The Giacometti Committee

The BBC programme, Fake of Fortune, investigates the authenticity of works of art.

Last year there was an episode looking at what was thought to be a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, the Swiss sculptor and painter.

Authenticity of his sculptures is validated by the brilliantly named Giacometti Committee.

The sculpture could have been a Giacometti, but it was pretty hard to tell. It had been damaged, there were x-rays, etc.  The Giacometti Committee decided they needed to have quite a hard think. Personally, if it’s that hard to tell, I’d say caveat emptor.

The issue of authentication – and authenticity – is on my mind at the moment. About a decade ago I did some work for an FMCG brand that had two approval committees. 

An announcement that I’d crafted went to committee A, which made its changes and then it was sent to committee B, which made its own. These went back to committee A, which made some more, then back to committee B, that restored some of its earlier changes and made more. Six months later the approved document came back. It was stripped of news and unrecognisable from the one that I’d originally submitted. It was never issued.

The announcement by committee is in my experience the most expensive and worthless document a business can own. There is something about having more than two voices that makes the central argument collapse.  The committee A and B incident was one of only two occasions when I’ve resigned from an account. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do the work or that I couldn’t. It was that there was nothing left to work with, which wasn’t good for the client.  

Of course, often there’s considerable value in having a provocative foil in the creative process. Lennon and McCartney made this work magnificently for instance. 

I remember years ago hiring an ex-tabloid correspondent. One of his first tasks (poor him) was to write an awards submission for piece of ‘innovative point of sale material’. He agonised over it for a day and then came back with the classic opening line in a document that was meant to sell the concept: “to the untrained eye, this might look like a bit of cardboard with a couple of holes knocked through it”. The argument in his draft didn’t get any stronger. He needed a McCartney.

Authorial voice is so important. It’s an expression of the brand. Several fighting imperatives mostly lead to sanitised reductive outcomes that end up as wallpaper.  

For me (exaggerating again to make a point) it’s a bit like Picasso taking one of his paintings to the board for approval. “Can’t it be a bit more representative?” “I’m not sure that blue is the best colour. How about purple?” “Can’t you make the horses look a bit happier?” 

Consensus and collaboration in business are absolutely vital, but there are times when the act of debate can destroy the essence, purity and impact of an idea. Playing people to their strengths is so important. Communication is an art form. If we pull it to pieces, we sentence the Picassos amongst us to a career in inoffensive decoration.  We can turn silk purses into sow’s ears.