On Creation and Emotion
A conversation with George McCalman, artist and Creative Director, McCalman.co
What’s your take on “content” — both the concept, and the word itself?
I come from a world where I’ve been telling other people’s stories for most of my career. And it’s such a pervasive word in advertising in the tech world, in the podcast world, and I don’t like that word. There’s a lot of meaning and there’s a lot of difference in that word, and it’s just a catch-all. I think it’s just a lazy word. It’s a beautiful word that has a lot of meaning that is currently not being used with thoughtfulness.
I’m a storyteller. I don’t produce content for anyone.
Sounds like one of your issues with that word is that it feels empty. How do you make sure that there’s meaning and impact in what you make?
I used to tell stories from a distance. Coming up in the magazine world, you know how to be impartial. You’re the judge, jury, and executioner. The decision-maker. You’re the gatekeeper. And I think that’s a little too hard, sometimes. And it makes you, as the person deciding on it… you get to separate your emotions. And you think you’re doing it for the greater good, but I think there’s a piece that’s lost in the translation.
And so that was the secret sauce that was missing from when I was not very emotionally connected to a lot of the work that I was doing.
So my approach to everything that I’m doing, whether I’m the artist, whether I’m the creative director, whether I’m branding, is the same: it is my emotions that are leading. I’m trusting my instincts, and I’m inviting my clients to trust their instincts, also. That the emotional aspect of what we’re doing, frankly, is the most important part of what we’re doing.
You’ve gotten comfortable using emotions as your guide. But talk to me about the opposite end of the spectrum: what’s the role data should play in creative decision making?
Data is really important. But living in the Bay Area, I see how much data drives decisions about human beings, and I think it’s fundamentally flawed. I’ve worked for years in a corporate setting, so I know how data is addictive. And I’m also surrounded by people who use data as the defining aspect of decision making.
I think that’s why data is used so overpoweringly. I think people want to feel like there is a universal line of information, that there is something that’s an equalizer.
But I think equally alongside that is the ephemeral, and I don’t think we give enough due to “alchemy” when we talk about numbers and technology. It’s like, alchemy does not exist. Meanwhile alchemy is the reason the tech industry exists in the first place. Artists and engineers putting their minds together is what created technology.
Why is emotion such an important ingredient in content creation?
We don’t have enough emotive stuff. We’re looking for stories that feel like our internal stories. We’re looking to feel like we’re not alone. And we need that, in constant supply. Because we forget it. And we want it. That’s where the word freakin’ content…why it’s so ubiquitous. Because we’re all looking for it. We all want it.
What’s the payoff of bringing emotion into your work?
It keeps you moving forward, it’s additive. It gives you wind. And there’s always more room for that.
That value, you know, when you work really well with someone and you produce something that’s just great, and you feel good about it —that’s fuel. It’s fuel for the next thing.
Who doesn’t want to work on something that you feel good about? Who doesn’t want to produce work that they’re proud of? Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re contributing to something that is foundational? Who doesn’t want to feel like the work they’re doing is influencing and affecting other people? Who doesn’t want that?