July 3, 2012

Discouraging Creativity

"Producing is about discouraging creativity. You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm. You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says 'Welcome to Denmark.' 'We just thought it would be funny.' You have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa's face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let's go with the bran muffin on the white plate." - Tina Fey, Bossypants

I'm not a tv producer, but I know exactly what Tina Fey is talking about here. You'd think that an art school would be all about encouraging creativity...and maybe it is in the Fine Art department, where everything is about expressing your feeeeelings. But in Illustration, there's a client to please, and they're relying on you to complete the illustration on time and according to agreed-upon specifications. Some students have a lot of trouble with that concept.

  1. The overperformer. These students will exhaust themselves to complete a huge, elaborate drawing that they're hoping will impress the teacher. They'll stay up all night working on it. The problem is that, in their enthusiasm, they lose sight of their concept and miss the point of the assignment. For example, a classmate in my perspective class submitted a lovely, super-detailed drawing of a bar scene - every bar stool and piece of clothing was carefully rendered. But there were problems with the perspective...and it was a perspective class. So her grade probably wasn't much better than average, and it probably took her four times as long to make corrections to her assignment. I give these students props for pushing themselves, but they still need to learn that making everything as big and fancy as possible can backfire. Sometimes teachers like students to go above and beyond - but some teachers have good reasons for placing the assignment parameters where they are and just want you to do what they ask.
  2. The free spirit. These students just don't quite get the idea of "rules" and "deadlines." The teacher asks for four color composites; the student brings in two. The teacher asks for a greeting card illustration, the student brings in an editorial illustration. Oddly enough, these students are often very talented - which is perhaps why they feel entitled to completely ignore the homework assignment and do their own thing instead. So when everyone else in the class lines up their illustrations on the wall, pages and pages of paper that they spent all night working on - the underperformer will shamelessly stand in front of the class and explain why they chose to design a cd cover instead. They produce some beautiful drawings, but it's just not what was asked for, and its always unfinished.
This is the challenge for any creative type who wants to go professional: to simply follow instructions, even if its not what you feel like doingTo hold yourself back from any impulses that would interfere with the client's needs; to objectively filter your ideas and determine what would really help the piece and what you kinda wanna do because it sounds fun.

"Illustration is compromise. You are there to compliment a text or idea. You must fit in with the style, atmosphere and thrust of that concept...there are people paying you who have their own specific notions about how this should be done. It’s not your job to agree with them, but it is your job to please them. If you are unwilling to adapt your work, go into fine art instead. In fine art, you are entirely your own boss." - Stephen Player

For a brilliant and much funnier illustration of what I've been trying to say, listen to Jon Ronson's story about his family's experience commissioning a portrait from a "brilliant but troubled local artist." 


  1. I say we take 'em outside and beat the crap out of 'em.

  2. Hey, I remember your homework where you had to create sentences using vocabulary words. You and I would make up whacky, humorous, but correct sentences. I wish I could remember some of them. Anyway, your teacher commented that although she appreciated your sense of humor, you should stick with more conventional uses of the words. Teaching is all about discouraging creativity.


Thank you for leaving a comment! I read every single one!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails