Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, by Greek immigrant parents. I worked in my father’s florist store, right after each school day until dark, and all day on Saturdays, since I was seven or eight years old, delivering flowers to every corner of the five boroughs of New York.
I attended a wonderful public elementary school, and then received a superb education at the High School of Music & Art, the greatest institution of learning since Alexander sat at the feet of Aristotle. In the beginning of my second year at Pratt Institute, coaxed by a design instructor, I left college and instantly became an art director, married my Pratt schoolmate, and soon thereafter was drafted into the army to fight in Korea, the first of a series of ill-advised, ill-fated, American wars. When I returned home, I had a series of remarkably successful art direction jobs until I founded the second creative agency in the world, Papert Koenig Lois, the very first ad agency with an art directors name on the masthead.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
Since I was a youngster in public school, I lived to draw, design, rearrange things. I knew I was going to be an artist. What kind, I didn’t know. But at age fourteen, when I went to the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan, I soon found that my special fascination was with art that expected to persuade, to sell, and, I set a course to not only be a designer, but a pioneering cultural provocateur, and that has been my life’s work, and joy, ever since.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was raised by Greek Orthodox parents and followed in their tradition. When I was 18, I thought hard about all religions and decided “the things that you’re libel to read in the bible – it ain’t necessarily so.”
I had a lot of breaks in my life, including being raised by a hard working Greek family and marrying the right woman (60 years ago), but three people recognised my talent and led me to what I do today:
A. Ida Engle, my seventh grade art teacher, sent me to the High School of Music & Art (a brilliant school founded in 1936 by mayor Fiorello LaGuardia) for an all-day exam with dozens of drawings of mine she had saved. When I was enthusiastically accepted, I knew I would be an artist.
B. After a few months in my second year at Pratt Institute, Herschel Levit, an aesthete design teacher, jump-started my career by insisting I leave school and sent me to Reba Sochis’ design studio.
C. The greatest day of my professional life was when I met Reba Sochis – a great designer, a great dame, a great curser. I couldn’t believe that I was actually being paid to refine my craft in her Queendom of Perfectionism. May every ambitious young person be as blessed as I have been.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
Nothing will ever compare to the visceral experience of holding a book in your hands, licking a thumb and turning the pages. The book will never die – long live the book.
Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!) is my culmination of a lifetime of iconoclastic, and iconic, thinking and teaching about the process of creativity in all phases of the graphic arts, and indeed about the conduct of life itself. With punchy writing and visuals, it’s a handful of dynamite (4 3/4 x 7 inch, 176 pages) delivering 120 no-holds barred, in-your-face lessons, explaining, demonstrating, and ultimately teaching how to unleash your potential in any creative-driven industry. If you have talent, this book can be a life-changing experience (and for a miraculously low price of $10).
My work continues to kick ass. Businessweek magazine wrote, “Every industry has its stars, and in the world of advertising, George Lois is a Supernova, the original Mr. Big Idea. Since the 1950s, he’s had a titanic influence on world culture.”
Muhammad Ali: from a narcissistic self-promoter who eventually became a man of enduring spirituality through a journey of formidable tests, Ali emerged as a true superhero in the annals of American history, and the worldwide Ambassador of Courage and Conviction.
New York magazine wrote, “George Lois, pioneer, innovator…is an advertising genius…Superman of Madison Avenue…America’s Master Communicator.” My goal in life is to keep rejecting con…and creating icon.
10. What advice do you give aspiring creatives?
I would sincerely tell them to read, study, and read once again, Damn Good Advice (For People with Talent!), it can be a life-changing experience.
George, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French, Korean and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for over twenty-five years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au.