Bronze Sage: John Clinton’s art therapy

He may be a suit, but sculpting gives Edelman's CEO an appreciation of the creative process

Edelman’s CEO may be a suit, but the hours he’s spent on his own artwork gives him an appreciation for the creative process

As a budding artist, John Clinton’s first paying gig was more of a scam than a commission.

After graduating from Queen’s with a degree in Urban Geography and moving back to Toronto in 1976, Clinton was without a job and running low on funds. He’d picked up wood carving as a hobby while at school and saw an opportunity to make a little money.

He’d wander into the tony neighbourhood of Rosedale, pick a house, settle down in front and carve a relief of it in pine. Invariably, the uncomfortable homeowner would emerge to find out what the long-haired kid was doing and, in most cases, after a little sweet talk about the property, Clinton sold his carving. “I’d walk home at the end of the day with $250 in my jeans.”

Most in the industry know Clinton as CEO of PR firm Edelman, and before that as SVP at Transcontinental Media and CEO of Grey. But from that simple start on the front lawns of Rosedale, Clinton has also become a highly accomplished sculptor. Since the mid ’80s, his medium of choice has been bronze and today Clinton calls his art more “therapy” than hobby. “You can have a terrible week at work and go home and lose yourself in it and all of a sudden things aren’t so bad,” he says.

Despite a demanding day job, Clinton manages to complete five to eight pieces a year; most are commissions, though some go to galleries. And while he never worked as a creative, Clinton says his reputation as an artist has been invaluable to him at the office.

“It has probably been the single most helpful thing in my career. It allows creative people to trust you,” he says.

Creating something – a painting, a sculpture, an advertising concept – is about incredible hard work and vulnerability, he says.

“So when someone says, ‘That is shit’ or ‘That is terrible,’ and they have no understanding what you went through to do that, that is why you end up with the classic suits and creatives.

“When you are an artist, you treat other creatives differently… You can have more meaningful conversations. Stuff isn’t crap, it is just not the way you would have done it.”

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