Rockwell…well…rocks!


Norman Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. Growing up in a middle-class family in the Upper West side of Manhattan, Rockwell was never comfortable being a city boy. Although he spent the first years of his life in this urban environment, he thrived whenever he and his brother were allowed to spend some time in the countryside.

From a very early age, Norman knew he wanted to be an illustrator. He was hired as art director of Boy’s Life, the scouts’ official magazine, when he was still in his teens. However, he became nationally known after he started his 47-seven-year collaboration with The Saturday Evening Post, having painted more than 300 illustrations mostly for the cover of that popular magazine.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Triple Self-Portrait, 1960.

Rockwell can be considered a family man in the sense that he was married 3 times and had 3 kids from his second wife, but most of his time he was dedicated to his work: 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. There was never much time for his wives and kids. Many say he was a detached and distant husband and father. He also travelled a lot, within the US and all over the world, always carrying on painting during these trips.

Rockwell never considered himself an artist, but an illustrator, specializing in genre scenes, depicting life in small-town America. His illustrations always have an element of humor, but you never fail to sense the pathos injected in the narrative as well. He was one of few popular realists in the world of modernist art of the XX century, where abstract painting ruled.

Before painting his models, he tended to have them photographed by a professional in the specific positions he wanted them to pose. His studio was full of props and costumes available to the models in the sessions. He was very particular about the way he wanted people to pose for him. In New York he used professional models, but when he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts (from Arlington, Virginia) he started to choose models from the members of his own community: his relatives, friends and neighbors. He always had a photographer with him. He would paint afterwards based on these photos.

The paintings of Rockwell are usually regarded as the best representation of simple, pure and strong American values. As a matter of fact, he helped create these values and the American identity itself, in a land packed with immigrants from the most different cultural backgrounds and without much cohesion among themselves in the early 1900s. His illustrations – although not always depicting scenes of an accompanying written narrative – are one-frame stories in themselves. His art is all about visual storytelling. You can infer a whole narrative just by looking at one of his illustrations. No wonder, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg – two of the most popular storytellers of the last decades of XX century American cinema – are among his greatest admirers and owners of important collections of his works.

Rockwell was the opposite of the common stereotype of a bohemian Greenwich Village artist. His friends say he was polite, funny and meticulous. Some claim he was a neat freak, who would spend hours cleaning his studio and washing his brushes many times a day. He was a bit of a loner as well.

Together with Walt Disney, Rockwell is the most beloved American artist of the twentieth century. Of course, their work had a lot in common: they were both visual storytellers, capable of charming and mesmerizing their viewers with wonderful drawings, colors and movement. The animation in Rockwell’s work was obviously only suggested, as he dealt in illustrations, but they are never static. His brush lent them an inner life and dynamism that completely won over his audience. The triple self-portrait illustration (1960) we see above is an example of the charismatic paintings he could produce.

After working for almost 50 years as the main illustrator for the conservative Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell transitioned to the more liberal Life Magazine, where he could explore themes more relevant to the tumultuous times he was living in: the sixties. There, he could produce illustrations that talked to the main issues of the era: racial segregation, women’s liberation and the spacial program. In this post, we show one his most important works of this period: The Problem We All Live With, from 1964, where he depicts the first Afro-American child – a girl – to go to a desegregated school in New Orleans in 1961, facing all kinds of bullying, mainly from white mothers and teenagers on her way to class. She needed to be escorted by US marshals to be able to get into the school. Her name was Ruby Bridges and Rockwell’s illustration became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

The Problem with All Live with, 1964.

On November 8th, 1978, at the age of 84, Norman Rockwell died peacefully in his sleep, due to emphysema. He had already begun to show symptoms of dementia in his final years.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1969 and houses the world’s largest collection of his works.

Norman Rockwell is the 5th volume of our successful series of eBooks TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART. If you wish to know more about the series, please click here: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1lS

Take a moment to watch the video clip of TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: NORMAN ROCKWELL

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Why Maleficent doesn’t work as a fairy tale


Maleficent, the new Disney movie that tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the point-of-view of its original Nemesis – the evil fairy godmother – had all the potential to awe audiences, going way beyond its stunning visuals, if they had decided to work on more complex and original levels, paying closer attention to how mythology and its arquetypes (typical characters) sustain great storytelling.

One can’t help but think of Wicked, that, first as novel, and then as a successful Broadway musical, also narrated the backstory of an evil character, the Wicked Witch of the West, of The Wizard of Oz fame, from the difficulties she had as a (literally) green child all the way to her adulthood, when she gets to meet Dorothy and her shoes. Although both Maleficent and Wicked chose to tell the facts from the point of view of the alleged villain, the latter accomplished a lot more artistically.

Maleficent as a character is carefully construed to represent a strong role model for girls. Angelina Jolie looks stunning in the role, and will visually fascinate girls and boys alike. Boys, however, will surely be more entertained by the great number of superhero-like action scenes and predictable visual effects. It’s unfortunate, however, that the story is too weak to replace the original in children’s imagination, as it’s a lot less dark and scary in its connotations. Fairy tales are not supposed to be watered-down versions of their originals, and it’s a shame that Disney progressively goes in this direction with every new version they produce.

These are some of the problems that weaken Maleficent (Spoiler alert: you may want to watch the movie before reading the following):

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

Angelina Jolie as Maleficent

1. The hero/heroine arquetype of the story keeps shifting (is it Prince Phillip? Aurora? Or Maleficent herself?) Stories need a well-defined hero with a clear objective. The hero can and should be flawed (so there’s nothing wrong with Maleficent’s rage and wish for revenge from a dramatic stance). However, the whole story should be about her journey, and the transformation she goes through along what is commonly called the dramatic arc. Maleficent the movie does not really have any of its characters growing or changing through experience in its almost two hours of storyline. In this version, Maleficent has always been a strong and benevolent fairy, protective or the moor and its creatures. Then she makes one mistake led my revenge or jealousy, and spends the rest of the movie trying to fix it. This does not a good story maketh.

2. I’m sure that, for young moviegoers, the three little “good fairy-godmothers” are visually enchanting and can even be funny at times (especially the one played by Imelda Staunton), and they dutifully fill the role of tricksters, an important kind of arquetype, providing the comic relief every story needs. However, adults will miss the irony and wit usually delivered by such characters in more sophisticated versions of kids’s movies.

3. Diaval, the raven, is too weak a mentor, another essential arquetype in effective stories. Maleficent, both as a movie and as a character, would have benefited a lot more if she had a more intriguing, wiser, and possibly older companion to rely on. It would have given the movie a much stronger structure.

4. King Stefan, who starts off as Maleficent’s first love, does not have a clear arquetypical role in the story. He’s too lame as a shadow/nemesis, and not very convincing as a shapeshifter (arquetype usually filled by the heroine’s romantic interest). Similarly, young prince Phillip fails to awaken the sleeping princess with his cold teenage kiss: I don’t think we need to say anything more about his role in the story after this flop. Therefore the movie really relegates male figures to totally secondary and pathetic roles.

5. Aurora’s role also does not fit in within the mythological structure of effective storytelling, being neither a hero nor a shadow, or any other essential arquetype. She roams around the moors, beautiful and wide-eyed, without any specific dramatic function. The couple of scenes in which both Aurora and Prince Phillip, at different moments, unconsciously float in the air in the wake of Maleficent clearly indicate that these characters lack what is fundamental in arquetypes of more importance: volition and activity. Frankly, these levitation scenes boarder the ridicule.

6. The movie climax, packed with action and pyrotechnics, does not look any different from the last superhero movie you may have watched. The grand finale depicts lots of deus-ex machina solutions ( “Into a dragon”, orders Maleficent, before her loyal raven becomes a fire-spitting monster. Well, that is an easy way out, right? Worse: he fails! Maleficent will need to get her creepy dead wings back to succeed.

Speaking of those wings: at first, the scene in which they are cut off looked like this was going to be one of darkest and best moments of the movie, and could easily stand for all the feminist and environmentalist metaphors the movie repeatedly uses. However, the fact that they fly back and reattach themselves to their owner in a climactic scene at the end spoils all the dark beauty and menacing effect of the former scene. Now the wings are just another deus ex-machina-kind of solution employed by poorly-creative scritpwriters. Besides, one wonders why the wings did not decide to do this years before.

Now it’s your turn. Share with us your opinion on Maleficent.

For more on storytelling I would suggest you read two other posts in this blog:  “The Power of Storytelling – The Mythological  Structure ” (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2) and “More Storytelling Tips for Marketers” (http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-UK).

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

Exciting times to be a marketer: you are in show business!


You may have heard this before: everyone is in marketing nowadays. To make a living, you need to promote and sell something: your image as an ideal employee; your qualifications as the perfect fit for an advertised professional position; the product or service the company you already work for specializes in; or your own business. Everything is a brand, from products and ideas to people and causes. Non-profits, as you know, need as much promotion as any other business.

Moreover, marketing has changed radically in the last ten years or so. It has become a lot more exciting. As a marketer, you are not allowed to interrupt your audience with a loud selling message or by yelling a silly slogan at them any longer. You may even try, but it will not be very effective. Now things got a lot more complex, genuine, interactive, and, I dare say, even more artistic. Marketing needs to excel at beauty, creativity, usefulness, and the ability to keep a conversation going with the customer for as long as necessary. After all, we are aiming to keep them for life.

Content marketing

As a consequence, we all need to turn our marketing departments into media companies or publishers to be able to promote effectively in this new landscape: whether your are selling language learning courses,  ebooks or cars. Gone are the days of the proverbial pushy second-hand car salesmen we still see in movies. To turn our marketing team into a media company, we must become content creation machines, spilling out entertainment, compelling stories, clear explanations and timely info about your product or service to build a loyal audience on and off line. Only then are we allowed to sell to this community we worked so hard to attract and shape. Build the community first, gain its trust, give away lots of free and relevant content, and afterwards, you will own the right to offer them your “purple cow” (borrowing the expression from marketing guru Seth Godin): the very compelling product they can’t wait to buy from you.

Take for example the need to create a personality and specify the values your brand stands for. Storytelling is the keyword here. Every time you get in touch with your audience you have an opportunity to add a new piece of your corporate narrative by reinforcing the values and personality of your brand. This must be done through different social media channels, using the right tone of voice. Companies that invest in marketing will assign different people to manage distinct social media channels and the kind of content feeding they require. Besides, they need a marketing coordinator/manager to oversee the whole operation, analyze the metrics,  and make sure the conversation with the client remains consistent.

Marketing in the business of language learning – my speciality

What I find really exciting as a marketer in the language learning line of business is how easy it is to produce content that will captivate your target audience, turning them into leads and then customers. If you sell LANGUAGE, which is a vehicle, you have a lot more elbow room to play with content. Language can be used to talk about anything. So there can be a lot of variety in your communication. And what can be more exhilarating than the possibility of creating blogs, podcasts, videos, PowerPoint presentations, ebooks, webinars, etc. to express your passion for language teaching/learning through a wealth of rich content?  Marketers are given a unique chance to become writers, video makers, newsreaders and designers: we’ve been given the opportunity to be in show business after all! Few people would turn this opportunity down.

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Show business

 

Start now!

Of course, you may not feel excited about every piece of content you will have to create to attract customers, especially because it needs to cater for the community’s needs and interests, not yours. The more you get to know your prospects, the easier it will be to publish the right kind of content for them. But assuming  you like or identify with the product your are selling, there will always be room to express your passion.

Hubspot, the inbound marketing software company, is the benchmark  for content creation, attracting clients to their community by giving tonnes of excellent content away for free. Well, there is obviously no need to get to their level of sophistication and productivity, but if you do not start creating compelling content right now, you will not be in business for very long. Believe me, creating content is key. And it can be a lot of fun.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

Storytelling with Norman Rockwell


Storytelling with Norman Rockwell

Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation.

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info: 

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP

4 Elements to Consider to Strengthen your Brand


In a scene of MAD MEN (6th season), Don Draper (the protagonist) and his business partners are sitting around a dinner table socializing with clients from General Motors. Libations and jokes are going around, drunken laughter and merry faces are all we see. Then, Don, unexpectedly, brings up the story of the son of one of his friends (whose wife he has been sleeping with, in typical Draper fashion) who has been drafted to Vietnam. Don is hoping GM will volunteer to help get the boy off the hook, through one of the many contacts the huge corporation must have in Washington. The mood at the table changes immediately to gloom and doom. Don’s partners look at him in disbelief: how dare he introduce a note of sadness and discomfort, when the only goal of this meeting is to entertain the clients and keep them happy? Is he trying to jeopardize the future of the account?

foto

Don Draper, Mad Men

This is how business was done in the late 1960s. And today.  In a previous post, I mentioned that the campaigns conducted by Madison Avenue marketers as shown in this brilliant TV series would not have much change of succeeding in today’s digital environment. However, one thing remains the same and is not likely to change any time soon: clients are emotional beings and their choices rely much more on feeling and intuition than on reason. Of course, after the choice is made, they will work hard to rationalize it and will possibly come up with a lot of “objective” reasons to justify their decisions. So, the lesson is let’s keep the customer happy.

With this in mind, clever marketers will never stray away from the emotional channel to reach and start a conversation with their prospects, or keep a solid relationship with their loyal base going smoothly. And what are the main tools available to aid marketers reach clients on an emotional level?

1. Storytelling: this is the biggest umbrella word that encompasses the whole tool kit to engage the client, as it resonates strongly with humans on different emotional levels. Your brand needs to describe itself to the customer in a very simple and yet effective way. By using the typical elements of storytelling (which we have discussed in previous posts: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2, and http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-UK), make sure it’s easy for the customers to understand where you are coming from, your journey and quest. If they eventually become advocates of your brand (which is ultimately every marketer’s dream) make it easy for them be able to share your story with everyone in their network.

2. Coherence: this is fundamental to the success of your marketing strategy. The story needs to be coherent in every touch-point with the client. Every contact of the client with your brand should add or reinforce a piece to the bigger picture. Your story should make a solid promise, set up a strong positioning and create a relatable personality that needs to permeate all your communication with customers. This story is supposed to make the customers associate your brand with positive feelings and traits: family values (Disney), coolness (Apple), sophistication (Tiffany), efficiency and innovation (Amazon), usefulness and reliability (Google), high self-esteem and style (Rolex), vigor and energy (Nike), etc. Pick the emotion you want to emphasize through the use of your product/service and stick with it.

3. Colors: these are very important in communicating and generating the right emotion. There are many articles on the Internet that make suggestions and describe how different colors create and stress different moods. Based on the kind of story you choose to tell your customers, be careful matching the colors of your logo, for example, to the positive emotion you are willing to generate. Blue, for example, stands for depth and stability; red for excitement and passion; yellow for happiness and warmth; green for environment-friendly brands, peacefulness and health; black communicates tradition and sophistication.

4. Design: most products are becoming commodities in terms of their functionality and performance. Today it does not really matter, for example, what kind of TV set you buy, they are basically all the same, and equally reliable. That’s where look and feel play an essential part. Your brand needs to integrate the design that fitfully tells your story. This involves your logo, the format of your communication, the choice of your business card and the product itself. Of course, Apple is everyone’s benchmark in this department.  Also, keep consistency throughout your collateral, display banners, the layout of your office, your blog and website appearance.

I hope the reader understands that we are not endorsing ways of cheaply manipulating the customers by pressing their buttons. As long as your brand delivers on the promise made, marketers don’t need to feel guilty about trying to entice the client. That’s obviously their job. Besides, just like in a good movie or book – and in storytelling in general – the more subtly emotions are played out, the more effective they are in satisfying today’s increasingly sophisticated audience. Tell a powerful and genuine story, and deliver on your contract: that’s all.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

More storytelling tips for marketers


You may already know that the new buzz word in marketing is storytelling. You may also wonder why it took the marketing gurus so long to realize that stories resonate strongly with humans beings, and therefore, with clients. Brands must tell a story to the customers, and good marketers should, therefore, learn as much as possible about the craft of storytelling to be able to create and project a more impactful and relevant positioning in the minds of their audience.

We already started discussing the mythological structure of storytelling in a previous post (please refer to “The Power of Storytelling, the Mythological Structure”- http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2  – you may want to read it before you continue). Now we pick up where we left off, and begin to cover the kinds of characters we come across in muscular and enduring stories.

The renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung put forward the theory that the elements (themes, topics, characters, plot) commonly found in dreams are the same ones present in the mythologies of all peoples at different times. He called them archetypes.

Joseph Campbell, the famous American mythologist, went further to propose that all stories have basically the same structure. In his seminal book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, he identifies and explains the phases that a typical hero or protagonist goes through.

Hollywood was quick to capitalize on Campbell’s powerful ideas and created a simplified memo for scriptwriters spelling out the stages of the hero’s journey and the typical characters found in mythological stories. When used with creativity and originality, these phases are hardly noticeable on the surface of a good movie, and the characters may take on many different forms, but the closer the deep structure of the plot remains to its mythological backbone the stronger it will resonate with the viewers.

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Antonio Canova’s Theseus and the Centaur

We covered the stages of the story in a previous post. Now, who are the usual characters in powerful stories? Here’s the list, and its implications for marketing:

The hero: this is the protagonist or the representation of  your customer. He will have to overcome problems and bypass obstacles to get to his goal. He has a strong need that must be met – by your solution or product.

The shadow: this usually represents the hero’s opponent or dark side. In marketing, we may think of it as our competition, or any flaws our products may have that must be corrected or features that need to be enhanced.

The mentor: in stories, they appear as older and wiser men or women, whose job is to guide and aid the hero along the path to accomplishing his goal. Marketers may use this concept in their messages and positioning. Think of the communications with your customers as ways of mentoring them.

The herald: this is the character that announces to the hero that he will need to act upon his needs and desires to have them sorted out. He pushed the hero forward. What better metaphor for a CALL TO ACTION? Your “call to action” needs to be included in all the communications with the client, your hero. It’s your job to tell them what to do next. Clarify the path.

The threshold guardians: these are people who hinder the hero’s progress at different plot points. They are not necessarily evil, but they will be obstacles to overcome. Think of them metaphorically as any obstruction on the client’s path to the micro or macro conversions you set up: faulty or unhelpful landing pages, redirect errors, unclear info about the product, interruptions or problems on the shopping cart path, etc. Be an ally to the hero and help him overcome these difficulties.

The trickster: that is a character that provides comic relief in stories. Also, these pranksters may provide useful information through their jokes. As a marketer, keep in mind that what people need, through your messages (you blog posts, for example), is to have info, develop their knowledge or to have fun. Don’t underestimate the power of comedy. This is a powerful way to win the customers’ hearts and minds.

The shapeshifter: usually someone who keeps changing their form or intentions. We never know if he’s an ally or an enemy. Or he may start off as an enemy and become an ally eventually. As a marketer, I think it’s very useful to see testimonials and comments on social media sites as typical shapeshifters.  They will sometimes align with your intentions in helping the hero get to his (and your) goal, but they can also badmouth you to the point of putting the whole journey in jeopardy. Shapeshifters need to me monitored closely on the Internet and responded to immediately. This is a huge part of your job as a marketer.

We hope this analysis of the main archetypes will help you structure the story of your brand more effectively. In future posts, we will carry on imparting more tips to help you hone your skills as a storyteller and marketer.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

 

 

 

 

Storytelling with Casper David Friedrich, the famous Romantic painter


Storytelling with Casper David Friedrich, the famous Romantic painter

Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation. You might want to check out our post on the mythological structure of storytelling as well: http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2

Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter


Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter

Winslow Homer.  Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation. You might want to check  out our post on the mythological structure of storytelling as well:  http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info: 

http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-1kP