Easier Said Than Done: Abstract Art or Fundraising?
Sixty-second TV spot. Scene: A blighted urban landscape. Soulful music. Camera pans right, and we see something odd about the buildings. They're turning into structures made of gigantic playing cards, and they're collapsing. Like, well, like houses of cards. Voice-over talks about the scope of the housing crisis, not in human terms, but in numbers.
That's a spot for a U.K. housing charity, a great example of the spread of abstract expressionism in nonprofit marketing.
Painters like Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky broke open art in the early 20th century by separating their art from the visual world. Their canvasses were not representations of things, but expressions of ideas or emotions.
Abstract expressionism is an acquired taste. It ?takes some commitment to appreciate its beauty. It sometimes draws comments like, "A monkey could paint that!" For the record, I'm a fan of abstract expressionism. There's a vast qualitative difference between one of Pollock's splatter paintings and the work of a monkey.
Maybe that's why it annoys me to watch as ?certain ad agencies try to re-create the magic of abstract expressionism in their work for nonprofit organizations. It's not going well. I think the monkeys might do better.
The creative minds behind the "house of cards" spot are trying desperately to make the point that there's a severe housing crisis. Trouble is, rather than show compelling evidence of the crisis as it plays out in the lives of real people, they've chosen to create a "falling apart" metaphor.
I can just hear the agency pitch: "This concept has an elegant symmetry that links a familiar phrase with the collapse of housing, creating an 'aha' moment that transforms the viewer's world …" (I'm a creative ?director. I know how my tribe talks.)
Look … the literal facts about the housing crisis are shocking. It's not like houses of cards. It's much, much worse than houses of cards. Real people being forced out of their homes — that's a tragedy. Card houses falling down is not a tragedy. It's part of the fun of building them in the first place. To make a falling house of cards represent the real-life crisis utterly trivializes the pain people are suffering.