In Art Is Business Is Art I failed to convey how business process has become, thanks largely to the web, like creating art. Back in the day, I spent long hours of studio time trying to become Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell.I wanted Pollack's unflinching courage, de Kooning's draftsmanship and Motherwell's skill with color and shape. If I could have paid the devil to invest me with these things my soul would be mortgaged instead of my house.
Martin Scorsese may not be the devil, but I bet his soul is mortgaged. Mr. Scorsese's film Life Lessons, part of the New York Stories trilogy, is the best description of how an artist wanders toward focus, meaning and art. I've done this, create something from scratch from nothing other than what is banging around in my head, hundreds of times and it is always the same. Imagine being lost in a thick woods. Every step you take only serves to tighten your impossible path. You walk on seeing something inside your head, something you can't describe. You wander trying to focus and see what always remains just out of focus. You are agitated and procrastinating. There is always an invisible line you must find, cross and leave. Beginnings are the most stressful times. You wander toward something you are not sure exists. Each step is maddening and distracting.
During one of his drunken bear wanderings, Scorsese's camera focuses tight on the curve of Paulette's, Dobie's girlfriend played by Rosanna Arquette, ankle. Dobie quiets his mind and starts painting. He knows what he sees in his head. He can't get the image out through his fingers to the canvas. Dobie's focus becomes obsessive. Loud rock music pounds as he paints. He shuts out, doesn't shower and is covered head to toe in vivid oil paint. His canvas is organic, living and in the moment. Dobie's ego breaks down as he fails to find the painting's resolution. He argues with Paulette. He layers paint rapidly. He knows exactly where he wants to go and just can't get there.
There is time pressure. His show is in three weeks. His smarmy dealer played brilliantly by Patrick O'Neal keeps pressure on. Paulette leaves. Dobie doubles down shocking himself with the titanic size of his ego. He moves into the painting and away from himself. He finds the illusive moment long enough to capture masterful work. Process takes over as Dobie's painting works its way home. His process is iterative. He creates to destroy and vice versa. Building on its own created past slowly the idea emerges informed by everything before even as creative process continues to make right turns.
Nick Nolte as Lionel Dobie in Martin Scorsese's Lie Stories
As a Director of E-Commerce I use Dobie's iterative process, constant cycles of creation / destruction and destruction / creation and am always looking for how to communicate an idea’s narrative flow. Dobie doesn't have an almost immediate feedback cycle, but feedback is implied. The film's last shot is at the show's well-attended opening where feedback is plentiful and inspiration, now drained with Paulette's departure, renewed. As romantic and distractingly brilliant as New York Stories is Dobie's journey is one I know.
Dobie is questing. He is searching to voice an internal idea, a vision. Art is always a quest for narrative, for meaning. As we speed up, flatten out and reduce previously impossible business ideas and strategies to things we can create, voice and share business is art. We can't hang a web site on a wall and the paint will never dry, but it will employ Dobie's process. The site's feedback loop may be richer, involve many more people and be more tied to the world, but a web site, or product, brand or YouTube video use similar tools and process. Everything is mashed up influencing everything else even as the collective narrative moves through space and time changing with every moment. Art is business is art.
Life Stories on YouTube
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Image from Shepard Fairey's Duality of Humanity series
If you read ScentTrail Defined you already know how much Shepard Fairey's art inspires. As I write this three Giants stare silently at me from their frames. After a long summer drought it is finally rainy and stormy here in North Carolina. Every lightening strike lights Shepard's black and white Giants with electric white light.
But, that isn't the scary part. The spooky thing is Shepard's new show is called Duality of Humanity. Fairey, inspired by Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick's masterful film Full Metal Jacket, is exploring the duality of man, the Jungian thing. Private Joker writes, "Born to Kill" on his helmet while wearing a peace symbol on his lapel. The spooky part is yesterday I couldn't get The Jungian Thing, a line Joker tells a General in Kubrick's film, out of my mind. Here is how Fairey's email describes his upcoming San Francisco show:
The title of the show, “Duality of Humanity,” is inspired by the peace-sign wearing US soldier in Vietnam, ‘Joker,’ in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. A central piece is a child with a gun in his hand and a flower in his hat. That theme of soldiers and weapons bearing peace signs, or peace signs comprised of military effects, runs through many pieces in the show. Environmental themes also appear in some pieces, illustrating the tenuous balance between our dangerously uncontrolled consumption of non-renewable resources, and our well-intentioned eco-concerns. Suffering and hope are seamlessly merged in a visual mash-up that defies expectations and easy answers.
Two Reasons To Head To City By The Sea
Now I am really depressed. SF MoMA is one of my favorite museums. I wrote about my desire to see the Kahlo show at SF MoMA (Top 5 Summer Museums) before the show closes at the end of September. Shepard's Duality of Humanity show opens at the White Walls Gallery on September 13th closing on October 4th. I have a duality of feelings about this. I am joyful that Shepard is creating what looks like massively cool new work and depressed about my inability to get my butt to San Francisco in time for the show. If you are going, as the song says, to San Francisco wear flowers in your hair and see Kahlo at SF MoMA and Fairey's new work at White Walls.
Shepard Fairey's Obey Giant Web Site
SEPTEMBER 13TH, 2008
DUALITY OF HUMANITY
New Works by Shepard Fairey
Opening Reception - September 13th, 7-10pm
Exhibition Dates - September 13th - October 4th
White Walls Gallery
835 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 9410
Other Fairey upcoming shows:
REGIME CHANGE STARTS AT HOME - Group Exhibition
Shepard Fairey, Al Farrow, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky)
Opening October 18th
Irvine Contemporary - Washington DC
1412 14th St., NW
Washington, DC 20005
For more info please visit www.irvinecontemporary.com
SUPPLY AND DEMAND: A 20 YEAR RETROSPECTIVE
Opening February 6th
The Institute of Contemporary Art Boston
100 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
For more info please visit www.icaboston.org
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Collage of Duchamp Readymades and Apple iPhone.
Business is like art and art like business in our Internet age. This thought has been rolling around in my head for about a year. After reading Everything Bad Is Good For you I started to compare art and business. Everything Bad Is Good For You connects pop culture, specifically computer gaming culture, with rising collective intelligence. The book’s idea is we are smarter thanks to what critics often refer to the “vast wasteland” of popular culture.
If early television took its cues from the stage, today's reality programming is reliably structured like a video game: a series of competitive tests, growing more challenging over time. Many reality shows borrow a subtler device from gaming culture as well: the rules aren't fully established at the outset. You learn as you play.I was thinking about Andy Warhol while reading Johnson’s book. Warhol made Marcel Duchamp’s idea of readymades, everyday objects elevated to the status of art when recontextualized by an artist, accessible. Warhol’s Brillo Box (1964) and Campell’s Soup Can paintings (1962) were shocking in the sixties. People outside of art didn’t get it. Even some influential members of the art community such as Leo Costelli didn’t immediately understand Warhol’s controversial new work.
Watching Television Makes You Smarter, NY Times Article by Steven Johnson
Warhol left Lichtenstein-like cartoons behind for soup cans and Brillo boxes. Warhol’s cartoons seem unfinished and referential to abstract expression’s drips, splatters and emotion. In the early sixties Warhol cleaned his lines, adopted the silkscreen process and moved Duchamp’s conversation about “what is art” to our collective consciousness. Andy was teaching us. Art is business is art.
Warhol left other clues. He called his studio a “factory”. He created Interview Magazine . He painted portraits of rich art collectors or moguls or anyone who could afford a sitting. I’ve included a picture of Warhol's portrait of Patsy Nasher wife of Nasher Museum of Art benefactor Ray Nasher (below). Bob Colacello’s book about his years with Andy, Holy Terror, discusses how adroit Andy was at “pushing the portraits”. Warhol knew museums were great, but his future was assured by those afternoon sittings with rich famous patrons.
Developer Ray Nasher with Warhol portrait of wife Patsy.
Holy Terror helped me realize how much of a businessman Warhol was. I recognized Andy’s tactics. Andy was creating a brand. His tactics were the same as I was taught at P&G, M&M/Mars and The NutraSweet Company such as:
- Creation of an effective back-story
- New, always new
- Keep the brand current
- Promote trial by introducing the brand to people who don’t know it
- Develop loyalty by converting trial to repeat customers
During Warhol’s life it was rare to hear about his sickly working class Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania roots. Warhol actively managed his back-story. As a result, Warhol’s history, during his life, didn’t seem to extend much further than his move to New York in 1949 when he was 21. Warhol’s mother lived with him for twenty years, but his Slovakian mother was not a subject for discussions or interviews. Warhol limited exposure to an important muse. He actively managed his back-story. Warhol’s fascination with glamour, high fashion and the idle rich is easy to understand and explain given his working class roots . Warhol would never overtly agree to such connections. He believed his real back-story would hurt his "brand".
New, Always New
Warhol was famous for asking friends what he should paint. Many authors move credit for much of Warhol’s oeuvre to others. That is nonsense. Frivolous indifference was a key characteristics of Warhol's brand. A frivolously indifferent baseball player may hit a homer every now and again. No way such a batter has a lifetime batting average above .400 as Andy did. The truth of Andy’s engaged management is clear in the scope and variety of "products" produced by his “factory” including portraits, balloons, films, Brillo Boxes (sculpture), “serious” work for art critics and museums (car crashes, electric chair, Mao, Last Supper, self portraits and skull) and fun work for collectors (daisies, cow, Elvis, Marilyn). Tide is always “new and improved” and so was Warhol.
Keep The Brand Current
An ever moving focus doesn’t insure a brand's currency. Changing focus and loss of a brand's relevancy is the risk. Lose contact with the center, the pulse of a market, and you're done. The slight constant adjustments necessary to dead reckon a brand is where Warhol’s business genius is most striking. Warhol partied at Studio 54 when it was the place to see and be seen. He worked with artist Jean Michel Basquiat when it was clear Jean Michel knew something Warhol didn’t. One of my favorite segments of Julian Schnabel’s amazing and often overlooked film Basquiat is when Jean Michel, played expertly by Jeffrey Wright, and Warhol, played spookily by Bowie, are creating a painting. They are PAINTING ON THE SAME CANVAS. In fact, Jean Michel OVER PAINTS Warhol. I love my Friend Edmund Besh’s paintings and have 5 in my house, but if he ever over painted something on one of my canvases my strong inclination would be to punch him in the face. Warhol creates with Jean Michel because he is dead reckoning his brand.
At M&M/Mars when we had a new brand we wanted large "free standing" displays in every grocery store possible. Get away from the candy aisle to change context and increase chances for trial. We would also reduce price. Lowering potential barriers to trial was important. Warhol used his portraits for cash flow and to move his work into major collections. What is the chance I buy an Elvis, Cow or Daisies painting after having Andy paint my portrait or my wife’s portrait? Chances are good I buy the big expensive stuff after Andy does a grid painting of me or my wife. Andy’s business genius realized this trail leads to repeat rule. The portraits were important because they were "trial." Colacello misses Warhol's idea behind the idea. Colacello sees portraits as cash flow and a pain because Warhol was always harping on him to “push the portraits”. Yes portraits provided cash, but Warhol was a millionaire long before Colacello. Portraits were equivalent to $.25 Twix. They helped establish Warhol's brand with major collectors. Collectors sit on museum boards, so Warhol's portraits killed two birds with one stone.
Convert Trial to Repeat
Once trial happens with the right crowd Warhol knew he would have the opportunity to sell them more. Where would Andy’s portrait of a business mogul such as Ray Nasher's wife hang before moving to Duke’s new Nasher Museum of Art? You don’t commission Warhol to paint your wife and not put that bad boy in your house, a house where rich fiends get to knash their teeth in envy until they get one of those “Warhol things” for themselves. I grew up in Texas. I know how that game is played and so did Andy.
Art Is Business and Business Is Art as an idea fell into place when I saw a video of Jeff Koons’ s "studio”. I put “studio” in quotes because Koons’ work space is even more factory-like than Warhol’s. Warhol’s factory was consistently populated by strange distractions. Candy Darling, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Valerie Salinas (who ended up shooting and almost killing Warhol) and other hanger ons and wannabes. Koons’s factory is similar to the business I run now. Koons employs several talented graphic designers. They use powerful computers to “create” Koons “original” art. Koons working with his designers and fabricators to create a massive puppy sculpture model in the clip I saw. Except for the fabrication of the model everything Koons did is similar to tasks I perform everyday as a Director of E-Commerce.
Art is business.
Is Business Like Art
The Internet has irrevocably changed business. Today, businesses must be more responsive and flexible than ever. That surface change may make my point, but a deeper dive shows business creations are significantly different too:
Speed of ChangeBusiness is art.
The increased speed of change moves all business creations closer to their intended market. Apple’s creation of the iPhone, Google’s purchase of YouTube and Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace are good expressions of moving business decisions out of board rooms and marketing meetings and closer to the point of contact with customers. Business, like art, must be in contact with what is happening NOW or lose relevancy.
Influence and Influencers
Any successful business must understand, steal from, emulate or best influencers in its “space”. Business “space” is usually defined by the “vertical” category a business occupies. REI sells camping equipment and rugged fashions operating in the same outdoor “space” as L. L. Bean. Leave a competitor unmarked and you fall behind. Out innovate them and you win. While this may seem more competitive on its face than how artists function in a loose fraternal society, don’t be fooled. Artists are some of the most competitive people you will meet. When I was painting I was constantly looking at art. Ever notice how artists tend to form up in common locations? The importance of seeing, watching and learning from your “competition” can’t be overstated if you are a young and unestablished artist. Once your work is in major collections and your reputation assured you can buy the big house in the Hamptons. Until then, you better watch and learn quickly.
Flat Lateral Thinking
Business thinking used to be dominated by hierarchies. Organization charts, marketing plans and product development were a series of sequential tasks.
"Start here and end there" thinking is giving way to more spontaneous ways of organization and product development. Casual dress is common and a sign of a larger trend. Officially I “manage” three people. In reality, I don’t manage as much as collaborate. Everyone is invested and involved. I don’t make decisions as much as referee when needed. My role used to be vision and strategy creation. In a networked world the need for novel strategy and unreferenced creation is reduced to a murmur. The Grand Idea still has some “call of the wild” romance, but reality is much more like Warhol’s or Koons’ factory. You listen, watch and learn then produce so you can listen, watch and learn again. Thinking is “flat” because it is not hierarchical. My boss, the President of our company, has no real idea what or why we do what we do nor should she. I only understand part of it even as all of my energy every day is directed toward trying to understand. Things change too fast to fully comprehend. Algorithms create and models of a future that may never happen. We try to dead reckon brands and strategies with an artist’s care and attention.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
In 1967 Norman Mailer wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Why Are We In Vietnam? is a powerful, confusing book that surfs our collective psychology to understand why we do the things we do. Mailer's book is not explicitly about Vietnam. It is implicitly about why war exists. I am not Normal Mailer (may he rest in peace). Mailer's book hit me hard in college. The other day I had a Why Are We In Vietnam? moment thinking of Iraq. I wanted to share this story. I am immensely proud of our troops. I know I owe a debt to every man and women who went to Vietnam or is now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thank you.
It was the last weekend before school. Spontaneously, in the middle of the week, my dad surprised me. "Let's go hunting this weekend," he said as our family dinner was ending. I saw a quick angry stare from my younger brother. I was 11 and my brother was 9. My father taught me to shoot a shotgun at ten. My brother wasn't old enough yet. My father, always the equipment hound, had upgraded my .410 to a 20 gauge. "See if you can hit something with this," my father told me as Randy, the gun salesman, cut the stock to fit my shoulder. "Having trouble hitting things is he," Randy commented. "Not me," my father laughed building on a joke from our first visit to the gun store (read about that day in My Dad's Hunting Lesson.)
I was out gunned in our dove "bag your limit" competitions. In my first season of hunting I mistakenly killed a Texas Jackrabbit. I fired my gun three times. Sons of my father's friends usually "bagged their limit" of twelve doves. They fired automatic weapons with the right "choke" and expensive shot. You choke a shotgun to change the pattern of pellets based on prey. Their guns cost thousands. My gun was a flat fifty bucks and I was glad to have it. In my father's house guns and anything he gave were privileges earned not requirements. Sons of Bob Bass, our family doctor, and Kruger Ragland, our insurance agent, didn't out shoot me as much as they created flack screens unlucky birds flew through.
My father was an expert shot. He was in his early forties in 1969 and in good shape. He rarely missed. I admired my father's skill. I respected shots he didn't take even more. My father was VERY careful with a gun. For every shot he took he rested two. Doves fly through Texas on their migration south to Mexico. Every fall Texas sounds like the fourth of July as groups of dove fly into "tanks" looking for water. Tanks are small man-made ponds created to water cattle. Texas is still hot in September. I used to sweat sitting on a squat stool staring at the horizon. A flying dove must need water constantly.
Shooting dove on small tanks is dangerous. Get carried away and you shoot someone across the pond. The Bass boys and the Raglands used their thousand dollar guns to pepper my father and me constantly. They would go through boxes of shells in a day shooting their gun 50 or 60 times to bag 12 birds. Getting "peppered" with birdshot from a fully choked 12 gauge or an "over-and-under" 20 gauge hurts. I remember taking my shirt off after one dangerous trip. My mother asked, "What are all these tiny red speckles on your back?" "Pepper," was all I said. Their shot could paint my back, neck and arms.
"Hundred dollar birds," is what my father would grumble as my friends, the sons of his friends, tossed their $100 birds in the collective kitty. The Ragland boys looked sheepish after one of my dad's comments. Bob Bass' son Robert looked defiant. He rode motorcycles and had a, "what are you rebelling against, what do you have" look. He smoked when his doctor father wasn't looking. He talked like he had "experience" with girls. I resisted Robert's cult. Even at 11 I sensed he didn't know nearly as much as he wanted us younger kids to believe. I was playing football by then. Football gives you an ability to sense people. You learn that big talk loud boys are not who you should fear. The boys who hit hardest were always the quiet intense ones who could wrap their entire life into a single moment, a single hit. I knew Robert and his $100 birds couldn't hit me hard enough to get my attention.
My dad was a different story. My father's father was an alcoholic and a mean drunk. He beat my father until my grandmother sent her husband packing. Fearful of life without a male role model, my grandmother sent my father to military school in Tennessee. My father left home in the sixth grade. The closest experience I had to my dad's boot camp was we left Texas when I was twelve. We moved to Connecticut. When I was 15 my father had dreams of me going to MacCallie, his Alma matter. I lasted a summer.
My father hit me once. I was 14 or 15 and in the ninth grade. Our annual Texas Dove hunts were long gone. Connecticut Wall Streeters don't hunt dove in the fall (for the most part). Merrill Lynch purchased my father’s company when I was 12. We moved from Texas to Connecticut. I went a little crazy several years after we moved to Greenwich. I didn't have to say, "yes sir" and "yes mam" anymore. The clear hierarchy I knew to be "true" in Texas was in shambles. My friends yelled back at their parents. Up was down. Black was white.
I bought an army pea coat and sewed an American flag upside down on the back. My hair was long and my attitude poor. We were in a family meeting about "drugs" where my father was trying to convince me that every rock song I liked was really about drugs. I refused to believe it. He was right of course. My mother said something I didn't like. I decided to try on that "yelling at your parents" thing. My father moved across the room faster than Ali. I never saw his right cross. I was blown across the small TV room. Once I processed what happened, my father hit me something he had never done before, I scrambled into the bathroom. I slammed and locked the door and tried to roll into a tiny ball under the sink. I was more scared than hurt. My dad was scared too. He saw and remembered his father for a nasty moment.
Back to 1969
It was just going to be my father, me and our dog Friendly on this hunt. This was unusual. I remember asking my father to repeat it three times. "Just you me and that damn dog," was how he confirmed our outing. Friendly, the damn dog, was a puppy then frisky, all Springer Spaniel legs and ears and with energy to burn. Even at 11 I was wondering, "Friendly and guns seems like a strange safety combination," but I was a boy, a Texan and my father's son. Dogs, guns and dad to myself sounded about like heaven.
My father is a Purdue trained engineer. He processes things in sequential order. When he packs he packs. When he drives he drives. When he shoots he shoots. He doesn't pack and talk. He packs. I remember packing for the trip right next to him. I was loading my shells, oiling my gun and packing lunch. "No books," was the single thing my father said to me as we packed. When I gave up the "bag you limit" competition with rich sons of my father's friends I started taking books to our hunting trips. I would walk out to a far tank pull up under a Mesquite tree and read. My father and I never spoke of my inability to "bag my limit". His friends ribbed him. Shoot as well, as clean, as artistic as my father and you won't hear much from less competent men about shooting. Ribbing, like wolves nipping at their brother's and sister's toes, had to find some other target. I was the other target.
"I hope Martin plays football better than he shoots," Kruger Ragland would kid my father. "Will your sons be out this fall," my father would knowingly ask. The Raglands played golf and tennis. The Bass boys like more extreme sports such as skiing and motocross. My father, in those first football years, was my coach. He knew exactly what I was capable of on a football field, but he never discussed what he saw. It was as if my willingness to play, to be hit and hit, was a sufficient badge of courage. His attitude was, "we have nothing to prove." At first I wanted him boast, to puff his chest out and proclaim my superiority. I was a kid. My father was trying to teach me what it meant to be a man. You did your job. You got knocked down. You got up. It was as simple and complex as that.
One thing was sure. Reading books while I was supposed to be killing birds was something that would stay between father and son. I had a hard time learning to read. I was so dyslexic that "retarded" was the adjective used early and by less generous teachers. My mother would have none of that. She hired a tutor, my mother and I read together and I learned one word, syllable and flash card at a time how to read. "We are just going to have to work a little harder than others," my mother told me. When you are that young you form to any glass an adult pours you in. "Work harder" sounded fine to me. The long afternoons sounding out vowels with my hand under my chin were a pain. I could see my friends run by my windows screaming with pleasure probably just to drive me crazy, but I hung in. I did the work. I wasn't "retarded" after all.
Sky Bo Ranch
It was a long ride to Sky Bo Ranch in Glen Rose. My father bought Sky Bo, a small spread north of Glen Rose, as a tax shelter for my grandmother. The ranch was run by a bow legged, boot and hat wearing, tobacco chewing, leather skinned Texan named Bo. As an adult I can piece together that Bo drank, wasn't great with money and is probably long in the ground. When we were at the ranch Bo only looked at and talked to my father. He would tell stories of shearing sheep, wounded cattle and "ornery" horses. I've also pieced together that Sky Bo, far from being a money saver, was a tremendous money pit. Bo couldn't manage the ranch any better with my grandmother's money.
Sky Bo was my father's chance to live the dream of being a Texan. Bo was a Texan. My father was a MacCallie graduate, same year as Ted Turner, and a Purdue engineer. He worked with slide rules at TI, Texas Instruments. He wore a white shirt and pocket protector. Talking to Bo, shooting guns and walking that dry scrub country in Glen Rose was as close as my father would get to a dream, a Texas mirage.
We were shooting together this day. Many of my young conversations with my father revolved around positions. He was always telling me where to go, stand and look. This tendency doubled whenever I had a gun in my hand. My gun was hardly a lethal weapon. I had to carry the gun cracked open. If I saw a bird I had to find a shell, chamber the shell, close the gun, and take the safety off and, about the time the dove arrived in Mexico, shoot. On this day my father positioned me to his right a quarter of the way down the tank. My specific shooting instructions were simple. Anything to my right I could shoot. Anything to my left was my father's shot. My father never peppered me. He would simply not take the shot. I saw several birds fly peacefully and harmlessly between us.
It was hot slow day. Dove don't want to move in the middle of the day. My father had no birds. I had no birds. I shot my gun once at a bird that was "out of range" my father yelled over. Range was something my father could tell. Range was related to the gun's properties and the shooter's ability. Our of range for me was different than for my father.
Friendly, a ball of energy when we finally got out of the car, was tired now. "Get that dog some water," my dad yelled (read my riff on an older Friendly in my Dogs Are People Too post). I unscrewed the top of my cold metal canteen and poured some in my hand for Friendly. My dad never called Friendly by his name. He was usually, "that damn dog" or "that mutt", but never "Friendly". "Let's head over to the bigger tank," my dad yelled. "Unload that damn gun," he added after I started walking toward him. "Not loaded sir," I yelled back. "Good," was his one word reply.
My dad was walking slowly away from the tank when two birds came square between us. I was frantic trying to drop my pack, load my gun and shoot. The birds saw furious movement and veered off. I heard my father laughing and turned to see his gun was cradled. He saw the birds well before I did. He made no move to load his gun. My father's engineer nature defined our current task as "move to the new tank". Shooting was not part of that program. His son's furious efforts to unload and load were amusing. Those two dove were between us. Even if my father's gun had not been unloaded for the walk he wouldn't have shot. To shoot would have violated his rules. His son was on the other side of those two birds reason enough to just watch the show.
As Friendly and I caught up, my dad said, "guess you missed that shot," with a clear smile. "Yes sir," I said with my best Leave It To Beaver smile. My dad pulled my hat's brim down over my eyes. "Come on," was all he said. We walked slowly in front of the small stone cabin where we slept at Sky Bo. It was hot. It felt like I could hear the heat. Nothing moved. Even the Cicadas slowed to a barely audible hum. Each step crunched bleached dead earth. Suddenly we heard an ear splitting howl. My dad was half way to the sound. I was standing still not understanding what the horrible sound was. My dad knew it was Friendly.
When I caught up I saw my father trying to calm a frantic dog. "Give me that water," my father commanded. He took my canteen and washed off a large amount of blood from Friendly's nose. Friendly whined loudly when cold water hit his cut. Blood was flowing freely from a three-inch deep jagged gash across his nose. "What," I started to ask when my father cut me off, "damn Armadillo" was all my father said as he let go of Friendly. He picked up his gun. He loaded his gun. "Mind the dog," he said walking toward the side of the tank. "What are you going to do," I yelled to his back. There was no answer. "Stay there," is all he said.
My father was walking with a loaded gun. He was breaking his own rule. I couldn't process what that meant. The world was a place where my father's rules were sacrosanct, immutable, and inviolate. Watching my father walk with a loaded gun, a fully loaded gun I realized as I counted the rounds he chambered, meant he was madder than anything I ever saw before. I was afraid. I couldn't stay with Friendly. I cut distance between us from about fifty yards to around ten. "Stay back, don’t come any closer," my father said not turning around. He was bent over looking into several burros on the side of the tank. Armadillos are not a rancher's friend. The holes they dig can cripple cattle. Add the money-losing ranch to the deep cut on my still whimpering dog and you had one pissed off armed TI engineer.
"We are going to solve this problem right here right now," my dad said as I stood very quiet and still. "What are you looking for," I asked him in a small voice hoping he might not hear me. "I am not looking for anything damn it," he yelled looking into another hole. "I am listening so be quiet," he said as if I was trying to distract him. One thing at a time. We packed. We Drove, We shot. Now we were listening for an Armadillo. Armadillos are not stupid. This one must have known he messed up. He made no sound. He didn't move. My father fired his gun in the sky. The Armadillo ran out of a hole on my dad's right and into a hole on his left. He almost ran over my father's boot.
The hole he landed in wasn't very deep. Even I could hear the frantic digging of the now frightened Armadillo. There is no way the creature could see my father's red angry face, but he heard the shot. He knew the scale of his problem. Even in the middle of an impossibly hot Texas summer day this Armadillo was digging for his life. My father's actions slowed. He knew he had time now. He bent down to see the shallow hole. He took a measured step back. He moved his gun to several feet in front of the hole. He fired. The digging stopped. "You got him," I said excited. "Not yet," my father said as a faint digging started weaker than before. My father leveled the fully choked 12-gauge shotgun square in front of the hole and fired again. Pieces of Armadillo flew out of the hole. I remember a hoof, the tail and part of the face blowing past my father.
"Shit," my father said backing up beyond the mess. "Mind that dog," he said. I couldn't take my eyes off the scattered Armadillo pieces at my father's feet. My father was looking down too. I could tell he wasn't happy. He wasn't mad anymore, but he wasn't relieved or pleased. He just kept staring at what was left of the animal. I turned and went back to Friendly.
My dad used his boot to kick the Armadillo pieces into the hole. Then he used his hands to move dirt in front of the hole. Three birds flew directly to the tank as my father built the Armadillo grave. His gun was empty and he didn't pick it up or chamber a shell. "That gun loaded," was all he said when he came back over to Friendly and me. “No sir," I said impatient with the often asked question. "Good," was all my father said. "Put that dog in the car and let's go get some help," he said. I heard him unzip his gun care kit. I knew I would smell WD40 soon as my father cleaned Armadillo off his gun. "You fire that gun today," he asked as I tried to coax Friendly to the car. Friendly didn't want to move. He shook and looked scared and sad. "Teach that damn dog to stick his nose in a hole," my father said under his breath as he attached the small cotton cloth to the steel ram used to clean his gun's barrel. "You fire that gun today," he asked a second time.
This question was not a question it was a statement. My father counted every pop my gun made no matter where I was. When I returned to the car at the end of a long day he would say, "I heard nine shots, how did you do?" No matter how much distance I put between my father and me, and at ten it seemed like a lot, he always knew exactly how many times I shot my gun. When he asked me standing in the midday Texas heat if I shot my gun he was really saying, "clean that gun." I got Friendly in the car with a towel under his still bleeding nose. I noticed there was blood all over my pants. Silently I opened my gun case and took out my cloth. "You put a towel under that damn dog," my father asked. "Yes sir," I answered as I sprayed my cloth with WD40.
After about ten minutes my dad returned his gun to its case with the fluffy yellow insides. He zipped it up and tossed the gun gently in the trunk. "Dad," I asked now that he was finished packing. "um..." he said distractedly. "You walked with a loaded gun," I said. There was a long moment. I thought dad was mad at me. He stopped everything he was doing, stood still in front of me and said, "Martin you are right." That was a first. My father rarely used my name. Just like with Friendly he called me "son" or "mar". Mar was my sister's name for me when she was too little to say my full name. "Martin," he repeated my name, "I walked with a loaded gun because I wasn't thinking. I made a mistake. I never want you to make that same mistake. Having a gun in your hand means you cannot make a mistake. I will never walk with a loaded gun again and you must promise me that you won't either." I could hear Cicadas start up again full steam. It sounded like a train. I noticed three birds fly over heading to the tank. I looked square at my father. "I promise," was all I said.
The Teleology of the Unconscious: The Art of Norman MailerTo assert himself against the oppressive language-system, then, the individual must be a kind of artist; he must attempt the creation of his own special language. To create a mythology in order to escape being enslaved by someone else's has been, perhaps, the dynamic urge behind much art, at least art created in a time of social confusion.
The above excerpt is from writer Joyce Carol Oates take on Mailer and his book Why Are We In Vietnam? Read complete here.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Meaning of Life(MOL) Riffs
I've decided to riff haiku on the meaning of life or MOL on Twitter. Is this a pompous and ridiculous idea...probably, but recent loses (Randy Pausch, Leroy Sievers) have me waxing philosophical. I am aware of the eastern idea. The only way to find meaning is to stop searching. Someday soon I will find eastern peace. In the meantime my Texas and Connecticut roots have me on the beach with a metal detector flipping sand and searching for meaning. Anything I find I will share here:
First MOL riff:
Meaning of Life (MOL) 1: One hot August day 39 years ago Tom Landry came to our football camp. I was 11. We all played better that day.
If you've never seen Randy Pausch's Last Lecture you should check it out.
If you've never read Leroy Sievers MyCancer blog on NPR check it out too.
If you've turned over some MOL insight treasure please be sure to share. If you've attained the kind of peace only Buddhists seem to attain feel free to share. This line of thought reminds me of Caddyshack. Bill Murray, a scruffy pot smoking grounds keeper tells Chevy Chase a story about "looping" for the Dali Lama. It seems The Dali stiffed Bill. Instead of a cash tip the Dali Lama told Murray's character that on his death bed he would have internal peace. Murray looks directly at the camera and says, "so I got that goin' for me."
Hopefully thinking of Caddyshack brought a smile to you as it always does for me.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
ScentTrail Google #1 Rankings
Should anyone ever doubt content is king for Google they may want to review these long tail searches where ScentTrail, a tiny blog with a handful of readers, scores top listings on Google:
[ Read ScentTrail OutRanks Google article ]SEO Thought of the Day
Top 5 Summer Musuems
Meeting Robert Rauschenberg
The Death of Procter and Gamble
Seeing Miles Davis
Meeting Annie Leibovitz
Martin Marty Smith
Simultaneous Magical Thinking
[ Read The Daily Blonde article where I coined the term ]
Viral Marketing Event Horizon
[ Read The Oprah Effect Article where I coined the term ]
The real credit for ScentTrail's Google top listings goes to the nameless many who liked what they read and linked to one of my articles. Sharing "link love" may be one of the most anonymously charitable acts anyone performs. THANKS. Comments, links and ideas help me realize we are all searching for the ScentTrail of our lives.
martinselllingzoe @ aol
ScentTrail SEO Thought of the Day
Search Engine Optimization is on my mind so much after my week at the foot of the master, Bruce Clay, that I plan to post a SEO thought everyday on Twitter. My first SEO TOD:
Page titles are like keyword Haiku.
More tomorrow at:
Sea Orchestra Video Masterpiece by Blackheart Gang
Sea Orchestra Commercial for United
Bravo to United Airlines and The Blackheart Gang for creating a masterpiece of animation, marketing, story and visual glory. Animate Bosh, modify his hellishly dark vision, synchronize to a rousing LA Philharmonic rendition of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue add Robert Redford's voice over and you have a masterpiece. I am working on an article about how art and business are so close to one another these days that they may be the same thing. This visual bomb by the talented artists at the Blackheart Gang will be a prominent example in my upcoming post.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
This post from early 2008 featured Big Tex, the huge 3 story man who greeted visitors to the Texas State Fair and Dallas Cowboy games when played in the Cotton Bowl for more than 50 years. From ages nine to eleven I saw Big Tex several times a year. He always seemed so strange and powerful, so hypnotic and benevolent.
News that Big Tex burned today was sad. I remembered opening this story with Big Tex's face. I reread this story about my father teaching me how to shoot thinking of the times I saw the tall, welcoming Texan. Big Tex is gone.
Texas .410One summer Saturday my father told me to come with him. "I am going to buy you a shotgun," he told me placing extra emphasis on "gun". He was driving his large cream colored Lincoln Continental. He was younger than I am now.
I enjoyed spending a Saturday with my father. We drove to the gun store. A large man with a big belly named Randy or Bucky or Larry was leaning on a long glass counter reading a newspaper. The counter was glass so you could see hand guns propped in their boxes.
Randy straightened up cinching his belt. He smiled. I saw a holstered gun hanging on his hip. I couldn't take my eyes off Randy's gun. "This isn't a toy young man," Randy told me as he slid his gun from its holster, cleared the slide and removed the clip. There was a cloth on the glass counter. I could see the gun's outline in oil on the cloth.
Randy placed the gun almost dead center on the worn diagram. This wasn't Randy's first rodeo. Even at ten I thought it was strange. If a gun wasn't a toy why was it on the counter begging me to play with it. I looked up at my father. A nod meant I could handle Randy's gun. My father didn't even look down. He told Randy we came for a shotgun for me. My father is a Purdue trained engineer. Focus has never been a problem.
Randy moved us across the room to a long rack. Hundreds of shotguns sat butt down and barrels in little wooden u's. The smell of gun oil was strong. Randy was, I realize now, chewing tobacco. "Let's see what we have for the young man," Randy told my father emphasizing "man" the way my father said "gun".
"I want him to start with a .410 break barrel and we will need to cut the stock to fit his shoulder," my father instructed. Randy looked at my father strange. "Going to be hard for him to hit anything," Randy said. He explained the tight pattern and light load of the gun. Shotguns are "choked" in ways to change shot patterns. Chokes can be modified based on prey.
The .410 is small and it comes fully choked tightening the shot's thin pattern. A tight thin pattern and few pellets meant it would be hard to hit a bird on the wing. "I don't care if he hits a bird as long as he doesn't hit me," my father laughed with Randy. Why would I want to shoot my father I remember thinking.
Dad bought the gun; we got back in the car and drove to a deserted field near the store. I don't remember saying two words in the store or the car. My father was speaking in short sharp sentences. He didn't smile. "I am going to teach you how to safely shoot a gun," he told me as we got out of the Lincoln. "Stand there," my father said pointing to a specific spot in front of the car. He walked around scanning the ground. He found an old slat crate. He turned it on its long side. He removed an orange from his pocket placing it on top of the crate and came back to the car.
"Imagine that orange is my head," my father said as he broke the gun and loaded a long thin shell in the barrel. The gun didn't fit his shoulder. It was cut for me and looked tiny in the crook of his large shoulder. My father hardly sighted before he blew the orange into vapor.
A stationary orange is poor practice for an expert shot. In a few weeks I would watch my father regularly knock two birds out of the air even as they flew rapidly away from him. Sometimes I didn't even know there were birds near us. Suddenly I would hear pop-pop. Turning toward the sound I might see a puff of feathers as two birds plummeted to earth. Fast, frantic gray doves moving with wind and fear are, I would discover, not easy to shoot. The dove population of west Texas had nothing to fear from me.
My friends would "bag" their limit. They used multiple shot higher gauged guns. They also regularly "peppered" my father and me.
Most dove hunting takes place around small man-made ponds called "tanks". Tanks are cut out of brushy hard country Texas dirt to water cattle. Doves look for tanks to support migration south. Texas in September is hot. Flying must be impossible without stopping for water at cattle "tanks". Poorly instructed sons of doctors and insurance agents would take shots they shouldn't peppering other hunters.
Birds and hunters were safe from my .410. My father's rule was my gun had to be open with no shell in it and the safety on. When I saw a dove I had to quickly put a shell in the narrow chamber, close the barrel, flick the safety off and shoot. I fired the .410 three times and killed no birds.
I did kill a rabbit. I didn't want to kill the scruffy Texas jackrabbit. He scared me. I was walking across a snake invested dry creek bed. I glimpsed a quick lateral movement on my right and heard a rasp. I loaded my gun. I took the safety off violating every rule. Two steps later a scared rabbit bolted from under my right foot. I fired the gun off my hip. Like the birds my father's 12 gauge knocked from the sky the rabbit stopped sudden "dead in its tracks".
The rabbit was a crumpled lifeless ball. It was so sudden. I wanted to take it back. The rabbit was skinny, all ears. Its hard life was over. I was sad. I made up my ten-year-old mind in that moment. I didn't care about "bagging" my limit.
When my friends gave me a hard time I would take it. Next trip I snuck a book into my "bird bag". The book rattled the shells. "What do you have in there," my father asked as I threw my bag in the trunk. "Nothing," I said trying to cut off further inquiry. My father stopped what he was doing.
He looked at me as I walked to the back door. "What," his voice trailed off. "Nothing," I repeated opening the door. The heat of the car hit me in the face like a fist. Leather burned my legs through my pants as I slide into the car. My father got in the front seat. His friends Bob and Kruger would join him up there soon. Their sons would fill into the backseat next to me. My father looked in the mirror. I was smiling. He shook his head as he pulled his long cream colored Lincoln Continental out into a hot Texas day.
We Happy Few: Henry V and My Father (read my story about shopping Cutter and Buck with my father on a recent visit). Share stories of your father if one comes to mind.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Evolution of E-Commerce
My day job is managing a multi-million dollar web site. Part of my job is explaining what is happening online to our management team. I look for and try to create concrete and simple ways to explain difficult and abstract concepts such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), how search engines spiders work and the importance of page rank.
The Adventures of Page Rank Man
A week ago I created Page Rank Man to help my team visualize how important it is to manage and take care of page rank. Google Page Rank plays a critical role in SEO. Page Rank Man was born when I went to Wal Mart purchased a 6” Incredible Hulk toy and taped a triangular PR to his chest. This is what happens when I read books. In this case, Made To Stick by the Heath brothers is the culprit. I am rereading Made To Stick now and recommend it for anyone who needs to create or communicate ideas or products that stick.
The Evolution of E-Commerce
Today I needed a way to explain how e-commerce has changed in the last ten years. My goal was to connect time with evolution. I also wanted to define goals of each e-commerce epoch. Webmasters and Internet marketers are like geese. One day we are all floating in a pond. Suddenly and imperceptibly a signal travels across the pond and we take to wing homing toward our next destination. If you doubt this metaphor attend Search Engine Strategies, WOMMA or E-tail and feel the energy quaking the room. See if you don’t feel like it is time to head south for the winter.
The Evolution Of E-Commerce Diagram I created today ties time, e-commerce flocking behavior and the effect of every goose arriving at a common destination. Once the entire goose universe arrives food becomes scare, clear water is impossible to find and there is goose poop everywhere. On my diagram I call this crowded pond the "point of diminishing return." You never want to be the last goose in the pond (because you will be cooked…. sorry couldn’t resist :).
Note: I tend to use Art of War analogies. War can be an effective schema (Made To Stick again) explaining e-commerce "battles". Some may find such aggressive depictions off putting. The chart works as well with “epoch” or “period” instead of "battle".
Would you like a larger higher resolution of my e-commerce evolution diagram? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to send you the 300 dpi version. Makes a good dart board or coaster. I am not a graphic designer. I don't even play one on TV, but my evolution of e-commerce diagram helped me visualize the cube that was floating in my mind. I will post how it helps with my management team and please share any similar tricks you've created.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Sex Is A Schema
In Made to Stick the Heath brothers defined a schema as "a collection of generic properties of a concept or category"*. The generic properties of one known thing can form a bridge to a new unknown thing. A piece of simulated duct tape seemingly haphazardly stuck to the front of Made To Stick is one of the most creative and ingenious uses of schema's in publishing. The Heath brothers used something we all know, duct tape, to explain something we encounter for the first time - their book.
Can you think of a more complete faster way to explain what their book is about? Duct tape for ideas is a schema everyone can understand in seconds. I was reading Made To Stick on a trip last week and no fewer than 3 strangers reached out to touch the simulated duct tape. They had to see if the duct tape was real. The Heath brothers know how to sink the hook deep. Sex, like duct tape, is a schema we all think we understand.
Sex Meets All Six Made To Stick Principles
Made to Stick outlines six principles of sticky ideas. Here is a brief review of all six. Do you think sex relates to each principle?
- Simplicity - we must create ideas that are both simple and profound, a current example would be "green is good" or anything that even remotely helps our planet overcome our human footprint is beneficial.
- Unexpectedness - we must violate people's expectations. We must generate interest and curiosity. This is the "shock of the new" concept. Surprise is a powerful thing easily harnessed by Madison Avenue as demonstrated in Mark Walberg's Calvin Kein's underwear ad. You expect people in ads to be clothed. Take their clothes off and you create the unexpected.
- Concreteness - we must demonstrate our ideas in terms of actions and sensory information. Actions and sensory information is a good part of what sex is so even the uncreative may hit concreteness out of the park when sex is the medium if not the message. A good example is the mouth and cherry image at the top of this post. Very concrete, hot and sexy without much work.
- Credibility - sticky ideas carry their own knowable value so those who interact can "try before they buy" and easily adopt and spread the idea. When did you hear your first story about sex? Grade school children start transferring information, what little they have, because merely sharing such "incendiary" information is self-reinforcing.
- Emotions - people care about sticky ideas because they are emotionally invested committed and involved. Sex, even bad one night sex, requires more emotional investment than almost anything we do.
- Stories - stories transfer ideas forming a medium for transmission much like blood moves oxygen throughout our bodies. Sex and stories go hand-in-hand since our childhoods. Throughout our lives we use stories, jokes and water-cooler gossip to transfer information about sex.
When I was twelve I remember a Noxzema medicated shaving cream ad caused a scandal. They created a television commercial of a man shaving as a cute Swedish Blond tells him to "take it off" and a stripper theme plays in the background.
Old Noxzema Commercial (on YouTube)
Having a hard time seeing the distance we've traveled? Compare the Noxzema ad with the infamous Paris Hilton Car Wash commercial for Hardees.
Paris Hilton Car Wash Ad For Hardees (On YouTube)
What is left?
No Paris' commercial is not a sign the end is near, but it may indicate that Sex Sells is over. That is not accurate. Sex still sells but our times they are a changin'. After watching Paris make love first to a Bentley and then a sandwich what is left? What is "unexpected" now? As Paris's commercial and Mark Walberg's Calvin Klein ads become our new mean unexpected becomes almost impossible.
Smart artists and advertisers know that as one sticky principle is destroyed by overuse others can compensate. Photographers such as David LaChapelle (examples at left) and Annie Leibovitz tell stories with their images. They expand the How To Stick story principle to shore up the slide of the unexpected. Paris Hilton's sandwich commercial is salacious. It was made for maximum shock value. There is no story. Paris loses any interest created quickly. LaChapelle or Leibovitz (read about the day I met Annie in my Meeting Annie Leibovitz article) tease us with story. We must know more. Story, done well, is bulletproof. Nothing anyone can do with Paris or anyone else can reduce the effectiveness of YOUR story.
The Problem With Sex Sells
Sloth, laziness and copycat idolatry lies at the core of why sex doesn't command our attention as it once did. Mad Men on A&E shows the beginning of the end. The show is about "the golden age" of advertising (early 1960's). Everyone smokes and drinks. They treat women in their workplace as hookers and servants and their ads work. Their ads work. When ads fall on what can only be described as "virgin" ears life is good. Easy to be welcomed with open arms when you ride the first boats ashore. After years of pollution, disease and pestilence good luck keeping your hair. How many ads do we welcome now? Our "virgin" ad days are behind us.
Slothful and lazy advertisers copy they don't create. For years Madison Avenue could afford to underachieve especially when ads employed Sex Sells principles. Sending "Sex Sells" ads to virgin eyes and ears meant you got attention and made money even when your ad campaigns were less than original. A man shaving in a shaving cream commercial is not original. Close your eyes and you can almost see the two-martini lunch. A boozy ad executive leans across the table and says "let's throw a cute girl in there with stripper music" and the Noxzema scandal is born. Nice to ride a tide so strong all leaky boats lift. Get in the water and you win.
Been There, Done That
Multiply thousands of ads every single day in a variety of media times five, ten and twenty years and you get world weary consumers who've been there and seen that. Current estimates indicate a man or woman with cable and web access see somewhere north of 3,000 ads a day. Our ad “schemas" are so full even Paris Hilton making love to a car produces a yawn. No more winning by simply being in the water.
Why Sex Still Sells: The Pill, Free Love and Advertising
Let's step back. Why did sex sell in the first place? In the 1950’s and 1960's what Sex meant changed. The pill makes “free love” a cultural reality. What Seth Godin ( read my blog about Working with Seth Godin) named the “advertising industrial complex” is born and baby boomers become an adman’s dream:
Why Sex Still Sells - Biological Imperative
The pill liberated men and women. The pill meant procreation could be controlled, managed and planned. Pregnancy and children didn’t have to change a couple’s priorities, finances and lives. The pill meant sex could safely become a source of pleasure and recreation. Yes, STD’s eventually showed the dangers of too much freedom, but sex as pleasurable recreation not simply biological procreation won a long fought battle when the pill arrived in 1960.
Imagine another adman lunch. In this lunch our adman has a huge smile as he sees film from the Summer of Love. He spies a bedraggled hippie carry a sign with “Free Love” above his tangled hair. Our adman smiles because he smells money. He knows he will steal and package every “counter-culture” concept. Nothing is ever free, our adman knows, least of all love.
Advertising Industrial Complex
Godin uses the Pentagon as schema to explain the vast ad complex that hammered attention with enough interruptions, also known as commercials, to send an army of monkeys to the moon and back several times. Interrupt early and often was rule one. Use sex as much as humanly possible was rule two. When in doubt return to rule one.
If God appeared in Henry Ford's office one day asking, "Henry would you like me to make buying a car a biological imperative, a survival of the species thing." How would he answer? "God," Henry would say rolling up his sleeves, "you can have any color you want as long as it is black and yes the biological imperative thing will be just fine with me thanks." Sex sells cars. Detroit, Germany and Japan know this. God didn't give them a free ride, so they've spent billions to convince us cars, like sex, are a biological imperative. If you can't get the concessions from God you want, if you can't be a biological imperative, spend billions to get as close to one as you can.
We must breathe, eat and procreate. Everything else is marketing.
Why Sex Sells 2.....coming soon.
ScentTrail Marketing Terms Dictionary
* Page 54 = schema defined in Made To Stick
“The average American is targeted by 3000 messages per day. That
includes phone calls, e-mail, meetings, conversations. -- Data Smog by
David Shenk” http://davidshenk.com/