Our First Language

Tarik Atallah
4 min readDec 25, 2020
Image from George and Tom’s Website.

For better or worse creative work is full of subjective elements. Elements that we simply can’t put into words. No matter how much time passes. One of these elements is what makes something “human”. To make something human involves drawing from who you are and channeling it into your work. There are countless people across multiple industries who create like this. Actors, musicians, directors, writers, painters, etc. Then there are the few who’ve taken it a step further. Those who can speak to what makes us human in a way that is human.

Before going on I would like to clarify that while I understand every way we communicate is “human” (because technically it is) the quality of what makes something noticeably human is what we’ll be referring to. For instance, if we have two ads for cookies and one reads “Great Tasting Cookies” while the other says “Kiss Yourself Control Goodbye” we can see that the first says it literally, while the second says it by telling us how these cookies will make us feel. Powerless.

Image from Chowhound.com

The first piece we’ll look at is called The Last Da Vinci done by Tom & George McQueen over at Droga5 to advertise one of Da Vinci’s final paintings. In essence, it videotapes people’s expressions through a hidden camera as they gaze upon the painting.

Image from George & Tom’s site.

Right off the bat, there are a handful of factors that make this piece pleasant to engage with. The camera’s POV is interesting in that it captures something very raw and organic. The lighting is dramatic, but not overly so. The sound design is really nice by itself and only serves to compliment everything that adjoins it. However, what’s interesting about this work isn’t its constituents, or what it’s trying to say. It’s how it’s trying to say it. It doesn’t tell you how this painting will resonate with you. There is no telling of anything. Just the showing of the impact that it had on others. It interchanges written language with the expressions of strangers. It communicates by using what we are to describe something to us.

Image from Pinterest.

The second example is done by the good people over at Media Arts Lab. This piece is called Life Up Late and it depicts people passed out with their iPhones playing in the background. It’s nice in a lot of the same ways the Last Da Vinci is. The sound design pairs well with its adult lullaby vibe. The camera’s POV captures something tender and organic looking. However, this work behaves a bit differently from the one prior in how it communicates. It actually has a tangible message aiding in what it’s trying to say. The copy reading“ You’ll lose power before it will” basically tells you that the new iPhone’s battery is so long-lasting it’ll outlast your own battery. Although, that information is vague. They could have said that it lasts however many hours. Instead, they decided to say that it can stay up longer than you can as they proceeded to show you what that might look like. In the same way that The Last Da Vinci communicates Life Up Late utilizes human behavior as a means of expression. While it uses language to help make its message more apparent it also uses ourselves to describe the product’s benefit to us.

Image from Youtube.

In looking at the two pieces above it’s not hard to think that it could just be the showing of shared human experiences that make up this form of communication. And that’s definitely part of it. However, one could also argue that there’s a certain sincerity present in the ads mentioned above that isn’t always present in a lot of what we see today. Whenever we see a jewelry commercial we can almost always count on seeing someone experiencing joy as a result of being gifted jewelry. However, even though we’ve all been happy to receive a gift, more often than not those commercials don’t move us emotionally in the way that they probably were made to.

Source Giphy.

What The Last Da Vinci and Life Up Late do differently and do well is show human behavior that stems from a place that is genuine. They conjure the benefit they’re trying to convey by showing us something that we can somehow verify. To look upon a painting and feel something you’ve never felt. To be lulled to sleep by your own devices as if you were still a kid. The scenarios they depict don’t just draw on our shared human experiences, they remind us of how wonderful they can be in a way that makes us want to believe in what they’re promising. They say something in an emotional frequency that we‘ve always known to be of someone telling the truth.