The “Grumpy” Poet – It’s not the Tools, it’s the Artist!


Years ago, I had a professor in college tell me “It’s not the tool that makes the artist, it’s the artist!”. Granted, not so original and a little fluffy around the edges, but to an 18-yr-old college kid with no money to buy software this gave me, my class, some hope.

You’ve got to understand back when I was in college the whole digital design thing was still very new. Agencies hadn’t gone all digital yet and traditional forms of graphic design were still taught alongside technology, especially considering print was still huge and web was only an afterthought. We’re talking pre-smartphones and tablets here people! Terms like flat design, responsive, adaptable, etc., hadn’t even entered the scene yet.

More importantly, college kids like us at the time didn’t have the money for high-end design software. The options were slim. And getting “free” software was not nearly as easy as it is today. We had to compromise. Find the right tools for the job and make them work for us. The onus was on us as artists to imagine and produce great art regardless of the tools we were using – and we did!

Tools are great, don’t get me wrong, they can benefit efficiency, collaboration, and enable us to do things beyond the basics of pen and paper. But real creativity comes from within. If we can imagine it and figure out a way to make real – then we’re an artist!

So what does this have to do with a marketing agency? More to the point, why am I grumpy about this? I’ll tell you why! Among various other topics discussed here in the “Grumpy” Poet column on efficiency and productivity killers, and of course sheer stupidity, I really hate it when people blame the tools they use for their limitations or poor quality of work. We’re not talking user errors here, as in not knowing how to use a piece of technology correctly, we’re talking about pure laziness and a lack of creativity.


“Well, we changed the approved hero shot because we had issues making it responsive on all screens. Photoshop doesn’t have to ability to do this and the code can’t support it”

Blah, blah, blah. What a crock of shit! Let me translate this for you:

“We don’t really know what we’re doing. And quite honestly we’re just too lazy to figure out how to make it happen. So even though we came up with the initial idea and you approved it, we’re just going to cop out and call it a day”

Today, many designers are developers. Yes, developers. As design becomes more reliant on code, many young coders are developing a keen eye for design and figuring out how to produce beautiful web presences with languages like CSS. I’ve seen some incredible stuff designed by coders without the use of large and expensive flat screen monitors, Photoshop, drawing tablets, etc. It’s not the tools, remember?

When Brendan and I first started, we didn’t have the money to purchase expensive marketing software, social tools, CRMs, project management apps, etc. We cobbled together a system using what we had or could afford and made it work for us and our clients. We understood, and still understand that the success of our clients doesn’t come from the tools we use but our own creative passion, dedication, and years of experience.

I’m reminded of Jean-Michelle Basquiat, a well known neo-expressionist who worked with Andy Warhol, who began his career as a homeless artist who used scraps of garbage to create art he sold on the streets. He didn’t let his poverty hold him back. He figured out a way to create without the traditional tools of an artist and eventually became one of the greats of his time.

The point is, tools are great as long as they don’t stunt creativity and break the bank. Never blame the tool – only yourself if the end result fails.

I’ll leave you with this:

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will” – George Bernard Shaw

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