Saturday, April 17, 2010
Nature versus Nurture
(master art director, Bob Levy, working at Grey Advertising in 1980––cooking up major ad campaigns by the day, and coming home by night to share the blow-by-blow stories with a seven year old Dave Levy)
Lately I've been trying to figure out why I hold the attitudes and beliefs I do about the industry and why they sometimes differ from the opinions held by my heroes and peers in animation. This Spring I've been teaching an 8 week animation career course for the Rochester Institute of Technology (held at the 92nd Street Y) where recently, one of the students may have slipped me the answer. The student asked, "Do you think you relate to management because your father worked in advertising as an art director?" I suppose that in a lot of ways that's true. I grew up on a steady nightly diet of my dad's management and workplace collaboration stories. These were tales from the creative executive side. I found them fascinating. I learned from my father that you make the greatest contribution to a project from a position at the top. And I learned the negatives too––the eternal challenge of working effectively with people, the increased stress that goes with greater responsibility, and how the greater the responsibility the greater the consequences of failure.
Maybe its more important to think about the stories I didn't grow up on. There was no parental figure telling me the world was out to get me, not to trust people, or to be automatically cynical on bosses and management. The interesting thing is there were lots of evidence in my dad's office stories that could have supported that view of the world, but instead I always took the stories as studies in human folly, not institutional folly. I didn't believe that ALL management was bad or that ALL workers were good. The reality was that to be successful in the commercial arts field, you needed to learn how to work effectively with all kinds of people and that was true whether you worked at the top or in the trenches.
As an employer, I've come across very talented animators, some at the top of their game, who behave as all employers are out to shaft them in one way or another. When you're not that kind of employer, dealing with these situations just seems like big fires to put out that didn't need to be lit in the first place. It makes for a very unpleasant work experience for both sides. It saps everybody's strength away from the fun stuff.
I know there are many bad experiences out there and each of us has similar and diverse experiences in the field. We can view the industry and our relationship with the people in it with an open mind or with a pre-judgment. And, this makes me wonder how much of our attitudes come from nature and how much from nurture? Does it depend on the diet of stories we grow up on? And, what part comes from the genuine instances of being screwed over by worst-case-scenario studio owners and bosses? Nobody denies that bad studios and bosses exist, but is it reasonable to assume each new job experience will follow suit? And, to treat people that way accordingly? Or is either view held simply a valid response to working in such an unstable industry?