Great Work, Tearing Down Walls & Why Everyone Sucks!

What’s next in the exciting turbulent world of marketing and creating commercial art?

Not a month goes by where there aren’t at least a few seminars presented on multi-media by our professional organizations. There is an article in the current edition of PDN presenting interviews with art buyers and others regarding the need for professional photographers to create and offer multi-media. There are lots of caveats and expectations associated with this. This can be exciting and lucrative for those who function towards the top of the Scale of Innovation. However, if you are not growing creatively, your business may atrophy.

I believe it is imperative to explore and develop alternative markets and to learn how to be less dependent upon old marketing models. It is vital to apply all you have learned about creating to develop new places and ways to sell your work. Not instead of what you are doing, but rather in addition to traditional markets such as advertising and publishing.

In Art is Work, Milton Glaser identifies four categories of work. Work that goes beyond its function and moves us in deep and mysterious ways, Glaser calls great work. Work that is conceived and executed with elegance and rigor, he calls good work. Work that meets its intended need honestly and without pretense, he calls work. And finally there is everything else, the sad and shoddy stuff of daily life, comes under the heading of bad work. If that is the case, most of the work we produce is either just work or even bad work. The last two categories will disappear for the professional and will be replaced by crowdsourcing.



We must become mountain climbers. And we must stop using the word ‘great’ for everything we create unless it moves us in deep and mysterious ways.


Rejoice! It is National Poetry Month


When was the last time you created art that was filled with poetry — with metaphors? When was the last time you read a poem aloud to yourself or someone else? Did you know that April is National Poetry Month and that Knopf offers a complementary poem a day? Read a poem each day and discover how it may effect your work.


The Second Coming


Steve Heller, wrote that there is hope and opportunity associated with the I-Pad. I know half a dozen photographers writing original and useful apps. If you do not subscribe to The Daily Heller, I highly recommend it. Editions of The Daily Heller are available for free at Print Magazine’s website. For $29.95, you can receive on-line access to 21,000 winners of their Regional Design Annual..


Easter was just yesterday, yet the second coming for magazines is still on the way.

The new savior, you may surmise, is the iPad or iPadius (in Latin).

Spreading the iPad gospel are the media pundits (puditus mediasus) including David Pogue and Edward C. Baig.

They don’t just love it, as Woody Allen once said, they “lurve” it for all sorts of reasons.

But the most significant concern for the design field, and specifically the editorial design field, is the magazine Resurrection.

The subject line in a recent missive from Seth Godin was: I’m Mad at Everyone. It got my attention immediately. And it resonated with some notes I have been making about pronouns. So using Seth’s cue, I expanded, adapted, paraphrased. Godin’s latest book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? may be the most important and readable book about marketing you will read this year. Yep. I am a Seth Godin fan.

Who are Everyone Anyhow?


Using pronouns such as these can get one in trouble, be misunderstood, connote arrogance, lack specificity, are vague, and often incongruent. I cringe when I hear people make statements that presume that everyone is alike.


No one

True or False?

Everyone who is anyone uses Twitter.
No one responds to creative promotions.
Everyone is too busy to answer their telephone.
There are so many of them, I do not know whom to target.
Everyone already has a favorite photographer.
No one ever returns telephone calls from photographers or reps.
They say that sending an email every six weeks is all one needs to do to be successful in this business.
Everyone says you need to specialize.
Everything you create is great.
I show my work everywhere.
Nobody’s doing anything right now.
Every photographer needs to create multi-media in order to survive.


Them Shirts

My first job at an advertising agency was with Waring & Larosa which was one of the hottest shops in post Madmen NYC during the early 1970s. Our client, Gant Shirts, known for popularizing button-down shirts, wanted to reach a younger market with hip colors and stripes. We named the shirts Them and a line of ties Those. Them and Those were introduced via radio which the creative and account team believed could be a very visual medium. We had some fun with pronouns. The commercial went something like this:

SFX: department store bells and background noises.
Customer: Whistling nervously trying to get attention of salesman.
Salesman: “How may I help you today sir?”
Customer: “Do you carry Them?”
Salesman: “Yes Sir. We have a full line of Them.
SFX: sounds of footsteps and opening display cases
Salesmen: These are Them. Any particular Them.
Customer: I don’t know.
Salesman: Which do you like better? This Them or that Them?
Customer: That Them.
Salesman: Good choice Sir. May I show you Those ties. This Those go best with that Them.


Tunnel Vision: Tear Down The Walls

Harry Beckwith wrote a great book called Selling the Invisible. Think about it. Isn’t that exactly what we do when selling commercial photography? We are selling something that cannot be seen because it does not exist.

Beckwith tells an anecdote about tunnel vision and how it is prevalent in the world. Especially the corporate world.

He says, I cannot walk into most companies without being aware of their walls. The walls do more than keep the weather out. They block a clear vision of the world. When companies discuss their problems they talk about themselves. People tend to talk about what they know. And one of the things they know is their company. But what you really need to know is what is out there. For example, you need to know your prospects and customers. So get out of here. Get out of yourself. See the world. Climb the highest mountain. Astral travel. Whatever it takes.


Pithy Quotes


Character builds slowly, but it can be torn down with incredible swiftness.
Faith Baldwin, 1893-1978, Author of over one hundred novels


Infinite Possibilities

There are many tunes still to be written in the Key of C.
Arnold Schöenberg, 1874-1951, Composer

Schöenberg was speaking about synthesis.
There are an infinite number of ways to manifest creations.


Oliver Wendell Holmes

Breaking the Rules

The young know the rules, but the old know the exceptions.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809-1894, Author, Professor, Poet, Physician


Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.
Erich Fromm, 1900-1980, Psychoanalyst, Social Theorist

Photographers Must Make Photographs

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write,
if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.

Abraham Maslow, 1908-1970, Psychologist

This is a good case for photo walks
which I wrote about in the March Newsletter.
Photographers must make photographs.
Photo walks are a way to make photographs
without an attachment to an outcome.


Jim Marshall

.Too much bullshit is written about photographs and music.

Let the music move you, whether to a frenzy or a peaceful place.
Let it be what you want to hear—not what others say is popular.
Let the photograph be one you remember,
not for its technique, but for its soul.
Let it become a part of your life—
a part of your past to help shape your future.
But most of all, let the music and the photograph be
something you love and will always enjoy
Jim Marshall. 1936-2010, Photographer

A Tribute to Jim Marshall


Clothes don’t make the man, the man makes the man.
Clothes (and the brand) just amplify that.

Seth Godin, b.1960.

Godin is so right. Your brand can’t be fixed.
It is not about your logo, the design of your website, or even your work,
which we may refer to as clothes.
It is about what you stand for.
What makes you different?

Branding is about choosing the clothes that fit.


Is there any doubt what Robert Motherwell stood for?
Try reading Motherwell’s words aloud.


My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven,
my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few,
my guide is reliable, my mission is clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away,
turned back, diluted, or delayed.
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice,
hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate …
at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity,
or meander in a maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up.

Robert Motherwell, 1915-1991, Abstract Expressionist, Writer




Ian Summers

Copyright © 2009 Tom Kosa

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4 Comments on Great Work, Tearing Down Walls & Why Everyone Sucks!

  1. Ian, Great newsletter! I was blown away by the section on “Photographers must make photographs”! It is a simple statement that I as a photographer never really think about, but is essential in my life. I never really thought about it that way until I read it.

  2. Ian:

    I agree that the trend for photographers now is to get into multi-media and I admit that I am following that trend myself.

    What concerns me is that auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-fill-flash were all trends that photographers had to embrace or be passed up by amateurs. So I’m asking, are we just trying to stay on the cutting edge of the technology curve when we branch into multi-media, or is this our way of creating art?

    In other (Seth Godin’s) words, are we just being the first cogs in the machine to learn this technology, or are we being artists who are creating something the world has never seen before and will find indispensable?

  3. There are those who enter multi-media because they have read about, or attended talks by industry leaders, and have come to believe that it is a grow or die situation. I am a believer in multi-media being a partial solution to problems facing still photographers today. However, it is not a panacea, especially if everyone creates good work. Good work is not enough. Whether you are creating single images or multi-media the work needs to be great as Milton Glaser mentions in this newsletter. Is there a calling? Is there a vision or point-of-view? Rise to the top of the Scale of Innovation. Learn multi-media and knock their socks off with the ways you apply it.

  4. Nice site and I will be coming back so keep up the good work! When it comes down to it I think Alec Baldwin said it best in the Glenn-Garry movie. A.I.D.A attention, interest, decision and action. I’ll spare you guys the full speech where he cusses everyone out.

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