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The Creative Integrity of William Golden
cartoonbrew.com ^ | 2009.10.09 | Amid Amidi

Posted on 10/11/2009 10:17:43 PM PDT by B-Chan

Recently I revisited The Visual Craft of William Golden, a book published in the early-Sixties about the legendary CBS creative director. There is an essay in the book by CBS exec John Cowden that sheds light on Golden’s artistic integrity, and helps to explain why the advertising work created under his guidance remains to this day the strongest body of advertising ever created for a TV network.

Golden’s world revolved around graphic design, illustration and advertising, but I find his experiences to be relevant to creative people working in any commercial field, and especially animation. For example, Cowden recounted how Golden was offered a promotion from creative director to an upper management position. Golden flatly turned down the offer, Cowden wrote:

Many years ago, when he was offered the title of Vice President in charge of Advertising and Sales Promotion, he said no thanks. His reasons were significant—and characteristic. He said the stripes would be bars…that they would force him to become a “company man”…to take the so-called “broad view” at the expense of principle.

Bill preferred to keep his independence and to preserve his inalienable right to shout—when the occasion demanded—that the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. In any case, he said he didn’t want to go to meetings, or be snowed under by administrative duties. I mention this because it reveals how Bill was willing to sacrifice anything—including his own advancement—if he felt it stood in the way of better design and advertising.

The story, incidentally, has an ironic but delightful ending. In scorning the conventional status symbols, Bill won far more. By turning down a vice presidency, he eventually gained a respect and status that outranked any vice president in the company.

Contrast Golden’s unwavering integrity to all of the animation artists in recent years who have moved into high-profile executive and management positions. In every case—with the notable exception of John Lasseter [OSCAR®-winning director and screenwriter, now chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney animation studios-- BC], these artists have unwittingly weakened their creative influence and become part of the problem by entrenching themselves within broken production systems.

Golden, who refused to become a part of upper management, also had his own ways of dealing with clueless business people. Again, from Cowden’s essay:

This integrity and pride in craft were also apparent in his willingness to lay his job on the line if anyone tried to invade his special area of responsibility. I remember a layout for a rate card he once submitted to his superior—the President of the Division. It came back by messenger with a note saying “I don’t like it very much. Let’s discuss.” Bill’s answer was simply to scotchtape a drawing pencil to the corner of a large layout pad and send it back with this message scribbled across the top sheet: “Let’s not. Why don’t you make a better one.” There was no reply. The rate card was produced as originally designed.

ACADEMY AWARD(S)®, OSCAR(S)®, OSCAR NIGHT® and OSCAR® statuette design mark are the registered trademarks and service marks, and the OSCAR® statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; US: New York
KEYWORDS: cbs; corporations; design; integrity
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William Golden was the creative director at CBS during its glory years. He created the CBS "look", including the famous Eye, and with it the entire field known today as "corporate identity".

I have no idea what William Golden's politics were, and I don't really care. However, as a former advertising art director myself, I find his work and his story to be equally compelling. Suffice it to say that a guy like Golden would never survive in today's corporate world, where refusing to grovel before the Front-Office Scum is a guaranteed way to end up with the contents of your desk in a box by the end of the workday. William Golden did not take crap from bean-counters, marketing pimps, or stuffed-shirt MBA jockeys. He was a designer and did not tolerate Money Men who insisted they knew more than he did about his field. He could and did put his career on the line many times rather than permit non-designers from "corporate leadership" to interfere with his craft.

William Golden died in 1959 at the age of 48 -- far too early. We won't see his like again. There were men in those days.

1 posted on 10/11/2009 10:17:43 PM PDT by B-Chan
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