Monday, January 3, 2022

Breathing with Gill.

When I was a graduate student, there was a rule-of-thumb that while it's elitist, I still hold to. It suggested holding off calling someone a great writer or a book a great novel until that person and their book has had some time to breathe. While I'm no oenophile, we pretty much give wine the same consideration. Rushing to conclusions is generally not salutary.

It's interesting some times to see a writer or an athlete or a new restaurant hailed as the second coming of Edith Wharton, only to never again meet the standards set by their first bit of work. Assessing the quality of something is not like investing in penny stocks or being a day-trader. There's really no great value in being ahead of the curve.

I suppose that's a rather roundabout way of excusing my fascination with reading obituaries. You get to read about someone's life and accomplishments with the luxury of distance. We've had some time to take the full-measure of the person.

Not all that long ago, the famous designer and illustrator Bob Gill died. You can read his obituary here. 

I quickly went online to buy some books by Gill. I knew precious little about him and couldn't abide my lacuna. Unfortunately, much of Gill's work was out of print. Or found in books that cost more than I wanted to spend. 

I was however able to buy something. This book, which just arrived this afternoon. You can get it here (if you hurry.)

There's so much in Gill's book that is wonderful, funny and thought-provoking. There are hundreds of his drawings and nearly each one has some surprise and magic in it.

At this very moment, as I type this, my wife is sitting alongside me and paging through a small book of Gill's illustrations. I am watching her do so with my ears. With each flip of a page comes a laugh, a teehee, a chortle or something even tectonic.

It's said that the Inuit have 30 or 50 words for snow in their languages and dialects. If my tribe were smarter, we would have a similar number of words to describe the different types of laughter.

For some bizarre technocratic reason, we've all but banned laughter from the workplace. Sometimes when I present work to clients, their initial reaction is a laugh--an expulsion of dioxide from their mouth and lungs. 

I try to pause the discussion at that point. I say, "remember that. That's real and natural. That's how you felt." 

That's how communication shows it's working when it's working, when the communicator has made an observation that strikes people. 

Gill's work is limbic. There's a word you should lookup. We often draw the distinction between work that's rational or work that's emotional. I think that dichotomy is a false one. 

The job of us, of our industry, is to take ordinary things and show them to people in an unusual way. In a way that makes them UN-ignorable. Our job--and its most basic level--is to make our "rectangelized" communications--our commercials, ads or banners--not just messages, but gifts. Not in an insipid, "subject line" kind of way, but in an "I-can't-wait-to-open-this" kind of way.

If you want a lesson in this, or a reminder, allocate an hour of your too-busy day--play hooky from some empty zoom call--and instead find a little Gill. 

Our species comes from fish. Like fish, it takes a Gill to breathe.

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