They Can’t Be Loving This…

I like art. I don’t pretend to always understand it, but it’s fun to experience something that changes the way you view the world…or even think of it.

And then there’s these guys: British artists Jake and Dinos Chapman who are staging their first show in Hong Kong with their hyper detailed sculptural piece de resistance “The Sum of all Evil.”

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

I wasn’t familiar with their previous work but apparently “Hell” is a big theme with them. This is only the latest in a series of massive dioramas they have painstakingly created: a vision of violence, war, the holocaust and–eye-catchingly–Ronald McDonald. Find more happy, feel-good imagery at the gallery’s website here.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

I’m sure this is a metaphor about mass consumerism; all that death and destruction staged with tiny Nazi, skeleton and corpse models. If you look closely, you can even see the Hamburglar amidst all the crucified Ronalds and mass graves. Everyone needs a hobby, but man, this is nothing so much as a testament to the power of caffeine and keenly-focused rage. Personally, I have a hard time summoning such anger over a Filet-o-Fish, but then, I’m not an artist. I’m in advertising. Which I guess makes me a target of the Chapman brothers.

The irony of course is that these YBA’s–Young British Artists–were discovered seven years ago by none other than Charles Saatchi. Yes, of this Saatchi.  Lovely job there Chuck. Nice work.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

The Beauty of the Tool Itself

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThis is Monet’s palette. These layers of time-worn colors represent the remnants of what led to canvases such as these…

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingIt’s curious how, simply as a tool, Monet’s palette carries the heft of true art. How the dint of wear and experience even shapes the way we perceive objects associated with the creation of work. Art is funny that way.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Jell-O As Art. Yes, Art.

This is beautiful high speed photography running at a stunning, stock-burning 6200 frames per second.  The ruby translucence, the wobbly gelatinousness, the perfect lighting; all this combines to create poetry in motion. It’s something the naked eye could never capture on its own. It’s just missing a soundtrack…

Seriously. Jell-O. Who knew?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson


There’s Always Room For Art

A Flickr user from the UK who goes by the handle “StartTheDay” posted this charming photo of a Smart Car last month.  Apparently, he discovered it as he was taking a walking tour of Rome’s architecture.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago Advertising

I can’t pretend to know what would motivate (possess?) someone to crochet a multi-colored cozy for their compact car, but I can state without hesitation that it is an inspiring act of art.  It serves no practical purpose other than to delight and surprise anyone who encounters it.  And that qualifies it as pure art.

Some people take a limited view of advertising as solely a business, as a scientific exercise of stimulus and response.  I feel sorry for people like that.  They can never e open to those very, very rare ad messages that have been so carefully and lovingly crafted to earn attention through delight and surprise.  Sadly advertising isn’t an art all the time.  With its fundamental value lying in driving sales, it can’t be.

But every now and then, if we make enough room for it and keep our eyes open, we can find it.  And a simple ad for beer or body wash can be as magical as a sweater-wearing automobile.

Happy Friday.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Too Often, We Confuse “Can’t” with “Don’t”

This Summer, my sixteen year old and I started taking a drawing course at the Evanston Art Center.  Zoe is a remarkable artist; she creates vivid and complex line drawings that vibrate with color, but she’s never had formal drawing instruction. Her high school art professor encouraged her to take a course over the Summer, so now every Wednesday night, the two of us spend three hours filling newsprint pads with charcoal and ink brush and pencil.  It’s my favorite night of the week.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingI’ve always thought I could draw.  In the third grade, I sold awkward crayon renderings of Snoopy on pieces of construction paper for ten cents.  I won 4-H art awards, drew cartoons for the school paper and regularly gave my parents illustrations for Birthdays and Holidays.  It was just one of those things I could always do, unlike climbing a rope or bench pressing my bodyweight.

In the same way, many people think they can’t draw.  They can’t capture a likeness or control their line or create any sense of volume or proportion.  Perhaps this describes you…

And yet, going to this art class every week and pounding out sketch after sketch of fabric and boxes and artist’s stools made me realize something.  At any point in the evening, someone might capture the magic.  Someone you’d never expect to demonstrate artfulness might be the one who hits the long ball.  The least likely sketcher might limn that magical line with the one gesture that captures the essence, that seizes the soul of the subject.  And whether by accident or serendipity, the evidence of their halcyon moment shines from the newsprint–a flash of brilliance captured in their own deeply idiosyncratic visual idiom.

Not because they are long on talent.  Not because they have some Dürer-esque facility with the medium, but simply due to repetition and effort.  Through the sheer act of doing, any one of us might stumble upon the sublime, might wrestle genius to the mat and capture a moment we never imagined was in our grasp.

And so our failure doesn’t lie in we can’t.  It’s mostly because we don’t.

Which means the greatest lesson from this drawing class is to try.

Whether successful or not, we should always respect effort.  Effort is a brave and glorious act.  An act that is only available to those that try.  And dare.  And do.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


You’re Right Again Bill Bernbach: Advertising Is Fundamentally Persuasion, and Thus Not Science But Art

A group of us spent the day yesterday at a briefing session for a new business pitch. Unlike most of these exercises, this client spent a lot of time carefully assembling a presentation that was incredibly dense with facts and background information.  To a person, they understood their advertising’s key shortcoming: it is long on reason but lacking in emotion.  They want to inspire people to not simply consider, but to care.  

After 104 powerpoint slides, they ultimately arrived at the same sentiment as Bill Bernbach’s famous quote: “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”  “Art” is a big word and one that many of us shy away from: it implies too much, it assumes a level of importance that a static banner ad may not seem to merit.

And yet, the best advertising messages contain an extra something, a spark of humanity or truth or simple engagement that transcends mere communication.  You can call that art, but in television, that ‘art’ usually amounts to ‘performance.’Picture 2

Which brings me to this ad for Harris Bank.  To see it, surf to this Harris microsite, click on the small TV icon in the lower left, then click on the little square that pictures a blue shirt-wearing young businessguy.  Now pay particular attention to the second vignette of the couple kayaking on the Chicago River…

Nice huh?  I’m probably more proud of how the team brought this scene to life than any other we’ve captured on film in years.  Candidly, I didn’t think this vignette would even work when I saw it in board form.  Yet somehow, inspired confident casting, deft choreography, and two actors capturing a commonplace yet momentous human exchange through a believably natural yet heartwarming performance, elevates this scene beyond the prosaic.

If you analyze the meaning of this scene in a commercial context, you reach one understanding.  But when you feel it, the experience reaches a far deeper, more meaningful level.  A great human performance–whether remarkable or hysterical or moving or naturally relatable–can be powerfully persuasive.  Because it can make you feel.

And that my friends, is why creating an animatic to understand how a commercial might work is like buying a blow up doll to understand how a relationship works.  It’s not even close.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

R.I.P. Pontiac Motor Division: 1926-2010

I’ve owned exactly two Pontiacs in my life: both GTO’s, both convertibles.  Sitting still, they exuded a raw, rumbling, asphalt-shaking power.  Which was a really good thing…

Zoe, Me and The Goat in Happier Times

Zoe, Me and The Goat in Happier Times

–because they never ran worth a tinker’s damn.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned more unreliable automobiles. The list of major family events where my cars wouldn’t start is legendary, including my older daughter Zoe’s Eighth Grade Graduation, where only the combined efforts of three grease monkey Dads and the janitorial staff of the Joseph Sears Elementary School brought my car to lurching, sputtering life a full three minutes after the rest of the cars had driven away for the traditional parade through town. Determined not to let Zoe down, I drove like a bat out of hell, confident in the knowledge that our entire small town police force was at the front of the parade. Screeching to a halt at a less-trafficked corner, I was able to hijack my daughter and two of her classmates out of their makeshift rides and back into the GTO before sneaking into the tail end of the line and turning down our town’s main drive.  We passed our family and friends, waving and smiling Grand Marshal style with no one the wiser.

Through the years, my Pontiacs proved to be mechanical nightmares; rusty frames, overburdened door hinges, entirely unreliable convertible top motors.  Both had huge, loud V-8 engines, yet a tiny Honda could smoke them off the line.  I got nowhere near the value out that I invested into them, with one major exception…

They looked vicious.  Exciting and sexy, they were bold in a notice-me-dammit way that no affordable production car is today.  Pontiac GTO’s and Tempests were integral to a proud Detroit muscle car heritage, even if my two specimens were pathetically out of shape.  Sadly, that era is now long gone, ground under the iron heel of assembly-line efficiency, wind tunnel dictates, and the total elimination of individuality the corporate industrial process engenders.

And there lies the real threat, not just to GM as it struggles to find a way back from the dangerous precipice it drove to under it’s own freewill, but to every American manufacturer. Yes, efficiency is useful to production.  Certainly, management can eke out greater productivity from a workforce.  But neither efficiency nor management are agents of inspiration.  They can’t capture our imagination.

In a world cluttered with too many choices and too much parity, we would be wise not to discount those rare products that represent the maverick, the singular, the non-focused group fever dream of a true-believing zealot.  Because unlike every other species, mankind alone respects and needs art.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79