01/25/2013 12:30 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2013

The Day They Focus Grouped Picasso

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them." -- Steve Jobs

Why is non-fiction TV so very terrible? (And it is).

If you went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan and you took all the paintings out of the Met and piled them up on Fifth Avenue, you would have a stack that reached a few hundred feet into the air. Yet in that stack you would have Michelangelos and Rembrandts and DaVinci'=s and a whole lot more. These things represent the pinnacle of what we can do with the art of paint and canvas.

We have now been making video and TV for more than 60 years -- 24 hours a day, 365 days a week on hundreds if not thousands of channels. That is a massive amount of content that has already been made. And, if you took all of the TV content that has ever been made and stacked it up in a pile it would probably reach from here to the moon. Yet if you combed through it you would be hard-pressed to find what we could call the 'Michelangelo' of television -- the paragon, the best of what this medium could do.

There's a reason for that. Until now, television has been so expensive and complicated to produce that it has been done by corporations and committees. And corporations and committees don't produce brilliance. They produce Cupcake Wars.

The question, of course, is why? Why do we, despite the billions of dollars spent on TV and the billions of hours devoted to it, continue to produce garbage?

Because creativity requires a personal vision.

When Picasso wakes up and gets the vision for "Guernica," he simply goes up to the atelier and starts to paint. This is how great paintings are made. This is where genius comes from. If we ran the world of painting the way we currently run the world of TV, Picasso would get the vision for "Guernica," and then he would write a proposal to PPS (The Public Painting System). The tile of the proposal would be "The Guernica Painting: A Proposal."

A Proposal for a Major Artwork

By Pablo Picasso

The Spanish Civil War is an event that has captured both the headlines of every major newspaper as well as the popular imagination of the nation. Yet what is the Spanish Civil War, what does it mean to the average person. I hope to capture this feeling through an intensive, yet highly personal presentation of the impact of the fascist government's bombing of one small village: Guernica.

The work will be largely two dimensional, painted on a canvass, with images of people, cows, and a lamp...

You get the idea.

Well, Picasso writes the proposal, (along PPS published guidelines), and, in time, (like about six months or so), the Guernica Project makes its way through the PPS review system. It is looked at, in committee, by a number of very well known PPS painters, as well as administrators for the PPS system. They generally like the proposal, and they may even fund it, but they have some suggestions to make.

The Public Painting System

Dear Mr. Picasso,

Many thanks for your recent submission "The Guernica Painting Project." We at PPS read it with great interest and I am delighted to tell you that you are on the 'fast track' for approval for commencement of the painting.

We do, however, have a few small problems with the proposal, but we are sure that you will be amenable to making some changes to make the painting more 'audience friendly.'

1. This is a war painting. As you know, it is not our practice to fund War Paintings, as they do not fall within the PPS guidelines for 'good paintings.' However, when we do fund war paintings, we have found that museum audiences generally respond best to something heroic, and a victory. (Washington Crossing the Delaware -- both very heroic and uplifting -- generated our greatest audience response during the museum fundraising drive three years ago). Your Guernica project, while dealing with a war, has neither a hero, nor (how shall we put this?) a happy ending. Please re-think the focus of the painting. While the Spanish Civil War is a very noble and worthwhile subject with which to deal, we would rather see you focus one or two 'heroic' personalities in the war (perhaps one Republican and one Fascist -- to give an all important sense of balance... something we really like around here).

2. On another subject, we have spent a great deal of time (and money) focus grouping your most recent work. I have to tell you that audiences in our test markets of Cleveland and Parsipany, N.J., did not react particularly well to your work. This can, of course, be disappointing for an artist, but we have found that by paying attention to the results of focus grouping can greatly increase audience response numbers. When you come down to our offices in Washington, we will be happy to go over the specifics, but one point was driven home again and again. You must put the eyes back into the faces. People find this particularly distressing...