous inspection of my craft. I'm looking forward to a phenomenal new year.