Friday, February 16, 2024

Facing Faces.

About three hundred years ago, somewhere in Mittel Europa, what we now call German and Austria, there was a popular sculptor called Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.

He sculpted bronze busts that were very popular for a time, particularly among nobles, people with Vons in their names. Not the skate-boarding cool-kid sneakers.

Consider this, the creepiest thing you'll see all day.

Messerschmidt's busts showed heightened emotions. There's an exaggerated and even grotesque aspect to them. I wouldn't mind seeing them in the Getty Museum in LA, or in various galleries in Vienna. But I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want one in my home. I don't find ventriloquist's dummies scary, or even clowns, but these might keep me up at night. Especially if I saw one move--or convinced my wife that I had.

It's less than a week since the commercial, political, violence and sports phenomena we call the Super Bowl has ended. I'm still thinking about the commercials I saw during the game and which are so ardently debated, critiqued and praised by advertising people in the wake of the event.

All those spots and all the chatter about them has gotten me thinking, as I so often do, about advertising. 

Whatever you think of Messerschmidt's art--and I'm sure nothing I do will come close to lasting 300 days, much less 300 years--his busts capture human reactions.

Do a bit of a Google search and you'll see each one of his heads has a title like, Man Yawning, or The Vexed Man. His depictions match his descriptions pretty well.

I thought of my face. 

On Monday, I had a drink with a friend. She described my visage as "resting cranky face." This is a friend.

I thought about Messerschmidt and advertising and the faces our work contorts.

I'm 99.7-percent sure my face on Sunday during the game could be described as slack-jawed. Sort of like the illustration by Thomas Lea in Life Magazine in 1944 of an unnamed marine at the Battle of Peleliu. The 2000 yard stare. A marine in the wake of the entrenched Japanese enemy during World War II, one of the most horrible of all battles in a horrible war.

I looked at the waste.

The noise.

The incomprehension.

The adjectival gushiness.

The buy-me-now Bacchanal.

I thought about Carl Ally, whose agency I worked at for five years. He said, "advertising should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." The advertising I saw on Sunday neither comforted or afflicted. 

It victimized.
It assaulted.
It was a pipe-organ gone mad at a carousel spinning out of control. Dissonance rampant.

I know everything is tested.
I know we track eye-movements.
And we heat-map pupicks and apply our learnings.

I wonder if we do what Messerschmidt did.

Look at people.
And say, why do they feel like that?

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