Listen to the dog’s bell

It’s the end of the summer approaching my 2nd year at Brandcenter & I’ve been meaning to recap the last semester. I just finished my internship and feeling kind of good and kind of scared about entering my last 30 weeks at the school.

The past spring I thought was going to be much easier than the fall, boy was I wrong. Everyone had told me the first semester is the easiest, you take less classes in the spring, don’t worry too much about it… What a load of shite. Last semester I did only take 3 classes but I had much more work than the fall semester, which is astonishing. I guess you can’t really understand what it’s like to go weeks working non-stop all day and all night without actually doing it. And I am well aware that it’s just going to get heavier. The thing is I enjoyed the spring a lot more than the fall because you could see everyone’s progress.

Our 3 classes were Craft taught by adjunct professor Amy Elkin, User Participation Platforms taught by Andrew LeVasseur, & Concept Development by the aforementioned Mark Fenske.

Craft was seemingly a more traditional ad campaign class. Every two weeks we were paired up with a different CW and given a brand. The first week we pitched different rough concept statements and ideas for cool activations to the class. Then the next week we presented one final idea that was more ‘crafted’ to show print examples, social, activations, etc. Whatever could best communicate our idea we could do.

The best part about this class was watching everyone else’s ideas come to fruition. You saw real improvement throughout the semester and it was inspiring. There was little much besides presentation and critique during the actual class time so I felt the most valuable aspects of it were that you got to see how everyone else thought and it was motivating. Each week someone would try something new or would make you feel jealous or would fail horribly (this would very much include myself). But it was great to see everyone going to bat with new work.

The only thing that I wish they pushed more in the curriculum was the craft aspect. It felt like we didn’t really talk too much in the specifics of art direction or really spend any time on how to get better ideas or bring in new ways of art directing a piece. Too many times I felt that we were obligated to make ads that lead with the copy, and not with the visuals. It’s something that I think Brandcenter lacks, there are so many great examples of visually led creative, it just wasn’t pushed as much as I thought it was going to be. I definitely wanted to do more in-class exercises specifically for Craft but to be honest we never really had enough time or energy.

User Participation Platforms was a less traditional ad class. It challenged us to come up with different ways of using brands to communicate with people. And a lot of the times those ways were not communicating to people but allowing them a venue for communication themselves. So much of where advertising was, was one person (the brand) talking to other people (consumers), and we needed to find ways where we gave the consumers a voice.

All of this is demonstrated in pretty creative assignments; designing a board game, creating super bowl ad extensions, connecting a brand with a cause, etc. The class is pretty interesting, you are teamed up in a larger group of 6 or 7 Art Directors and Experience Designers. Andrew also is an extremely helpful and nice teacher.

We had projects due every 3 weeks. Unfortunately, because the groups are so large and the pressure to produce book-worthy work so great, most students put this class on the back-burner. It often felt overlooked and underappreciated. I definitely can sympathize as it seemed noxious to continually propose hypothetical after hypothetical comp in presentations without actually producing something. At least in a print ad it is there, it says something or it doesn’t. Look imagine this city wide take over can’t you just imagine it? No.

There was no lack of produced work in Concept Development. That class was filled with AD’s and CW’s where we were to become performing seals. I would say 60%% of that class was lecture and 40% of it critique. Fenske was the dominating force of that class, often leaving me feeling so perplexed by his lectures and analogies yet equally impressed with his energy and vigor to come up with new shit to say. He has a strong opinion and doesn’t apologize for what he says but the bar he sets could not be any higher.

For the first 3 weeks of classes we had to produce 100 different bacon ads, each week. This was more or less the experience throughout the semester, we would produce a shit ton then when you didn’t think you could look at something a different way he would show you how-or make fun of you for not being able to. It was an invaluable experience because he stressed the importance and distinction between ads that were born to be ads and ads that said something meaningful to someone else.

It was quite difficult coming to class each week, working tirelessly producing your best stuff only to get ruthlessly skewered for not saying anything new. And trying to succeed through this process made you better, made you think of not making an ad, made you communicate an idea. It gave everyone standards through which we continue to judge work. I think many years from now I will look back on those lectures in much greater appreciation for what I have.

But I will say it was not without fault. For a few weeks we started making video ads and I think the students preferred this media change albeit short-lived. It was probably easier to create a bad video to pass the weekly assignment without as much effort as with a print ad and I think that’s what Fenske thought. Well we know what he thought, he thought we sucked. Which is what we thought, and it’s what helped some people get better.

I have never done as much work as I have in any class before that class and at the end of the semester I felt delirious. One of the biggest take-aways from last year was learning that I stunk. Or that I needed to stink to get to where I wanted to be. I wanted to see progress daily, when in fact I should have been thinking semesterly or something like that. You exhaust yourself putting in as much effort as you can each day and when you fail after that it can burn you out.

Another last point about expectations from Brandcenter, the professors don’t necessarily want to be your friend. This was something that I think I should have learned earlier on. Wayne and Fenske the guys who most students idolize, aren’t going to want to hang out with you. In fact, they are probably so tired of the immaturity of students that they will tell you this in a very brash manner. Some of the teachers are quite nice but don’t go in expecting or wanting them to hold your hand through this, do it for you.

The other week I was running outside with my dog, on a nice fall or spring day we can make it 4 or 5 laps on the trail before tiring out. I noticed something weird at the end of our 2nd lap, not only was she behind me but I could hear the bell around her collar start to soften. I kept going a little and it continued, I looked back and she was nearly walking and painting as if she was going to collapse. Duh, it was 95 degrees. I stopped there and brought her right to my car for water. I could have kept going in fact, I wanted to keep running. Who knows what would have happened.

Many times last year I felt that I was risking my body in almost a physically threatening point due to my want to produce and get better. It made my thinking worse, and often after a late night working I would not feel up to working out. I slid for the last few weeks getting worse and worse while the amount of stress and work piling up. You just aren’t nearly as efficient that way. Some goals for next year, don’t burn out-pay attention to the bell. You need to think smarter not just work harder.

Buy your bagged meatsacks

The wind bellows softly as pine needles bristle across my face and I squeeze between trees, balancing on the small 3 foot snowshoes in the endless Maine wilderness. I flatten my body and manage through tiny slits to the edge of cover where I bend gingerly to a crouch. One hand keeping my balance, I survey my surroundings breathing out a steady fog as I gaze towards any sign of movement or track. My heart is bumping and the faint noise of howling moves behind me, I look across the landscape towards the shadowy bottoms of the trees.

There are pockets of light in between the firs and hemlocks that give a disruption of color on the edges of the dark cover of pines. I can see maybe 15 yards maximum in particular sections of my field of view. In the back of my mind I think if ever there were a bear or moose that appeared from behind one of those trees I would have no chance to flee from them. My hands tremble on the cold metal grip of the gun as I scan my periphery for the faintest sign of movement. Hearing isn't all that particularly useful out here.

I stand statuesque for at least an hour knowing there have been fresh tracks through this area, shifting eye-level and balance trying to keep my toes from freezing and my mind attentive. Suddenly a bounce right into one of the open patches between the trees, two eyes peering towards me. My entire body warms and tenses up. I feel fright and excitement as adrenaline jolts me up, I turn and shoot instinctively. I feel the loud band of the gun and the kickback of the shotgun to my shoulder and arms. The silent forest is instantaneously disturbed and almost simultaneously falls back into that silence.

The snowshoe hare perfectly evolved for camouflage and running in this snowy ecosystem lay kicking as it's last nerve endings fire and it's last signs of life vanish. I feel scared, nervous, sad, guilt, excited, relief and pride all in a brief 2 minutes. It's a whirlwind that I have been trying to grip with. Submerged in this wild world, I am transported completely out of the complicated and vain existence that surround Brandcenter and advertising.

I feel conflict in the cruel nature of the hunting and killing of another animal and my desire to find a stronger meaning or connection with the natural world. Being immersed in this environment I feel more attuned to the world and feel a connection to the life cycle, than say buying meat at a supermarket. I feel sad at death but amazed at the experience and comfort in knowing that it was a near immediate kill. As well the meat is being used as food for our camp. It's a feeling of connection that I have always been at a loss for walking the halls of our flesh malls.

I have always felt a weird disconnect to packaged meat, but an acknowledgement that my body needs meat to be healthy. I certainly understand the moral arguments for Veganism and Vegetarianism but I believe that there is a moral argument in responsibly harvested meat eating. In hunting there's a link to nature that puts you back in a world that has existed for many many years, a world that lives by it's own rules of chaos and order. There's beauty in this chaos, it gives a stronger sense of acknowledgement and responsibility to the food you eat and animals you kill. Supermarkets with endless halls of meat displayed at sale prices, shot up with hormones and antibiotics devalues the lives of animals and the work that it takes to get meat. This type of factory farm eating is something that I have always thought of as a point in our history where people will look back and point to to say how backwards or barbaric our people were. Moral acuity that evades the people of its time, such as we would say of the people of our past-if only they were as smart as us to see their mistakes.

Full disclosure I do not always practice this. It's difficult work to only eat meat that you or someone you know has killed, but something that I have always aspired to do. Might lab-grown meat be the solution or future? Maybe. Until that becomes a viable option I do think that responsible hunting and local farm to table is the only moral way of eating meat. 

I've always been unable to sit still and I gravitate towards new experiences and try to upend my perspective. But getting out in nature more is something that is a huge struggle at school, so it was great to spend time out in the wild. It's something that I think is the worst part of the working world, we are entrenched indoors so much that we miss these basic connections to the natural world. We look at animals with strange eyes purveying them in zoos and buying our stuffed Shamu's, then wonder why they eat us in these 100 ft tanks. You definitely lose perspective in Brandcenter, but it's important to get it back there's a lot of world out there that isn't in a fluorescent box. 

Airplanes are beautiful designed atrocities of the senses

Sitting in a packed tuna can with other random hairy mammalian creatures you are hurled at speeds upwards of 600 miles per hour at heights of near 40,000 feet. You and everyone else on this metal box trust two people and the engineering teams of faceless corporations to safely guide you to land on a tiny asphalt strip hundreds of miles from your takeoff point. Yet, this is the safest mode of traveling. Flight is an absolute symphony of engineering and design that manifests thousands of years of the triumph of man over science. But everyone hates it

I hate it, well maybe less than the average person especially if I am not flying far, and I think a huge part of why I hate it is because planes really aren't made for people. Now hear me out, I am talking about the aircrafts themselves, they are quite the antithesis of say Apple design philosophy. And well when your main priority is safety and efficiency you end up with the cumbersome designs of our aircrafts as well as the inflight meals that are so accustomed to give you mid-flight gas.

But the worst part isn't the food or the crammed seating the worst part is that you can't experience the best part of flying, the view. Without a doubt flying opens the most beautiful and different perspectives to offer in our world, and since flying has only been around since 1900 we are but an insignificant portion of humanity to ever have the benefit of seeing all of our important busy lives at such a humbling altitude. All the while our planes have been designed to make this most magical of experiences nearly impossible to absorb. Our windows are tiny and a lot of the time you have to learn over crank your neck so you can for a moment peer out to see how wildly curious a city or mountain chain looks at such as minute level. And you have to do this while praying the psychopaths who shut these windows keep them open for more than a minute. 

Once a long time ago, I had the distinct honor of sitting in the window seat on a pristine moonlit night with such an angle that I could recline back and nearly get a full view of my side of the plane. There aren't many things more magical than a beautifully moonlit night, it is such an under appreciated experience. Looking down at the clouds casting shadows onto the ocean and onto the cities and landscapes you are out of the chaos of the minutia. You can look down and think 'oh puny humans how small your daily problems are and how vast a beautiful land we are given to observe and delight in,' when a light shines from above you out of your purview you turn to recognize God yet it is just the light of your neighbor looking to pretend he will not cheat on the crossword puzzle.

How strange it is that the majority of the world goes inside as soon as the sun dies down, for the moonlight opens up a completely different view of our world, a world that is dulled down by the same old sunlight. Sitting outside on a summers night looking out towards the blanketed hills of glittering light you imagine the more, become curious that there's something out there to be explored in our universe and are succumbed to inspiration that this moment is more beautiful than ever. That same old dirt road turns into a fabled passage that the likes of King Louis would welcome his carriage ride, that same stream by your back porch now looks as beautiful a stream that would be in one of Shakespeare's sonnets. 

For me there's more stillness in the night it doesn't change as visibly as the daytime and puts you under a sort of spell that you can live more in the now, not thinking of what's next to come it's more meditative but at the same time invites more curiosity. These viewpoints give different perspectives in more than just the visible the open up what makes being human worth being human. Being curious about the world, interested in not subduing our current moment to constantly learn and observe more is what experience is. Observing the now is exactly what planes don't want you to do. Imagine if your plane had a giant moonroof window or the whole side of the plane you could adjust or god forbid an extra 6 inches of room between seats. 

Having a curiosity for new experiences opens you up to be able to think differently and often these experiences can lend you to understanding how to connect with basic human commonalities in more ways. I believe it allows you to become a better storyteller and through stories we can connect to someone else who understands what it means to enjoy the moonlight. 

 

One semester down 3 to go...

Recounting this past semester at VCU Brandcenter; it was hectic, fun, stressful, challenging, inspirational, frustrating, & overall a pretty weird collection of people (of which I like to include myself most proudly). I guess my expectations going in were a little different than what  the school actually was like, both in a positive and negative sense. I suppose all the advice I was given from alumni was pretty sound, you get out what you put in. Having agency experience before entering school I was extremely intent on producing campaigns and portfolio work from the start but as I found out this was not going to be the case.

Initially I thought that if I just spent enough time on creating the idea behind the ad/campaign that I would eventually lead to great work through repetition, but this is only half true. Working your ass off doesn't mean shit if your work sucks, but it is really hard to produce great work without working your ass off. A lot of the first semester is learning how to hold greater standards of work, to think and look deeper for true human connections that muster more than a passing smirk. 

Work that I see being produced now that I used to think was pretty edgy/funny I 'feh' at. Things that I previously thought really clever now just seem lazy. And every day I am in awe of the amount of terrible advertising that constantly bombards us. This standard of thought is something that is constantly hammered into your skull, it is very hard to impress any of the professors. I like to try and view advertising as part of the art or entertainment that I am indulging as something I am choosing to enjoy and most of the time it doesn't make me move inside.

Also at Brandcenter the teaching is a little different than what I expected, I was given much more practical teachings on abstract thinking and was taught less on practical applications than I thought I would have been. But I think the first semester really is just to break you down and challenge you to a new pace and standard. At times I was amazed at how inspiring the school was and at times disillusioned by my own frustrations of not reaching a goal. 

You really need to look deeper at why you are doing something but at the same time you are bombarded with assignments. This forces you to produce, organize and collaborate with a unique group of people. It is definitely challenging working with a lot of different personalities, ideas, energy levels, schedules, etc. One thing that I noticed this semester was the amount of impatience I had at myself. Everything that I wanted to do wasn't good enough. I was thinking that I need to make it good enough to get me a job in over a year. Although I would like to say I generally do a good job at keeping my mental state in a good place, the last semester certainly tested this. I definitely put too much pressure on creating excellent work and I burned out on a few projects, where I just couldn't find a new way to approach it. This was an incredible lesson as I felt projects that I were either more interested in or didn't think so damn stressfully on turned out to be my better work. 

Overall the teachers for the most part were pretty great. Our Art Direction class missed Wayne Gibson as the professor and I think that set us back a little. But as I am beginning to note the real learning points are what do you do on your own time, how do you collaborate and learn from others, how do you stay motivated through weeks of work? Once you're in the real world nobody gives a damn and if you don't grow you die, this is something that definitely prompted me to re-enter the beautiful community found in education.

Next semester I have a lot of goals but my number one is having fun. I definitely felt there were times I wanted to shake the negativity out of people and eventually this hit home with me, you have to rely on yourself and have confidence. Right away people complain about work, no sleep, bad teachers, working with people who are hard to work with... I know I just did a bevy of complaining see above^ But this is what I love doing, I love creating and thinking about deeper meanings for problems and solutions, I signed up for this. And every single day at Brandcenter is a gift to better myself as a creative thinker in ways that people just rarely had the luxury of having.

More to come in the coming weeks.

Creative Thinking

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I turn the faucet off and boom there it is. Rush to my notepad and write as much as possible-two days later I look at four pages of chicken scratch and there is maybe two sentences that I want to keep. What does the above demonstrate about create thinking? Did you actually scroll through that and make it down here? Well anyways some things that you learn here at Brandcenter about creative thinking. First, it's a lot like the above in there's a flood of ideas that come in but when taking all of them at once you just get a projectile of stuff and it tends to not look so pretty. Also the focused, direct and simpler the ideas are for the most part the better ones. This isn't trying to dumb down the process in fact, it takes all that splish splash to get to the truest sense of a splish or something like that. What looks more appealing to look at? I prefer the single idea to the bevy above and when you take the time to sort through all that mess it makes your simpler idea much better, much truer. 

I think what partly makes this mess is our inability to observe reality in its' present sense. You are almost always experiencing and can't reflect on your senses in the moment. In Richmond it's been great experiencing new things, working as much as I can and every so often taking a break to throw up some ideas.