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Posts tagged "creativity"

Jul 03, 2014
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Bob Mankoff, How About Never—Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons

Booklist got it right:


  In a witty mix of memoir and New Yorker cartoon history exuberantly illustrated with New Yorker cartoons past and present, Mankoff discusses his mother’s complicated influence (“Humor thrives on conflict”), how his psychology background helps him understand what makes cartoons funny or thought-provoking, and why he created the Cartoon Bank, which transformed the profession. He also unveils the magazine’s cartoon selection process under editors William Shawn, Tina Brown, and David Remnick and describes his own rigorous assessment of 1,000 cartoons a week. Other cartoonists describe their working methods, and Mankoff even offers inside information on the New Yorker’s devilishly difficult Cartoon Caption Contest, which the late great movie critic Roger Ebert won in 2011 “after 107 tries.” A cartoon lover’s feast.


I particularly liked the bits where Bob talks about how the humor in cartoons works, and how the cartoonists themselves work:


  In cartooning, as in life, nine out of ten things don’t work out… 
  To get good ideas in any field, the best method is to generate lots of ideas and throw out the bad ones.


He then points to something that I’d always suspected: that there are writing-first cartoonists and drawing-first cartoonists:


  Different cartoonists have different was of getting quality from quantity. One division is between the doodle firsters and the word firsters. The doodle firsters doodle away until a drawing inspires something funny, while the words first people write, write, and write some more until something clicks.


(For a great example of the process of a word-firster, check out my friend Matt Diffee’s TED talk.)

The other thing I love about this book is how informed it seems to be by Mankoff’s blogging — it reads like a really lean, well-edited blog post, with cartoons tossed in the stream at any point they need to be to illustrate the point. It’s fast reading that also rewards re-reading, which is a hard thing to pull off.

If you’re at all interested in The New Yorker, cartooning, or how humor works, this is a really great read.

Recommended.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Bob Mankoff, How About Never—Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons

Booklist got it right:

In a witty mix of memoir and New Yorker cartoon history exuberantly illustrated with New Yorker cartoons past and present, Mankoff discusses his mother’s complicated influence (“Humor thrives on conflict”), how his psychology background helps him understand what makes cartoons funny or thought-provoking, and why he created the Cartoon Bank, which transformed the profession. He also unveils the magazine’s cartoon selection process under editors William Shawn, Tina Brown, and David Remnick and describes his own rigorous assessment of 1,000 cartoons a week. Other cartoonists describe their working methods, and Mankoff even offers inside information on the New Yorker’s devilishly difficult Cartoon Caption Contest, which the late great movie critic Roger Ebert won in 2011 “after 107 tries.” A cartoon lover’s feast.

I particularly liked the bits where Bob talks about how the humor in cartoons works, and how the cartoonists themselves work:

In cartooning, as in life, nine out of ten things don’t work out… To get good ideas in any field, the best method is to generate lots of ideas and throw out the bad ones.

He then points to something that I’d always suspected: that there are writing-first cartoonists and drawing-first cartoonists:

Different cartoonists have different was of getting quality from quantity. One division is between the doodle firsters and the word firsters. The doodle firsters doodle away until a drawing inspires something funny, while the words first people write, write, and write some more until something clicks.

(For a great example of the process of a word-firster, check out my friend Matt Diffee’s TED talk.)

The other thing I love about this book is how informed it seems to be by Mankoff’s blogging — it reads like a really lean, well-edited blog post, with cartoons tossed in the stream at any point they need to be to illustrate the point. It’s fast reading that also rewards re-reading, which is a hard thing to pull off.

If you’re at all interested in The New Yorker, cartooning, or how humor works, this is a really great read.

Recommended.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Jun 19, 2014
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9 good bits from Adam Phillips’ Paris Review interview

1) “I had never had any desire to be a writer. I wanted to be a reader.”

2) “One thing you discover in psychoanalytic treatment is the limits of what you can change about yourself or your life. We are children for a very long time.”

3) “Fortunately, I never recovered from my education, I’ve just carried on with it. If you happen to like reading, it can have a very powerful effect on you, an evocative effect, at least on me. It’s not as though when I read I’m gathering information, or indeed can remember much of what I read. I know the books that grip me, as everybody does, but their effect is indiscernible. I don’t quite know what it is. The Leavisite position, more or less, is that reading certain sentences makes you more alive and a morally better person, and that those two things go together. It seems to me that that isn’t necessarily so, but what is clear is that there are powerful unconscious evocative effects in reading books that one loves. There’s something about these books that we want to go on thinking about, that matters to us. They’re not just fetishes that we use to fill gaps. They are like recurring dreams we can’t help thinking about.”

4) “You can only recover your appetite, and appetites, if you can allow yourself to be unknown to yourself.”

5) “That’s what a life is, it’s the lives you don’t have.”

6) “I hope you read one of my books because it gives you pleasure or because you hate it—you read it for those sorts of reasons—and then you discover what you find yourself thinking, feeling, in the reading of it.”

7) “You can’t write differently, even if you want to. You just have to be able to notice when you are boring yourself.”

8) “Anybody who writes knows you don’t simply write what you believe. You write to find out what you believe, or what you can afford to believe.”

9) “[I]f you live in a culture which is fascinated by the myth of the artist, and the idea that the vocational artistic life is one of the best lives available, then there’s always going to be a temptation for people who are suffering to believe that to become an artist would be the solution when, in fact, it may be more of the problem. There are a number of people whom you might think of as casualties of the myth of the artist. They really should have done something else. Of course some people get lucky and find that art works for them, but for so many people it doesn’t. I think that needs to be included in the picture. Often one hears or reads accounts in which people will say, Well, he may have treated his children, wives, friends terribly, but look at the novels, the poems, the paintings. I think it’s a terrible equation. Obviously one can’t choose to be, as it were, a good parent or a good artist, but if the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having. People should be doing everything they can to be as kind as possible and to enjoy each other’s company. Any art, any anything, that helps us do that is worth having. But if it doesn’t, it isn’t.’

Such a good read.

(Update: my friend Mark Larson has a great AdamPhillips tag.)

May 27, 2014
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99U interview with Austin Kleon

Jocelyn K. Glei interviewed me for the 99U’s new quarterly print rag:

[Christopher Hitchens] said that writing a book is like getting a free education that lasts a lifetime. He was talking about how the people who read his books would email him and write him letters or he would meet them at events, and they were constantly feeding him stuff. He wasn’t just learning from writing the book, he was also learning from people’s reactions to the book.

And I think that’s the way to think about self-promotion: Think about it as opening the door to learning. In the simple act of sharing your creative process, sharing the stuff that you make, and sharing your ideas, you will get responses that feed back into your work.

And then the trick becomes how to let that feedback in without letting it hurt you. And that’s the dance of the artistic life, isn’t it? Separating what’s helpful from what’s destructive.

Bonus points to them for using the great John Cleese quote from the intro to Show Your Work!

May 01, 2014
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Lynda Barry, Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor

For the past decade, Barry has run a highly popular writing workshop for nonwriters called Writing the Unthinkable, which was featured in The New York Times Magazine. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor is the first book to make her innovative lesson plans and writing exercises available to the public for home or classroom use. Barry teaches a method of writing that focuses on the relationship between the hand, the brain, and spontaneous images, both written and visual. It has been embraced by people across North America—prison inmates, postal workers, university students, high-school teachers, and hairdressers—for opening pathways to creativity.

Syllabus takes the course plan for Barry’s workshop and runs wild with it in her densely detailed signature style. Collaged texts, ballpoint-pen doodles, and watercolor washes adorn Syllabus’s yellow lined pages, which offer advice on finding a creative voice and using memories to inspire the writing process. Throughout it all, Barry’s voice (as an author and as a teacher-mentor) rings clear, inspiring, and honest.

So! Excited! Comes out in October. Just pre-ordered the shit out of it.

Lynda’s class tumblr is the best. And Lynda is the best.

Filed under: Lynda Barry

Apr 20, 2014
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I now wonder where the idea or of the ideology of creativity started. Shakespeare and company certainly stole from, copied each other’s writings. Before them, the Greeks didn’t both making up any new stories. I suspect that the ideology of creativity started when the bourgeoisie—when they rose up in all their splendor, as the history books put it—made a capitalistic marketplace for books. Today a writer earns money or a living by selling copyright, ownership to words. We all do, we writers, this scam, because we need to earn money, only most don’t admit it’s a scam. Nobody really owns nothing.
Kathy Acker (via botchedandecstatic) (from her very-hard-to-find-online 1989 article, “A Few Notes on Two of My Books,” published in the Review of Contemporary Fiction 9.1)

(via ayjay)

Apr 07, 2014
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Cosmos, like most pop histories of science, teaches the false narrative that the history of science is that of a few, heroic, lone geniuses doing battle with the masses and forces of institutional darkness.The reality, of course, is that science is a collaborative (and competitive) process, slowly evolving over the centuries thanks to the work of millions of people and supported by large institutions and governments, without which progress would be impossible. Mark Twain put it best in a letter he wrote to Helen Keller:”It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others.” It’s an important lesson to remember.
Alex Knapp: A Corrective To Cosmos  (via ayjay) (UPDATE: I’ve actually had a few people tweet at me that they got the opposite feeling from watching the series. I, of course, haven’t even seen it yet…)

(via ayjay)

Feb 03, 2014
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Geoff Emerick, My Life Recording The Beatles

Emerick was there at the very first Beatles recording sessions, and he wound up engineering, among other albums, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Abbey Road. This book isn’t terribly well written, the portraits of the Beatles seem unfairly judgmental (Ringo is a dullard, John is a maniac and a jerk, George can barely play guitar—Paul is the only one who comes off remotely likable), and the pacing and structure are very uneven, but for a look at the Beatles recording process and insight into their sound, it’s a very interesting read.

Some notes:

At a few points, creative decisions were often driven by legal constraints. When coming up with the sound effects for “Yellow Submarine”:


  Phil McDonald was duly dispatched to fetch some records of Sousa marches, and after auditioning several of them, George Martin and Paul finally identified one that was suitable—it was in the same key as “Yellow Submarine” and seemed to fit well enough. The problem here was one of copyright; in British law, if you used more than a few seconds of a recording on a commercial release, you had to get permission from the song’s publisher and then pay a negotiable royalty. George wasn’t about to do either, so he told me to record the section on a clean piece of two-track tape and then chop it into pieces, toss the pieces into the air, and splice them back together. The end result should have been random, but, somehow, when I pieced it back together, it came back nearly the same way…


The limitations of the primitive, 4-track recording equipment at EMI led to much of the recording innovation:


  George Martin has said in many interviews that Pepper wouldn’t have been as good had it been recorded in twenty-four-track, and I completely agree. It was because of those very limitations that we were put on the spot, forced to make creative decisions every step of the way. Necessity was the mother of invention, and that was part of the magic of the album. You had to put the right echo on, the right EQ, the right signal processing; the playing had to be right, the vocal had to be right. It made things easier in a way, because otherwise there are too many variables and too many decisions to be put off until the mixing stage.


The Beatles were into sound collage and cut-ups:


  John and Paul were both heavily into avant-garde music, especially compositions that were based upon randomness. At home, they often kept their televisions on with the sound turned off while simultaneously playing records. The next morning, they would regale us with tales of how the music often dovetailed, as if by magic, with the on-screen visuals. At one point, Paul even brought in a film projector so he could demonstrate the principle.


On leaving in mistakes:


  If someone made a tiny mistake or sang something a little funny in a Beatles session, it would generally be left in if it was felt it added to the character of the record. Sometimes we’d even accentuate the mistakes during mixing, just to underline the fact that the music was being made by fallible human beings. Today, there’s plenty of technology, but precious little soul.


And whether there could be another Beatles:


  There aren’t breeding grounds like Hamburg anymore, places where bands can develop in anonymity and hone their craft. Every musician is isolated in his or her bedroom now; there’s little collaboration, little opportunity for ideas to be nurtured and developed.


Again: it’s a really uneven book, but Beatles nuts and recording geeks (like me) might like it.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

PS. I’m posting the cover of the Portuguese version, because it’s 100% cooler than the English version.

Geoff Emerick, My Life Recording The Beatles

Emerick was there at the very first Beatles recording sessions, and he wound up engineering, among other albums, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, and Abbey Road. This book isn’t terribly well written, the portraits of the Beatles seem unfairly judgmental (Ringo is a dullard, John is a maniac and a jerk, George can barely play guitar—Paul is the only one who comes off remotely likable), and the pacing and structure are very uneven, but for a look at the Beatles recording process and insight into their sound, it’s a very interesting read.

Some notes:

At a few points, creative decisions were often driven by legal constraints. When coming up with the sound effects for “Yellow Submarine”:

Phil McDonald was duly dispatched to fetch some records of Sousa marches, and after auditioning several of them, George Martin and Paul finally identified one that was suitable—it was in the same key as “Yellow Submarine” and seemed to fit well enough. The problem here was one of copyright; in British law, if you used more than a few seconds of a recording on a commercial release, you had to get permission from the song’s publisher and then pay a negotiable royalty. George wasn’t about to do either, so he told me to record the section on a clean piece of two-track tape and then chop it into pieces, toss the pieces into the air, and splice them back together. The end result should have been random, but, somehow, when I pieced it back together, it came back nearly the same way…

The limitations of the primitive, 4-track recording equipment at EMI led to much of the recording innovation:

George Martin has said in many interviews that Pepper wouldn’t have been as good had it been recorded in twenty-four-track, and I completely agree. It was because of those very limitations that we were put on the spot, forced to make creative decisions every step of the way. Necessity was the mother of invention, and that was part of the magic of the album. You had to put the right echo on, the right EQ, the right signal processing; the playing had to be right, the vocal had to be right. It made things easier in a way, because otherwise there are too many variables and too many decisions to be put off until the mixing stage.

The Beatles were into sound collage and cut-ups:

John and Paul were both heavily into avant-garde music, especially compositions that were based upon randomness. At home, they often kept their televisions on with the sound turned off while simultaneously playing records. The next morning, they would regale us with tales of how the music often dovetailed, as if by magic, with the on-screen visuals. At one point, Paul even brought in a film projector so he could demonstrate the principle.

On leaving in mistakes:

If someone made a tiny mistake or sang something a little funny in a Beatles session, it would generally be left in if it was felt it added to the character of the record. Sometimes we’d even accentuate the mistakes during mixing, just to underline the fact that the music was being made by fallible human beings. Today, there’s plenty of technology, but precious little soul.

And whether there could be another Beatles:

There aren’t breeding grounds like Hamburg anymore, places where bands can develop in anonymity and hone their craft. Every musician is isolated in his or her bedroom now; there’s little collaboration, little opportunity for ideas to be nurtured and developed.

Again: it’s a really uneven book, but Beatles nuts and recording geeks (like me) might like it.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

PS. I’m posting the cover of the Portuguese version, because it’s 100% cooler than the English version.

Dec 18, 2013
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You go diving for pearls every night but sometimes you end up with clams.

Oct 25, 2013
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Let my very funny friend Matt Diffee, he of New Yorker fame, teach you how to get a great idea.

See also: Frank Chimero’s “How To Have An Idea”

Sep 25, 2013
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Once the work is done, it’s not yours anymore. You draw the comic, write the book, make the app, and then it makes its way out into the world. And it starts to talk back to you. It’s the weirdest thing—if the thing you make goes anywhere, it’s because other people carried it.
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