By Ben Waters
Ignorance isn’t bliss, but it’s a good start:
I know that I know nothing.
This contradiction couldn’t ring more true as I start a creative advertising course armed with a Classics degree and a GCSE in Art.
I’ll be going into this as a beginner, with no real advertising experience or knowledge, but at least my three years of studying (generally irrelevant) ancient philosophy introduced me to the famous quote above.
It’s supposedly what made Socrates the wisest person on earth: his admission that he didn’t really know anything at all, which at least set him above the people around him who believed that they had the answers to everything. To me, it highlights the fact that knowledge is a pretty tentative thing and that it’s only by acknowledging this that we can realistically move forward.
In my case, it’d be naive to think that my basic understanding of Photoshop and years in student journalism have prepared me to be an art director or copywriter. The whole year will undeniably be totally out of my comfort zone. In this way, I guess I’ll just have to start by recognising my limitations before I can push past them.
This is much easier said than done. I’ve never liked admitting incompetence or ignorance, especially when I’ve been doing the same old essay slog, term after term, in a pattern of extreme predictably and convenience.
My traditional education taught me to really kick myself when I didn’t know something. Supervisors would often tut or laugh when I paused with nothing to say, hungover, during a Tuesday morning supervision.
Any essays which made outlandish claims or factual errors would usually be met with an aggressive ‘NO!’ scribbled in red ink in the margin.
Conversations at lunch would regularly descend into point-scoring nit-picking about politics, books or, that intellectual circle jerk classic, post-modernism (I still don’t really know what it means either).
These experiences taught me how to be rigorous, but at the expense of making any kind of risk or learning any new skills. During these years, getting my argument right was such a big deal. It seemed more important to sit on an empire of knowledge than to hold my hands up and surrender to the world of ignorance that always sat beyond the border.
The one thing I do know is that this exam based approach to life, which rewards obsessive revision and which can create a real fear of intuition, development and experience, won’t get me very far at the SCA.
Creativity, in my experience, can be logic-chopped into pieces when you start applying a hyper- critical approach of always getting things right. Everything kind of dries up if you don’t allow things to flow.
For me, making something worthwhile has often relied on trying out things which I’ve had no previous experience or skill-set in, because it was only when I experimented with something new that I could combine old elements together into something fresh.
So maybe it’s good that there are huge gaps in my knowledge and that I don’t really know what I’m doing: I’m hoping that this insecurity will allow me to learn and get better.
Ignorance can be uncomfortable, scary and is never rewarded. It’s definitely not bliss – but, sometimes, it is a good place to start.