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Posts tagged "creativity"

Sep 03, 2014
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kochalka:

James Kochalka on Being Creative

“The main inhibitor for creativity is just being scared… if you’re worried that what you’re gonna do is not good enough, then you just don’t do it. That’s what “writer’s block” really is: people say, “Oh, I don’t have any ideas.” It’s not that you don’t have ideas, you’ve got tons of ideas, you’re afraid they’re not good enough.”

James has long been one of my favorite cartoonists. Two of his pieces of writing had a big impact on me early on: “Craft is the enemy” and “The Horrible Truth About Comics,” both of which are in his great book, The Cute Manifesto. (Fun fact: the original dummy book for Steal Like An Artist was just a copy of The Cute Manifesto with a dust jacket.)

If you haven’t read American Elf, it’s one of my favorite comics, ever. Start with volume one.

Filed under: james kochalka

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I have been saying for a while that creativity has taken the place of salvation and divine grace, which have lost credibility with the wane of religious faith. It has become the secular equivalent of hope in the afterlife. And in the process the whole phenomenon of creativity has become mystified, as behooves a concept that people use to reassure themselves about the future.
Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, quoted in “The Cult Of Creativity

Aug 11, 2014
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I never thought that I’d be discovered. I just thought I’d be somebody who was a hard worker. For me, things started to happen once I completely gave up the concept of being discovered. I discovered what I wanted to do. That would be my advice to young performers: don’t want to be famous. Want to be legendary. In many ways, fame is the industrial disease of creativity. It’s a sludgy byproduct of making things.

Aug 04, 2014
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I have to make time to daydream and change my eye… Mrs. Vreeland was right: “The eye must travel.” You have to see something different, even if it’s just finding a new way to walk home.

Jul 31, 2014
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I was going on a train from Manchester to London and I was looking out of the window at some cows, I believe, and I just thought: “Boy doesn’t know he’s a wizard - goes off to wizard school.” I have no idea where it came from. I think the idea was floating along the train and looking for someone and my mind was vacant enough so it decided to zoom in there.

Jul 29, 2014
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Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

I get sent a lot of books about “creativity” and “innovation,” and most of the time I throw them on the pile, but after Shenk’s Atlantic piece on Lennon and McCartney got passed around so much, I thought I’d give this one a spin (I also remembered that my friend Ryan Holiday recommended his book on Lincoln’s depression.) Glad I did, because so much of what Shenk has investigated here is stuff I looked into for Show Your Work!

Some excerpts, below.

How creativity really works doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional narrative


  The lone-genius idea has become our dominant view of creativity not because of its inherent truth — in fact, it neglects and obscures the social qualities of innovation — but because it makes for a good story.
  
  The network model has the opposite problem. It is basically true, but so complex that it can’t be easily made into narrative. Where the lone-genius model is galvanizing and simplistic, the network model is suitably nuanced but hard to apply to day-to-day life.


Shenk says the “creative pair,” on the other hand, gives us a clearer narrative as an anecdote to the lone-genius myth without getting scrambled by the messiness of networks.

The trouble with this knowledge is that people want the lone genius myth — something marketers certainly know:


  Members of an audience want to identify with a single individual, a person with whom they can have an imagined relationship. It’s well known in publishing that coauthored books are generally a tougher sell than works by single authors because readers expect (often unconsciously) to be in direct communion with an author.


This is backed up by studies that have found “viewers value single creator art better than art created through a collaborative process”:


  Our perception of art… is largely dictated by the amount of time and effort we think went into it. This notion was first put forth by Denis Dutton in his book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, where he argued that we evaluate art not just by the final product, but also by the process that created it. We then use our evaluation of the process and final product to determine the quality of the piece we are admiring.


So, if people value our work based on what we tell them about our process, is our duty to be honest about how we work, or to give them a good story that makes them feel good about the work?

The lone genius idea is wrapped up in our Romantic notions of the individual and the self


  …it’s a fantasty, a myth of achievement predicated on an even more fundamental myth of the enclosed, autonomous self for whom social experience is secondary.


The “lone genius” is usually backed up by a partner who remains in the shadows.

Take the couple I just wrote about: George Lucas and his first wife, Marcia. Or William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. Or Tiger Woods — his caddy, Steve Williams wouldn’t just carry his bag, but he’d give him wrong yardage to compensate for his distance problems and he’d taunt him to “get his blood up,” and “deliberately misled him when he thought it would improve his play.”

There’s also a hilarious story about Picasso and his girlfriend, Francoise Gilot—every morning the chamber made would bring him coffee and toast and then he’d begin this ridiculous process:


  Picasso “would groan and began his lamentations… He would complain of his sicknesses… He would declare his mercy, and how little anyone understood it. He would complain about a letter from [his ex-wife] Olga. Life was pointless. Why get up. Why paint. His soul itches. His life was unbearable.”


Then Gilot would basically have to convince him to get out of bed, and after AN HOUR, he’d finally get up.

As Shenk writes, “No one is freed of the burdens of everyday life. One may, however, outsource them.”

(Speaking later of John Lennon, Shenk has another good line: “No grownup lives like a kid unless someone around him takes the adult role.”)

“We need to be able to get wired up without overheating, and disconnect without going cold.”

Finding a balance between is tricky, and depends on the individual.


  John Lennon, for instance, was so devoid of an internal relation that he had a hard time being by himself. “His reclusive lifestyle notwithstanding,” his friend Pete Shotton said, “John could never bear to be left completely alone — even when he was composing his songs. Much of my time at Kenwood was spent idly reading or watching TV while John, a few feed away, doodled at the piano or scribbled verses on a scrap of paper.” “If I am on my own for three days, doing nothing, “ [Lennon] told Hunter Davies in 1967, “I’m just not here…I have to see the others to see myself.”


And:


  The art of living, as [Esther] Perel wrote, is to “balance our fundamental urge for connection with the urge to experience our own agency.”


(Which, come to think of it, reminds me of this Rob Walker quote I almost used in SYW.)

Side note: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre used to work in the same cafe but at separate tables.

Even Emily Dickinson needed to connect.

She just had to do it through words.


  ”Her letters are beyond brilliant,” Christopher Benfey, a Dickinson authority who teaches at Mount Holyoke College, told me, “and you can’t really understand her as a poet and a writer without seeing that she approached this form, alongside her poetry, with equal energy and commitment.”


Dickinson wrote poems for specific people in her life and mailed them — she even sent “more than two hundred letters and two hundred and fifty poems” to her sister-in-law Susan, “even though they lived next door to each other.”

A good rivalry, if used constructively, can push the opposite parties further than they could go on their own.

Witness Lennon and McCartney’s competitiveness (Lennon said his new album would “probably scare [Paul] into doing something decent and then he’ll scare me into doing something decent, and I’ll scare him, like that.”) or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.


  “The feeling of rivalry,” [William James] said, ”lies at the very basis of our being, all social improvement being largely due to it… The deepest spring of action in us is the sight of action in another. The spectacle of effort is what awakens and sustains our own effort.”


On a side note to all this, I have a bad habit when reading books of wondering to myself what other structures the book could’ve taken, and whether I would have done it differently. I do wonder how this would’ve read if the “grand theory” of collaboration were stripped out and each creative pair were given their own chapter, with the stories simply juxtaposed against each other. This idea is actually alluded to in Shenk’s (rather strange, actually) epilogue:


  About a year ago a friend of mine, an accomplished editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, told me that the plan for the book — to consider scores of stories alongside one another — was nuts.


Shenk himself seems to have realized it is the stories of these pairings that really fly:


  I’ve pushed for organization via the traditional mode of narrative; [my editor] has pushed for a more audacious organization by idea.


And that he’s well aware (as we all are) that this book is going on a certain spot in the bookstore shelves:


  My job is to push against the conventions of “big idea” books. Eamon’s job is to hold the project to the primary necessities of the form.


Regardless, I found this a fascinating read. It comes out next week.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs

I get sent a lot of books about “creativity” and “innovation,” and most of the time I throw them on the pile, but after Shenk’s Atlantic piece on Lennon and McCartney got passed around so much, I thought I’d give this one a spin (I also remembered that my friend Ryan Holiday recommended his book on Lincoln’s depression.) Glad I did, because so much of what Shenk has investigated here is stuff I looked into for Show Your Work!

Some excerpts, below.


How creativity really works doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional narrative

The lone-genius idea has become our dominant view of creativity not because of its inherent truth — in fact, it neglects and obscures the social qualities of innovation — but because it makes for a good story.

The network model has the opposite problem. It is basically true, but so complex that it can’t be easily made into narrative. Where the lone-genius model is galvanizing and simplistic, the network model is suitably nuanced but hard to apply to day-to-day life.

Shenk says the “creative pair,” on the other hand, gives us a clearer narrative as an anecdote to the lone-genius myth without getting scrambled by the messiness of networks.

The trouble with this knowledge is that people want the lone genius myth — something marketers certainly know:

Members of an audience want to identify with a single individual, a person with whom they can have an imagined relationship. It’s well known in publishing that coauthored books are generally a tougher sell than works by single authors because readers expect (often unconsciously) to be in direct communion with an author.

This is backed up by studies that have found “viewers value single creator art better than art created through a collaborative process”:

Our perception of art… is largely dictated by the amount of time and effort we think went into it. This notion was first put forth by Denis Dutton in his book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution, where he argued that we evaluate art not just by the final product, but also by the process that created it. We then use our evaluation of the process and final product to determine the quality of the piece we are admiring.

So, if people value our work based on what we tell them about our process, is our duty to be honest about how we work, or to give them a good story that makes them feel good about the work?

The lone genius idea is wrapped up in our Romantic notions of the individual and the self

…it’s a fantasty, a myth of achievement predicated on an even more fundamental myth of the enclosed, autonomous self for whom social experience is secondary.

The “lone genius” is usually backed up by a partner who remains in the shadows.

Take the couple I just wrote about: George Lucas and his first wife, Marcia. Or William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. Or Tiger Woods — his caddy, Steve Williams wouldn’t just carry his bag, but he’d give him wrong yardage to compensate for his distance problems and he’d taunt him to “get his blood up,” and “deliberately misled him when he thought it would improve his play.”

There’s also a hilarious story about Picasso and his girlfriend, Francoise Gilot—every morning the chamber made would bring him coffee and toast and then he’d begin this ridiculous process:

Picasso “would groan and began his lamentations… He would complain of his sicknesses… He would declare his mercy, and how little anyone understood it. He would complain about a letter from [his ex-wife] Olga. Life was pointless. Why get up. Why paint. His soul itches. His life was unbearable.”

Then Gilot would basically have to convince him to get out of bed, and after AN HOUR, he’d finally get up.

As Shenk writes, “No one is freed of the burdens of everyday life. One may, however, outsource them.”

(Speaking later of John Lennon, Shenk has another good line: “No grownup lives like a kid unless someone around him takes the adult role.”)

“We need to be able to get wired up without overheating, and disconnect without going cold.”

Finding a balance between is tricky, and depends on the individual.

John Lennon, for instance, was so devoid of an internal relation that he had a hard time being by himself. “His reclusive lifestyle notwithstanding,” his friend Pete Shotton said, “John could never bear to be left completely alone — even when he was composing his songs. Much of my time at Kenwood was spent idly reading or watching TV while John, a few feed away, doodled at the piano or scribbled verses on a scrap of paper.” “If I am on my own for three days, doing nothing, “ [Lennon] told Hunter Davies in 1967, “I’m just not here…I have to see the others to see myself.”

And:

The art of living, as [Esther] Perel wrote, is to “balance our fundamental urge for connection with the urge to experience our own agency.”

(Which, come to think of it, reminds me of this Rob Walker quote I almost used in SYW.)

Side note: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre used to work in the same cafe but at separate tables.

Even Emily Dickinson needed to connect.

She just had to do it through words.

”Her letters are beyond brilliant,” Christopher Benfey, a Dickinson authority who teaches at Mount Holyoke College, told me, “and you can’t really understand her as a poet and a writer without seeing that she approached this form, alongside her poetry, with equal energy and commitment.”

Dickinson wrote poems for specific people in her life and mailed them — she even sent “more than two hundred letters and two hundred and fifty poems” to her sister-in-law Susan, “even though they lived next door to each other.”

A good rivalry, if used constructively, can push the opposite parties further than they could go on their own.

Witness Lennon and McCartney’s competitiveness (Lennon said his new album would “probably scare [Paul] into doing something decent and then he’ll scare me into doing something decent, and I’ll scare him, like that.”) or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

“The feeling of rivalry,” [William James] said, ”lies at the very basis of our being, all social improvement being largely due to it… The deepest spring of action in us is the sight of action in another. The spectacle of effort is what awakens and sustains our own effort.”


On a side note to all this, I have a bad habit when reading books of wondering to myself what other structures the book could’ve taken, and whether I would have done it differently. I do wonder how this would’ve read if the “grand theory” of collaboration were stripped out and each creative pair were given their own chapter, with the stories simply juxtaposed against each other. This idea is actually alluded to in Shenk’s (rather strange, actually) epilogue:

About a year ago a friend of mine, an accomplished editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, told me that the plan for the book — to consider scores of stories alongside one another — was nuts.

Shenk himself seems to have realized it is the stories of these pairings that really fly:

I’ve pushed for organization via the traditional mode of narrative; [my editor] has pushed for a more audacious organization by idea.

And that he’s well aware (as we all are) that this book is going on a certain spot in the bookstore shelves:

My job is to push against the conventions of “big idea” books. Eamon’s job is to hold the project to the primary necessities of the form.

Regardless, I found this a fascinating read. It comes out next week.

Filed under: my reading year 2014

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

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