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Hopper Reflections: A Partial Topography of a Creative Mind in The Applied Arts

March 24, 2021

by John Mamus

Overview and disclaimer. These are personal views expressed by the designer. 

I’ve been a creative for more than 30 years – most of it on Madison Ave. in New York City. I’ve been on the Advertising Agency side: Ogilvy, Young & Rubicam, Deutsch, Merkley + Partners. I’ve been on the client-side as a Creative Director at FILA. I went out on my own about 14 years ago. That has been the most difficult and rewarding path by far. I have been through, seen, and experienced things that have informed my opinions on creativity and work. If you are a young creative, you will find your own way – as I did. You will have your own point of view – all good creatives do. You will want to do many things – all good creatives do. When I was starting out I would look at the older Madison Ave. types who were on their way or already retired – the real Mad Men. They all looked content and were very much on point in their commentary.

I am younger (and in better shape) than they were – and I can do much more (different) shit than they ever could. More on ego in a little bit. I began my creative career almost exactly when digital devices were beginning to be used professionally By digital devices I mean computers. Theirs was a different world – led by ideas and executed painstakingly by hand. I could probably not have worked the old-school way. I like to create where I can control things and see options almost instantly. Try that with pencil sketches. That was a hard life creatively. Somehow, they sometimes created magic.

The ego can sometimes be a creative strength.

The ego is good until it’s not. It is as simple as that. Keep it in check or nobody will want to work with you. That requires work – but it also requires an ass-kicking on occasion. Remember – you are very good. Excellent, maybe. Keep in mind there is always (I mean 100% always) someone who is better than you. Getting kicked on your ass in some way – by something you see or experience (God forbid with a client) will help you. It balances the creative ecosystem.

Listen to critiques and comments. It can make a better product.

The other (good) side of ego is as an impetus for motivation. There is something about creating beautiful things that feed the ego. When people positively respond, this also feeds the ego. This side of the ego is something we all have, no matter what we do for a living.

The following point of view is meant for fellow professionals in The Applied Arts, by which I mean Graphic Designers, Architects, Editors, anyone who is on the service side of the creative business. Yes, it is a fucking service business. If you are a fine artist, good for you. This is not really meant to address the Fine Arts. I have always admired the Fine Arts. They suffer their own way and build kingdoms of the mind.

Always innovate – even in small ways. If you have or have had a creative block, read on.

Getting out of a creative block when you are a professional designer is complicated. If I am on a deadline, I find the only way to move forward is to face a creative block directly, all the while persistently trying alternate approaches. If you keep at it, something minor will change the approach – one success builds on another – and you will have a breakthrough. It is an exhausting experience (as are any intensely focused efforts). Also, you have no choice but to come up with a solution. It is your job.

If you are blessed with time, move on to something else for a while. If you awaken at 3 AM, use the time wisely. Think of your solution at that time. Your mind will be free of anything else (unless you are in pain or are hot/cold.) You may think of the solution at that time. I sometimes do.

If you do not have any physicality, definitely try it. Your doctor will tell you the same thing. Your time being physical sometimes works to clarify things.

Yoga and Meditation are supposed to be excellent for clearing one’s mind. I do like and appreciate yoga, but only practice occasionally. I do not believe I am suited for meditation. I don’t understand it quite honestly.  I believe I am wired a bit differently than most people.

Those are ways I work through creative blocks. These views are derived from my experience.


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