Why Is It OK To Read Art Books, But Not Novels?

When I worked at Y&R back in 1996 I was once sitting at my desk reading Lolita in the middle of the afternoon.

After about five minutes, one of the senior copywriters walked by and said, ‘Never books.’

I asked him what he meant and he explained that you could get away with reading anything at your desk except a novel.

Magazines were OK, newspapers were OK, art books were especially OK. But not novels.

I understood what he meant: it looks very lazy and indulgent because it appears to have nothing to do with work.

Of course, I could have been reading it to get into the rhythms of Nabokov’s language, or been thinking about a paedophilia-based script for HP sauce, but on the surface it simply looked like I was just loafing off for an hour (which is what I was doing. Maybe that’s why I got sacked from there. Although in mitigation there was never any work to do and my AD wasn’t even in the building).

But as a copywriter, immersing yourself in the very best of the English language ought to be a great idea. After all, the visual/AD equivalent of flicking through art/photography books is not just permitted, it’s positively encouraged. ‘Go to Zwemmers (RIP) or Magma,’ that’s what some CDs advise. But ‘read some Kafka’? Not bloody likely.

I think that it’s all part of the visual bias that advertising is currently taking.

There is no justifiable reason why copywriters shouldn’t attempt to hone their craft by experiencing the best writing has to offer, just as there’s no justifiable reason why a copywriter shouldn’t be able to call on the services of a great jokesmith or speech writer if their script requires it. After all, what’s an art director doing when he uses a designer/illustrator/photographer?

I guess it’s just the way things have been set up.

But I’ll tell you what: it fucking stinks.