“A degree is now going to cost at least £27,000. Do you really need one to be a creative?”
These were the words bellowed at me by Lord Charlie McKelvey (Of That Ilk) as he strode vigorously towards the tennis courts in his faultless whites this morning.
“400 words by elevenses or you’ll feel the sharp end of my Slazenger!” he added with his usual, silky charm.
As I gathered my rags about me and stumbled, towards the abandoned hen-coop where Lord McKelvey, in his munificence, allows me to scribble, I began to ponder the question. Emanating as it did from one of the finest minds in this, or indeed any other discipline, it was sure to be a real ‘poser’ but where were the pitfalls, where might I slip up and incur the master’s terrifying wrath?
And it was then, in a great, bubbling blush of shame and horror that I realised what I would have to do. I would have to answer his question in two ways. I shivered as I recalled the last time (The Scandal Of The Bifurcated Canteloupe) that I had been forced to equivocate in one of my occasional columns. But honesty and truthfulness (always my boon companions) forced me to answer Lord McKelvey’s question twice.
Do you really need a degree to be an art director? YES, perhaps
Do you really need a degree to be a copywiter? NO!
Though there is no professional requirement for anyone in our illustrious industry to have qualified with a BA or BSc before starting work, in my 28 years in the business, I have observed that the best art directors have generally possessed a degree of one sort or another.
It may not have been directly germane to the task at hand – ie graphic design, photography etc – but it has generally spoken in some way to the craft of art direction. It seems to me that a degree-level qualification is a useful step in the process of developing a disciplined eye, an eye that will understand the niceties of colour-balance, of typographic detail, of photography and illustration, of composition, cinematography, in fact of all of those disciplines that make up the daily grist of the art director’s mill.
I feel that training is a crucial aspect in giving art directors a solid foundation upon which to make their whimsical, sorry, carefully considered, decisions. But I can only speak as an outsider, on occasion it’s true that I may have pretended to be an art director and it is difficult to spend as long as I have working closely with them without pretending to understand what they do, but in the main, my experience tells me that for those aspects of the art director’s craft that fall into the sphere of the artisan, the understanding of techniques, methods and principles that a degree can confer is an invaluable helpmeet in the struggle to produce beautiful, engaging work.
But when it comes to copywriting the boot is on the other fist.
As Dave Trott and John Watson (two very different luminaries) will assure you, all you need to be a good writer is to be able to write. In my time I have worked with writers who I’ve considered better than me who were ex-milkmen, ex-army, ex-nuns. I’d go further and say that all you really need to be a good writer is a love of language.
In fact, as the style of these irregular columns will tend to illustrate, a degree like my own can result in over-florid, monstrously ornate, byzantine, opaque and irritating writing that ultimately defeats its object of comprehensible communication. Furthermore, a vocational degree from Watford or Bucks or wherever can often result in one-size-fits-all copywriting or writing that values the ‘idea’ at the expense of the execution. I would always rather hire a writer because of the quality of their writing rather than the saliency of their qualification, if any.
Perhaps I should answer a question that wasn’t asked?
Do I think that £27,000 is a worthwhile price to pay for a degree if you are planning a career in the creative department of an advertising or marketing agency?
And my answer to that would be? It all depends who is paying.
More equivocation! Quick! I must hide before Lord McKelvey returns.
Jonathan Spooner is creative partner at Tangible