Ex Libris Part 2

January 10, 2018
Ex libris part 2

Here’s some more dipping sauce for the “brain buds” courtesy of my bookshelves.

Damn good advice (for people with talent)
By George Lois
It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be
By Paul Arden

Ex libris part 2

I bundled these two books together because they explore very similar themes. Both provide an excellent dose of therapy for any professional creative regardless of your background or level of experience. Both contain largely advice and insights you’ll probably instinctively know already (or should know) but it is a real tonic to see it written down in black and white and illustrated with inspirational anecdotes from George Lois and Paul Arden’s illustrious careers.
Here are three themes that run through both books that should provoke thought:

1. The power of failure
The importance of taking risks and the freedom to fail is vital for those in pursuit of any creative excellence. Paul tells us by losing the fear of being seen to be ‘wrong’ in the eyes of perceived wisdom is the way to genuine free creative thought. People who think in the ‘right‘ way are simply trapped by their own past experiences. In fact, Paul is clear about the very real danger to your career if you don’t fail enough!

“Fail, fail again, fail better.” Samuel Beckett.
Both books feature this quote.

Ex libris part 2

2. There is no “i” in Team (But there sure is an “i” in Creative)
Great ideas usually come from just one or two inspired people in a project team (rarely more). Once the brilliant ‘big idea’ exists, George tells us to gather our strength and quickly reject ‘Analysis Paralysis’ and ‘Group Grope’ (lovely phrasing). It will only blur the creative vision. The rest of the project team is there to sell the idea and help roll it out. This may sound like harsh words if you’re feeling lost in the ‘team.’ If so, go and sell your own ideas to the powers that be. I doubt anyone is really stopping you.

Ex libris part 2

3. Atomic levels of creative energy!
Two quotes from the big men themselves regarding this
“To sell work I could be proud of, I’ve had to rant, rave, threaten, shove, push, cajole, persuade, wheedle, exaggerate, flatter, manipulate, be obnoxious, be loud, occasionally lie, and always sell, passionately!”
Abraham Lincoln once said: “When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees”. To be a successful creative, be prepared for a lifetime fighting bees (even if you sometimes get stung)
George Lois

“Energy – Its 75% of the job. If you haven’t got it, be nice.”
Paul Arden

Complete Prose
By Woody Allen

Woody Allen is like Marmite. You either love the rich meaty dense flavour or you just hate the stuff. Over recent years, what with his complicated love life and one too many movies that should have stayed in the writer’s bottom drawer, many people I guess are of the latter opinion. Not me though. I love the guy.

This book reminds me of the genius that was. It is nothing more than jottings and scribbling presumably “knocked out’ between major film and writing projects. Crumbs from the table really. But there are nearly 500 pages of crumbs here that demonstrate and showcase an unstoppable virtuoso humorist at work. Who else could make the laundry list of an obscure (fictional) 19th century German Writer laugh out loud funny? Who else could imagine Vincent van Gogh expressing his art through, not painting, but dentistry? Only Woody, I think.

The Outsider
By Albert Camus

Algeria’s most famous goalkeeper and Nobel Prize-winning author, Albert Camus, knocked it out of the park with this slim little volume that packs a big punch. The book’s anti-hero, Meursault, is a very average man with an uneventful life until he, rather misguidedly, tried to help a friend seek revenge. This gets Meursault into serious trouble with the authorities. He seeks salvation not through expected ways but by the indifferent pursuit of absolute honesty about himself and how he sees and feels about the world.

Honesty is, of course, a vital part of any successful creative process, which may partly explain why this book is such a touchstone for so many artists and writers. George and Paul from the previous books talk about honesty (in its various forms) a lot.

As a postscript, Meursault’s honesty, unsurprisingly, just winds up getting him deeper and deeper into trouble with just about everyone in his life, especially the authorities.

But who says being honest was easy!
James Wood
Creative director