Several years ago, as a young creative at Chiat/Day in NY, a battered Xerox copy of something called The Rozz-Tox Manifesto found its way into the creative department.
Initially, I saw it as a swipe at the very thing I was paid to do: keep the wheels of capitalism greased. But after contemplating that document for a while, I realized that what Panter was really saying was that artists should embrace rather than shun capitalism, and dismiss the notion of being a sell-out. There were points of view in that manifesto that ultimately made me look at art, and the business of art quite differently. Panter was telling artists to infiltrate mainstream culture by resisting convention, and thus find a market for their work. You might not know who Gary Panter is, but I'm sure that Banksy and Shepard Fairey probably do.
Last week while I, like most of you, sat socially isolated in my home office alternately taking meetings on Google Hangout and writing while listening to Diamond Dogs on repeat, a friend sent another dispatch by Panter. This time, he sent it through Facebook, and he hadn't lost his touch. Writing about what to do during self-isolation, Panter mused:
"I feel lonely sometimes, but time alone is one of my friends. I know friends and loves are out there. What will I do with myself? I am an artist. It gives me joy and a sense of meaning and even helping to make things. Even pointless things. Maybe especially pointless things. Maybe pointless things contain unconscious truths or questions. Who knows?"
It made me think about why I got into this business in the first place. It was my need to create—to communicate, experiment, write, draw, shoot, edit, record, and well—make things. Sure, I was doing it in the service of business, but I was making things that had the potential to change culture, and possibly even make a bit of difference.
This time that we all have now is time that we shouldn't be blowing following antisocial media, and watching Netflix. We should all be creating, or as Panter suggests, making something utterly pointless. Some of the best ideas I've had came to me when I wasn't thinking about creating advertising, per se. I was painting a model, drawing a cartoon, or writing a short story. It's only when I was able to turn off for a bit and create something for myself, that I'd find solving those difficult briefs easier. We've now got the time to create, as Panter points out.
"…with art, the point is— you got to make it. You were able. You got to spend time quietly or loudly bringing something that was not in the world into the world. Maybe something like something before. Maybe something no-one wants. It doesn't matter. You chose to spend the time trying to do something for private personal satisfaction or frustration— choose either one. Art is time spent doing some little thing that tells you something about yourself..."
So take this time to learn a little bit about yourself. Art traditionally has helped ease tensions during times of significant financial and cultural anguish, and art will get us through this time, as well (along with every single person on the frontlines, of course.)
Staying home to flatten the curve will help save lives, but creating something in the service of no one but ourselves will help each and every one of us to endure.
John Butler is co-chairman at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners.