Dear Wells Fargo: A few facts about life that relate to choosing a career in anything, even the arts

The internet blew up last night as the arts community reacted on social media to an advertising campaign by Wells Fargo that appears critical towards pursuing careers in the arts. The ads suggest that a career in the arts is frivolous and not realistic. Here is the ad:

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I’m actually fairly certain that Wells Fargo never directly intended to squash a young person’s dream of an artistic career. But clearly, an important filter was missed in their zeal to attract the business (translation:the money) of young clients. But the unintended consequences of this campaign could negatively affect their business. Certainly their image has already been tarnished.

To be fair, Wells Fargo does support the arts—ballet, symphonies, community theatres, etc. This is well documented. But a grave error in marketing occurred with this campaign. How that could have escaped attention of the people paid to protect their company image is baffling.

So, a mistake was made. Granted, even big businesses make mistakes. And since everyone should have a chance to make up for errors, I add my voice to call on Wells Fargo to rectify the situation. As a Wells Fargo customer, with personal and arts business accounts, my continuing relationship with this bank may depend on how they respond to the criticism.

Here are a six ways to refute the assumptions made by the Wells Fargo ad campaign:

  1. Going into the arts is actually a certain choice.

Going into anything is uncertain. Life is uncertain. However, pursuing your dream is something that can be done with utmost certainty. Whatever that dream may be: astronaut (Sally Ride), violinist (Itzhak Perlman), actor (Tom Hanks); it is followed because the individual finds it a meaningful goal towards living a meaningful life. That of course does not mean there won’t be doubts along the way. Every artist has likely experienced questions along the way. The same may be said of the accountant, the botanist and the engineer. Healthy doubt is merely smart reflection and refocusing. Crushing doubt can be destructive, however. The Wells Fargo ad campaign bends the needle towards that scale.

  1. A career in the arts is a mature choice of profession.

It takes a great deal of courage to go into any arts profession. The uncertainty mentioned above can cause hesitation, surely, but the artists, actors, writers and musicians that I work with are also among the bravest people I know. I takes a mature mind to steadfastly pursue a dream. It takes heroic effort to pursue artistic aspirations. In becoming an artist (a lifelong journey, by the way), you learn to believe in yourself. You also learn very quickly that there is something much bigger than our individual selves expressed through artistic endeavors.

  1. Life is not only about stuff, contrary to what big business may want us to believe.

Too much emphasis is placed upon the material things we should attain in life—The big house, the fancy car…jewel encrusted phone cases for the overpriced phone. It’s a seemingly human trait (or failing?), this accumulation of stuff, and becomes an obstacle to our contentment. Certainly there are expensive things that we need for our life, even careers. Houses are expensive. (But few people truly ask: what type of house, car, furniture, etc do I really need?) Let’s also remember that many a musician has taken out loans from banks to afford a top quality instruments. So, yes, business is necessary. It would be refreshing, however, to find a business that also encourages the accumulation of less tangible things—integrity, truth and beauty. (Or at least doesn’t discourage that pursuit).

  1. Kids are easily influenced. So are their parents.

We tend to believe what we see, and it is well known that advertising works effectively on a subconscious level. The Wells Fargo marketing campaign seems to suggest that the silly notions we have as children are nothing more that—things we need to outgrow. This implies a grown-up choice is something that can only be a quantifiable career: science, engineering, BANKING. This is an example of singular thinking. And it is antithetical to the human experience. We need both sides of the equation. What is often missing is the qualitative side of life provided by the arts.

Consider for a moment that the finest minds in almost any field were creative thinkers. (Einstein played the violin) Conversely, many scientists I know are also fine imaginative thinkers, poets and musicians. The great minds of the sciences received much of their inspiration from other sources, going back at least as far as Pythagoras. One need not be exclusive of the other.

  1. History is rife with examples of great artists who were discouraged to pursue their dream, yet succeeded.

In my own field of music alone, there are many examples of great composers and performers who were discouraged by family members from pursuing their professional dreams. We are forever thankful they didn’t take that advice. One wonders how many more simply gave up based on pressure from family and society. The power of suggestion is indeed powerful. We must be mindful of the message.

  1. Not everyone is the same.

We must be wary of the desire to fit everyone into a similar mold, lest it become a cubicle confining our potential.

I look forward to posting positive updates as to how Wells Fargo responds. The arts world is indeed watching.

Copyright, 2016. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Update: Wells Fargo did isue a statement/apology Sunday morning:

Wells Fargo is deeply committed to the arts, and we offer our sincere apology for the initial ads promoting our Sept. 17 Teen Financial Education Day. They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. We are making changes to the campaign’s creative that better reflect our company’s core value of embracing diversity and inclusion, and our support of the arts. Last year, Wells Fargo’s support of the arts, culture and education totaled $93 million.

 

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