So how important is it for a creative to win peer approval and admiration? It's often the motivation and justification for scam work, a cancer within the ad industry. According to John Hegarty of BBH, scam work has reached an "endemic" level in Asia.
Peer approval is a strange beast. Every creative team walks into a meeting thinking their idea is the best ever, the perfect solution; only a fool wouldn't recognise its genius. When it dies a wicked death, and something else is picked, they continue to think the world of their idea. Clearly the powers that be have made the wrong decision. What do they know? The other idea they picked was lame. It's been done! Dickheads!
That moment is a pure one. At that moment, you love your work more than anything in the world, even though your peers thought otherwise. At that moment, you don't give a damn about their opinions. So why do we stoop and clamour so (for the very peer approval we dismiss) when it comes to awards shows? Shouldn't the work and the creative process be enough? Can you believe we get paid to do this stuff? It's so much fun!
And if you do manage to get something you like produced, a miraculous thing, having braced multiple gauntlets of imminent death, do you think less of yourself and the work you love because a bunch of online trolls tore it to shreds, often to satiate their own frustrations and bitterness? Do you take it to heart, or shrug it off and not give a fuck?
On one hand, fame, vanity and the holding company network constantly tug at you, forcing you to create work that has the right formula for the shows: big visual, small logo, clever over funny ("Humour is a cultural thing; juries might not get it") and so on.
On the other, you want to create work that you love; work that reflects your cultural sensibilities, your personality, your point of view. Work you think is right for the client and market, work that the man on the street will recognise and appreciate-even though it might not do so well at the global shows. It's frustrating. No wonder we're such a bipolar bunch-and almost chronically unhappy. Few other creative fields have to face such incessant rejection, and yet be expected to soldier on.
When you're at this crossroad, consider Rush.
Rush is a Canadian rock band formed in 1968. It has had the same three-member line up since 1974. All three are virtuosos in their respective fields. They're hugely influential with a significant, and rabid, worldwide following. Despite the facts, the mainstream music press and industry ignored them. They just weren't cool enough, these crazy prog-rock nerds from Toronto. There was never any drama or scandal surrounding Rush. The members didn't do drugs. They were clean, the best of friends, happily married, modest...qualities you rarely associate with rock and roll.
Being pariahs in the world of rock and roll never bothered them. They continued to do what they loved: make music, however they pleased. They released an album, 2112, with a sci-fi theme (Nerds!) and a 20-minute title track divided into seven parts that took up an entire side of the record. The record company urged them not to do this, sensing commercial disaster, but Rush ignored them and did it anyway. Rush was right. It proved to be a colossal hit. The industry press continued to ignore and dismiss them.
Rush kept going. It released a total of 20 studio albums...some of which (I hate to admit, being a die-hard fan myself) were quite bad. But they did what they pleased, experimenting, pushing their artistic limits and journeys. Unafraid of risk and failure. Enslaved by no trend. Their devoted fans stuck with them, turning up in droves for each tour, making millions for the band. The members stayed the best of friends through all this, surviving personal tragedies, ridicule and age, just doing what they loved and having fun. They did it because it made them happy, and because they bloody well wanted to.
They continued to be ignored, most notably by the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, which (for 13 years after Rush became eligible for induction) inexplicably denied their nomination year after year. Eventually, the Hall Of Fame started to look ridiculous and lose credibility for doing so.
On April 18, 2013, Rush was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters), a huge fan, had this to say as he inducted them: "...playing upward of 250 shows a year, from Day One the band built its following the right way. No hype, no bullshit; they did it from the ground up. Without any help from the mainstream press. Forty five years, over 40 million records, thousands of shows, selling out arenas all over the world...their influence is undeniable and their devoted fan base only rivalled by The Grateful Dead...and their legacy is that of a band that stayed true to themselves no matter how uncool they may have seemed to anyone. I think it's safe to say that Rush is indeed a band that has balls. And they've always been cool, so consider this mystery solved."
Rush very graciously accepted the honour in the presence of a stadium full of fans. Alex Lifeson, the guitarist and band prankster, gave one of the most incredible acceptance speeches ever. For about three minutes, all he did was gesticulate, act out his reaction to the news of their induction, and say, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." It was clear that the award wasn't going to their heads, and it wasn't going to change them. They were back on tour the next day.
So the next time you're feeling low because your work didn't get the recognition it deserved, or you are torn between doing what you like and what a jury might like, remember Rush. Remember: it's about doing what you like, and working hard, with people you love. The accolades will eventually come. Remember, if your work solves the client's problems, and you had fun creating it, that's all you'll ever need.
Then slap on your headphones and listen to Rush. I recommend starting with "Tom Sawyer" from the Moving Pictures album.
And, play it loud.
The author is art director at The Richards Group.