Tech And The Art Of Change

“We’ve got to cut the crap and elevate the craft,” were the words from P&G’s Mark Prichard commenting on this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Underscoring the point he added: “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

He’s right. We don’t need to create more clutter.

What we need to find are the right technologies that enable us to develop the creative artistic excellence that Prichard is calling for. Much has been made about the “invasion” of ad-tech into Cannes this year. Those companies (SteelHouse included) are working with brands and agencies to raise the creative bar through the application of technology to reach people. Along the Croisette we heard how data and creativity - long seen as polar opposites - are finally coming together. Inside the Palais, creativity and data were joined by technology to provide us with a set of iconic winners that have reshaped the industry.



Joining technology and data to creativity is central to the evolution of our craft. And while some traditionalists in the art world balk at the idea of tech playing a role in the creative process, the only thing we can be sure of is that what is defined as “art” will continue to be debated; technology is merely another topic that will force us to discover how art will evolve.

Technology has already immersed itself into what we call art, which hampers critics’ claims that tech dilutes its creative purity. One of my favorite recent Cannes Lions winners is a perfect example of tech enhancing storytelling; John Lewis’ Monty the Penguin, in which a beautifully rendered CGI penguin tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, would never have worked without the technology behind it. Since the first 2D computer images made it onto our screens in 1973, CGI has come a long way, evolving from a clunky distraction to often a seamless and undetectable technique. The campaign was built on cinematic tech, and was magnified even more by technology that spilled out into the real world. To further support the campaign, they used Google Cardboard to create a 360-degree virtual world that allowed users to “step into Monty and Sam’s world,” cementing technology’s role in bringing the audience into the story. 

Another example to consider in the joining of tech and art is The Next Rembrandt, the winner in this year’s Cyber and Creative Data category of Lions Innovation. This campaign set out to do the impossible – to create a new Rembrandt painting over 300 years after the artist’s death. And not just an imitation – but a data-driven, technologically-enabled original painting based on his artistic style. The idea behind the campaign was to marry technology and creativity for a rather lofty aim, “using data to touch the human soul,” as the campaign put it. And the result was compelling – the finished “Rembrandt” looked as if it could have been painted in the artist’s prime. The campaign not only won at the festival, it generated plenty of buzz in the art world as well, drawing a rather cutting review from The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones. And really, isn’t receiving a scathing review from an established art critic just a rite of passage in becoming an artist?

This conversation has happened before and it will continue to happen again and again. Take the extremely polarizing work of Jackson Pollack; it inspired and angered equally. Luckily, the inevitable answer is that people evolve, along with art, to accept new forms. Eventually many have come to see that what Pollack did for painting is what Jimi Hendrix did for electric guitar. He took it in new directions using techniques and original ideas that resulted in a style of art never seen before.

Of course, all this isn’t to say technology should be given free reign in the creative process. I hosted a panel at this year’s Cannes Lions to discuss the marriage of technology and creativity, and panelist Jose Molla, Founder & Co-Chief Creative Office of The Community raised an important point. Technology can be distracting if not used correctly, he said, and that we must combine tech with the human element for it to be truly effective. And he’s right – we as an industry can’t be distracted by the bells and whistles tech offers, instead we must ensure we use it to enhance our creations.

I see art as inherently valuable pieces of communication that evoke emotion, no matter the method or medium. This year, the Cannes Lions Festival certainly advanced the cause through the employment of technology to cause people to feel. The future will be written by those who can gracefully master the use of data, algorithms, and technology to tell their brands’ stories without losing the human touch.

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