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What Would Cy Twombly Do?

Author: Glenn Hauler

Art gallery

A few years ago, my brother Jack, who is a very left-brained kind of guy, was grilling me about my job—a career which, by the way, he cannot fathom.

At one point he asked me, “But what if you run out of ideas?”

The very thought of that both amused and terrified me. While I shudder to think that I may one day come up completely dry on an important creative assignment, I think it’s damned unlikely.

Reason is, I find inspiration for creative ideas in everything I do and everywhere I go. However, one “place” I always go to turn on the creative juice is contemporary art.

I started to get interested in this art genre about 15 years ago. I was walking down Walnut Street in Philadelphia and I spotted a gallery with a dazzling mixed-media work in the window. Smitten, I went into the shop and the hour I spent there was the start of a lifelong appreciation and love for modern art.

Lucky for me, the gallery director took a liking to me and over the next few years provided me with a priceless education on contemporary art and, later, expert guidance when I was ready to purchase what would be the start of a collection that gives me great joy.

Around that time, I started to visit art museums. Lots of them. Spending time in art museums has not only provided me with a recreational activity that I enjoy immensely; it has also inspired me to think more freely, open my eyes to points of view that I had not previously considered, and most importantly, not to be afraid to think more boldly and take chances, and be more confident in doing so.

I also love to travel, and one of the first things I do when I choose a destination is to map out its best museums.

I’ve had the great fortune to visit some of the finest museums in the world, from the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, to the Getty in LA and my beloved MOMA in New York City.

But one of my favorite places in the whole world is right here in my hometown of Philadelphia, where the Museum of Art has a large room devoted entirely to a series of abstract paintings created by artist Cy Twombly called “Fifty Days at Iliam,” often described as “a painting in ten parts.”

Over time, I have spent many hours in this room, gaping at those huge and “crazy” painted and crayoned scribbles, marveling at their sheer audacity and genius.

Of course, you may ask, “How does looking at a painting provide inspiration?” A very good question, indeed.

Hard to believe, but when Picasso was pioneering what became known as “Cubism” and Dali helped usher in what we now call “Surrealism,” the public and many art critics alike were outraged.

But these artists, like most artists, were interested in doing something new, expressing themselves in a fresh way, undeterred by current norms and subjective tastes.

They were challenging themselves to break from the past, crush norms, and more freely express their ideas.

You may also be thinking, “Well, how free can you be when you are tied to a creative brief?” And my answer to that is that while creative folks might be tethered to a documented strategy, it doesn’t mean they can’t create work—even in the pharmaceutical space—that can truly captivate, inspire, and motivate their audience.

While remaining on brand, writers and art directors can choose infinite pathways that lead to phenomenal ideas, expressed in both language and visuals, that are undeniably fresh, incredibly compelling, and inarguably ownable.

So sometimes when I get stuck when I’m brainstorming, I find I can usually break free by asking myself, “What would Cy Twombly do?”

And while that may not work for everybody, it has worked for me on more occasions than I can remember.

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