A picture of creative decay

Ryan Wallman
June 17, 2014

Creative industry

The other day I saw a very strange blog post, in which the author speculated about how Oscar Wilde might promote himself online if he were around today. And my immediate thought was: well, one thing the man would NOT do is write some tenuous nonsense about the relationship between literary figures and modern marketing.

But then I thought, you know what, maybe I should write some tenuous nonsense about the relationship between literary figures and modern marketing.

Because as pointless as the article was, it did get me thinking about Oscar Wilde and his famous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

If you haven’t read it, The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of a young man who suggests that he would sell his soul to retain his looks. The ravages of time and lifestyle would not affect him, but rather would be visible on a portrait that he keeps hidden away in an attic.

This wish is subsequently fulfilled, and Dorian makes the most of it by living a debauched, uncivilised life – the effects of which duly manifest in a progressive deterioration of his portrait.

I think there is a parallel with our industry in this story. Now, now, hear me out.

Much of the ‘creative’ work I see – advertising, in particular – is shameful. Not debauched, exactly, but certainly self-absorbed and devoid of any real meaning. Charmless, shall we say.

And it would seem that this work is created because there is nothing to stop it from being created. It has become accepted. It’s what others in the industry do, and it’s what (some) clients expect. Meanwhile, whatever appeal it might have to customers – who should be the civilising influence in this situation – appears to be a moot point.

But I would venture that many of the people creating this work are secretly not proud of it.

My theory is that industry norms convince some creative professionals to make a Faustian pact. They sell their creative souls in the service of a bizarre ideal.

And from what I have seen, this has a corrosive effect on creative people. As with Dorian Gray, they damage their hidden selves.

Needless to say, Oscar himself put it best:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” 

 

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

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For more thoughts on creativity, try:

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ivan Albright, 1945, closeup’ image by Kevin Dooley, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons under a CC BY 2.0 licence.

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