The Overnight Test
I learned about this essay on creativity and business by Linds Redding from David Malki’s Twitter feed. In it, Redding relates his experience of working in an ad agency pre-Internet. He describes a process that mirrors closely the advice we present here repeatedly. He calls it The Overnight Test. In short, he and his writing partners would perform a massive brain-dump on the topic — throwing every idea… every kernel of an idea… onto paper. Nothing was ruled out. Nothing was judged. And almost everything as posted on the wall by the end of the night. The next mroning, they’d come in and start sorting through the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t. And they would critique one another — respectfully and honestly.
The Overnight Test only works if you can afford to wait overnight. To sleep on it. Time moved on, and during the nineties technology overran, and transformed the creative industry like it did most others. With the new digital tools at our disposal we could romp over the creative landscape at full tilt. Have an idea, execute it and deliver it in a matter of a few short hours.
Or as the bean counters upstairs quickly realized, we could just do three times as many jobs in the same amount of time, and make them three times as much money. For the same reason that Jumbo Jets don’t have the grand pianos and palm-court cocktail bars we were originally promised in the brochures, the accountants naturally won the day.
Pretty soon, The Overnight Test became the Over Lunch Test. Then before we knew it, we were eating Pot-Noodles at our desks, and taking it in turns to go home and see our kids before they went to bed.
The other consequence, with the benefit of hindsight, is that we became more conservative. Less likely to take creative risks and rely on the tried and trusted. The familiar is always going to research better than the truly novel. An research was the new god. The trick to being truly creative, I’ve always maintained, is to be completely unselfconscious. To resist the urge to self-censor. To not-give-a-shit what anybody thinks. That’s why children are so good at it.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s especially familiar to those of us doing daily comics. The pace required to feed the beast is overwhelming. And if Redding were to stop there, it would have been worth discussing here.
But he didn’t. He went on to talk about how the business of advertising. And since the topic of Creator’s Rights — bad contracts, evil publishers and (hopefully) educated creative professionals — it falls right into the wheelhouse of our discussions.
This hybridisation of the arts and business is nothing new of course – it’s been going on for centuries – but they have always been uncomfortable bed-fellows. But even artists have to eat, and the fuel of commerce and industry is innovation and novelty. Hey! Let’s trade. “Will work for food!” as the street-beggars sign says.
This Faustian pact has been the undoing of many great artists, many more journeymen and more than a few of my good friends. Add to this volatile mixture the powerful accelerant of emerging digital technology and all hell breaks loose. What I have witnessed happening in the last twenty years is the aesthetic equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The wholesale industrialization and mechanistation of the creative process. Our ad agencies, design groups, film and music studios have gone from being cottage industries and guilds of craftsmen and women, essentially unchanged from the middle-ages, to dark sattanic mills of mass production. Ideas themselves have become just another disposable commodity to be supplied to order by the lowest bidder. As soon as they figure out a way of outsourcing thinking to China they won’t think twice. Believe me.
It’s a well-written and thoughtful essay, and it well worth your time to read it. When you do, feel free to come back and discuss.