It is the year 1508 and a 33-year-old Michelangelo awaits his audience with Pope Julius the second. The sunlight streams through the window as the young man clutches his plans for the great Cistene chapel ceiling in his hands. They are brave, audacious, ambitious and will become the stuff of legend; of this he has no doubt. But first he must present them to the Pope’s right hand man.
“It is the doctrine of humanity’s need for salvation that is the overt subject matter.” He tells the intermediary. “It is a visual metaphor for humankind’s covenant with God.” He continues, ready to hit him between the eyes with the visual majesty of his plans. At 14 metres wide and 40 metres long the designs will take just over four painstaking years to complete, they will require the artist to develop a completely new technique of painting and be like nothing else on earth.
Once the presentation is over the Pope’s trusted advisor leans back in his chair and speaks:
“Hmmm, I like it. No I do, I like it. But let me put my client head on for a moment. Isn’t it all a bit, well, religious? Aren’t all these figures a bit, I don’t know, overkill? Let me present it, but let’s have a back-up plan. A banker. I’m thinking something in eggshell white. What do you think?”
I wonder if Norman Foster looked at the designs for 30 St Mary Axe, and said to his team of architects “Hmmm, isn’t it all a bit Gherkin like? It’s kinda’ cool and everything, but if I was to put my client head on for a moment; I’d be thinking we should also present a banker. I’ve always been a big fan of the cereal box shape. OK?”
When the Beatles recorded Sgt Peppers, did they record a banker? A Val Doonican cover perhaps? Did the designer of the Bugatti Veyron put his client head on, and have a Vauxhall Vectra clone as a back-up plan? Did Francis Ford Coppolla put his client head on and have a version of Apocalypse Now with that whole war bit toned down a tad? No, of course they didn’t. They all had a purity of vision, and the balls to support it.
It is sad that so many buildings, films, TV shows, commercials and music are so banal, formulaic, safe and unmemorable. They were the easy option, the no brainer, the banker, therefore they held no risks. Subsequently they will hold no attention, have no impact and form part of the unremarkable wallpaper of life.
Incidentally the original version of this post was carved into the back of a small Lithuanian gentleman, painted gold and hung upside down outside Tesco’s. However, I put my client head on for a moment, and decided it would be safer to post it on this blog.