World famous chef Ferran Adria visited my marketing class at the end of the semester. The class centered on a case written about his restaurant, El Bulli, which has been recognized as the best restaurant in the world and also the hardest to get a reservation at... only 6,500 people per year have the pleasure of dining there, despite 1-2 million reservation requests.
The crux of the case is that El Bulli does not make money. In fact, it hasn't been profitable since 2000. At 250 euros per meal (30 small dishes/drinks/desserts), Adria could certainly charge more money... but doesn't.
In this way, Adria said he is free to create without having to cater to customers wants. Instead, he has attempted to "buy his freedom" by selling El Bulli cookbooks. He also tried his hand at innovating fast food and potato chips for Lay's (but abandoned those ventures, as they didn't seem to fit).
Business loses to art in this case... dramatically and daringly. Within the case, Adria also refers to a quote by Jacques Maximin: "to create is not to copy."
I had the opportunity to ask Adria about this in class, more specifically, how we (as people trying to copy his recipes out of the El Bulli cookbooks) could learn to be creative. He said the secret is not to want to be #1. If you want to be creative but want to be the best, you will drive yourself mad. If I understood correctly, he said that this is the reason there are so many depressed artist types... the people who fret because they will never be Picasso... but of course they will never be Picasso -- there was only one Picasso, and he didn't certainly didn't aspire to be "PICASSO!"
This tug-of-war between business and art made me think specifically about Of Montreal's song "Wraith Pinned to Mist and Other Games"...
... for an Outback Steakhouse commercial:
OM frontman Kevin Barnes wrote an insightful rock'n'roller essay about the decision last year. Here's a little of what he had to say...
Why commercialize yourself? In the art industry, it's extremely difficult to be successful without turning yourself into a cartoon. Even Hunter S. Thompson knew this. God knows Duchamp and Warhol knew it. Some artists are turned into cartoons and others do it themselves. I prefer to do it myself.
Read the full interview on Stereogum's archive site.
Interesting to think of two very innovative, creative artists, each with a different view of their work and its marketing.