There comes a time in every creative professional’s life when you’re faced with these important questions:
Should I keep casting a wide net and seeing what sticks?
Should I specialize?
Should I put pants on today?
No one but you can answer these questions. But yes, you should put pants on. Pants are sleeves for your legs, and it’s cold outside.
But back to specializing. Only you can determine whether you should do so, because only you know what you like and what you’re good at. Hopefully those things intersect with market demands.
“But I’m good at everything,” you say. “Why should I be punished for being awesome?”
I agree, fellow awesome person.
We ARE a lucky breed.
So, before you decide on whether to specialize at all, you should probably do some experimentation first.
Take me, for instance. My favorite topic.
Each job I’ve had has focused my writing and helped build my writing toolkit. And we all know how great I am with tools. Is this a wrench in my hand? You betcha.
When I was starting out in the world of the working, I knew I loved to write so I ended up writing for print daily newspapers. That soon proved unsustainable because it was a service that was specific to prehistoric, er, pre-internet days. It relied on profiting off a monopoly on information.
But it wasn’t all for naught. I learned how to take complex information and turn it into digestible prose. I learned about structure and not burying the lede (a.k.a., the most important part of the story). I learned about being concise, using facts to build a narrative, and using simple words for clarity’s sake instead of being superfluous, fanciful and showboaty.
Most challenging of all, I had to do it fast, multiple times a day. It was back in the days when reporters actually had to do research and go outside and spend hours talking to randos in search of a good quote, versus just embedding someone’s tweet and calling it a day. Not that I’m bitter or anything.
It meant I had to learn how to craft the beginning, the middle, and end of a story in my head, on my drive back to the office—all before I could even fire up my 30-year-old desktop computer that croaked sweet nothings in my ear. Things like, “Please put me out of my misery for I wasn’t built for multitasking, you dumb, young but-on-the-older-end-of-the-spectrum millennial.”
Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that I liked writing features more than breaking news. I loved marinating on ideas and mulling over words more than dumping out all the information I had available, as fast as possible.
“Where was the poetry? The thought? The wordplay?” I screamed into the uncaring void, waving a quill and a copy of “Infinite Jest” that I never read but made me look smart.
I just wanted to write, man.
So I switched to copywriting.
Unlike journalism, copywriting doesn’t rely on people to engage with it out of moral obligation and civic duty (What a relief, amiright?). It’s attuned to how we live. It’s what we sleep in, what we put on in the morning, and what we eat for breakfast. It’s all up in our faces and on our faces, lathered, rinsed and repeated.
At its best, it’s the voice that reaches out to you when you’re looking for it and says, “Hi. Let’s do it. Let’s be friends. Wait, what did you think I was talking about, ya gross person, you? I’m reconsidering this whole friendship thing, except I’m not because your grossness is what I like about you.”
Copywriting’s fun, guys.
But even within copywriting, there are specialties. There’s social media copywriting. TV copywriting. Print copywriting.
There’s food copywriting! Financial copywriting! Medical copywriting!
THERE’S EVEN COPYWRITING ABOUT COPYWRITING.
OVERTHINKING’S SO MUCH FUN GUYS.
Luckily, we don’t have to figure everything out all at once. It takes years of experience and experimentation.
And who better to talk about experience and experimentation—the creative kind and only the creative kind, of course—than my dear friend, Andy Warhol?
You probably know him better as Andy Warhol.
Take it away, Andy Warhol!
+ + +
Hello, Karen’s readers. I am Andy Warhol. You may call me Andy Warhol.
Why do I sound like Karen, you ask? It’s because we are friends, and this is how friends talk. Two hearts, one mind, six Cheetos.
Anyway, I’m going to take you through a few of my own works to illustrate the experimentation I undertook to find my voice. See what I did there? I used illustrate in a sentence, because I was an illustrator.
A commercial illustrator, to be precise. Bet you didn’t know I was clever.
I started out at ad agencies, you see, where I became known for my innovative processes, quick—and dare I say awesome—work, and for being an all-around delight to work with.
I grew fascinated with the whole concept of mass production, and how all these packaged goods could end up in people’s homes so effortlessly. Why couldn’t they be art? Was it because they weren’t protected by slabs of wood and glass, tacked onto walls like a shrine for the sole purpose of admiration sans real interaction? Were they artless because they were actually useful?
“Poppycock!” (which in my hometown of Pittsburgh is slang for “bullshit”) said I.
CPG (that’s consumer packaged goods to you, you civilian) can be art.
Don’t they look machine-made? Guess what? They are not. The soup cans, in particular, I painstakingly drew by hand to look eerily identical except for slight differences, NBD.
But drawing by hand was slow. So I moved onto screen prints.
While screen printing had been a thing in Asia for, well, ever, I popularized it here in ‘Murica. Pretty groovy, huh? Or, as you kids would now say, a pretty fine act of appropriation, huh?
Hey, Andy Warhol. It’s me again, Karen. I’d like to take this moment to interject and ask that if taking an existing technique and making it your own is appropriation, wouldn’t much of art in the history of art be appropriation? Shouldn’t we be more nuanced in our judgment?
Girl, do I look like mahogany because I am bored.
OK, sorry, Andy Warhol. Please continue.
As I was saying, why stop at CPG?
I mean, check out my friend Marilyn.
Everyone’s a product, so to speak. Some just have prettier packaging than others.
I was also tickled by the ability of mass-produced images to dull and desensitize us toward violent images.
I mean, look at this electric chair.
Isn’t it pretty all purple and shit?
Now here’s a rather potent pic taken during the Civil Rights movement.
In a newspaper, it merely informs. Here, it’s confrontational.
Point is, mass production raises the stakes. As my friend Capitalism would say, more is more!
This concept is best exemplified by my other friend, Mona.
How annoying to have to line up at the Louvre and crowd around her teeny, tiny frame to take a good selfie. Why couldn’t there be 30 Mona Lisas? After all, 30x the Mona Lisas = 30x the selfies!
Well, one might say that the paintings of yore were super famous particularly for their formerly innovative processes that are now totally common or even obsolete, but there’s still value in seeing the pioneering works in real life. This screen print, however, essentially takes the value of a handmade painting away. The art is no longer the process, but the copy of the process and whatever statement that’s supposed to make. You’ve gone and messed with it, Andy! You’ve messed with it!
Oh Karen, you really are such a square. Speaking of squares.
Actually, this looks more like a rectang–
Colors are a thing I like.
I knew Basquiat. We were friends. We were super cool.
Super cool indeed, Andy Warhol. But can we stay on topic plea–
Side projects! Gotta do dem side projects to keep the ~*~*~creative juices~*~*~ flowing. I drew. I made films.
I also made wallpaper.
Wouldn’t that look pretty in your house?
My lease forbids me from–
Let’s fast forward to the end of my experimentation. You see, my real dream was to become a fine artist but this whole pop art thing kind of took off and I guess made me famous or something <rolls eyes>. But toward the end of my career, I tried my hand at abstract art, which was all the rage in those days.
Wow, what a departure from everything we’ve seen thus far.
Yes, it’s really nice but–
Now press your nose against it.
Andy Warhol, I would never–
<stifling sobs> What?
WTF Andy Warhol?!
<Andy Warhol cackles a lot.>
+ + +
Thanks, Andy Warhol. You’re a d-e-l-aiiiggght indeed.
So there you have it, dear reader. While the greats may have gotten famous for one particular work or style—in Andy’s case, screen printing—it took quite a bit of play to get there. And even within that style, he played around quite a bit, toggling from ad-like objects and celebrities, to topical light-hearted fare, like racism.
I love learning about all the stuff writers and artists make outside of the stuff that made them famous. It reminds me to have a sense of play in everything I do. Because otherwise, what’s the point?
Big thanks to the Whitney for this exhibit btw, and especially for allowing photography of the works so idiots like me could take a piss out of everything.
(See what I did there?)
For a more serious, actually eloquent take on Andy Warhol’s work, check out the audio guide here.
Or you could just check out the exhibit in person between now and March 31. Which you should. Because it’s awesome.
As for me, I’m gonna go wash my face. And my whole body.
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