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creativity

Ken Robinson, in his TED Talk Do schools kill creativity?:

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we’ve strip-mined the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.”

via Zoë Westhof

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A street-performer in Mexico City

A street-performer in Mexico City

The Telegraph has a gallery of decorated face masks in Mexico City.

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I have some quibbles with some of his conclusions, but there are a few points worth culling from Merlin Mann’s speech at MacWorld this past January:

  • “Creativity is a way of seeing the world, it is a way of behaving, it is a way of understanding how things that may seem unrelated could actually be related.”
  • “When you become a professional creative person, having ideas is the least of your problems.”
  • “Ideas are cheap, making them into something awesome is super-hard.”
  • “Even if it’s just something you do as an avocation — for fun — it’s a job. It’s work.”
  • “There’s stuff you want to do that you may not even realize you want to do.”

His general themes — that creative endeavours require work, sacrifice and blocks of uninterrupted time, and that there may be archetypal patterns to making ideas into something we can share and interact with — are spot on.

There’s also a video on YouTube but it’s 27 minutes, with technical difficulties and a fair bit of wandering jocularity, which is why I’m presenting a condensed version here.

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Kevin Kelly proposed a model for how artists can make a living without striving — and compromising — for a blockbuster hit:

“One solution is to find 1,000 True Fans. While some artists have discovered this path without calling it that, I think it is worth trying to formalize. The gist of 1,000 True Fans can be stated simply:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.”

In response, Robert Rich explains what a Sisyphean task this can be:

“The sort of artist who survives at the long tail is the sort who would be happy doing nothing else, who willingly sacrifices security and comfort for the chance to communicate something meaningful, hoping to catch the attention of those few in the world who seek what they also find meaningful. It’s a somewhat solitary existence, a bit like a lighthouse keeper throwing a beam out into the darkness, in faith that this action might help someone unseen.”

And references evolution to explain the risks of creating within and for a small community:

“Evolutionary biology shows us one metaphor for this trap of stylistic boundaries, in terms of species diversity and inbreeding (ref. E.O. Wilson). When a species sub-population becomes isolated, its traits start to diverge from the larger group to eventually form a new species. Yet under these conditions of isolation, genetic diversity can decrease and the new environmentally specialized species becomes more easily threatened by environmental changes. The larger the population, the less risk it faces of inbreeding. If that population stays connected to the main group of its species, it has the least chance of overspecialization and the most chance for survival in multiple environments.

This metaphor becomes relevant to Artists and True Fans because our culture can get obsessed with ideas of style and demographic. When an artist relies on such intense personal commitment from such a small population, it’s like an animal that relies solely upon the fruit of one tree to survive. This is a recipe for extinction. Distinctions between demographics resemble mountain ranges set up to divide one population from another. I prefer a world where no barriers exist between audiences as they define themselves and the art they love. I want a world of mutts and cross-pollinators.  I would feel more comfortable if I thought I had a broader base of people interested in my work, not just preaching to the choir.”

A world of mutts and cross-pollinators? Count me in!

Kelly returns with a roundup of what he has heard from other artists, and more doubts. Is the number 5000? Or does it start creeping back up towards stardom again?

“Micro patronage has always been an option, and indeed a part of, most artist’s livelihood. What is different now is the reach and power of technology, which makes it much easier to match up an artist with the right passionate micro patrons, keep them connected, serve them up created works, get payment from them directly, and nurture their interest and love.”

No definitive conclusions, but all worth a read…

(A hat tip to whomever added the original link to the cre8camp Portland page.)

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Some gleanings from cre8camp Portland last Saturday, which is described as:

…an unconference for creative industries professionals. It is an ad-hoc gathering for participants to learn, network and share in an open environment with discussions, demos and interaction all led by the attendees.

Note: Sorry, I didn’t catch everyone’s name, so where I haven’t given credit to a specific person, I’ll give joint credit to the people on this list.

Initialization

The final grid! On your mark, get set...

The Final Grid (photo by @stevek on Flickr)

  • In the vote to determine the day’s schedule, I was amused that the “Productivity” session received zero votes. Are we just all GTD’d out?

Oregon Creative Industries

Marketing and Self-Promotion

  • Market to behaviors, not demographic slices.
  • Check out the social media, but don’t stay at the big sites like Facebook.  Follow through to where the real communities are having conversations.
  • The importance of self-awareness: Have a complete and well-formed sense of your own identity before presenting it to the world, where it will be diluted by perception, context, etc.

Getting Unstuck

  • Make a piece of art, and give it away.
  • Bram Pitoyo: Break the work down into categories and properties, e.g. light or dark. Focus on overlooked facets.
  • Ask people to describe a sample or a prototype, which will highlight the specific attributes that they like or don’t like.
  • The first round of edits and drafts is not a time to be thinking of words like “failure” — that’s too early.

Emerging Trends

  • The idea of transmedia storytelling: How can new devices and media give us the ability to pick up the narrative on one device where we left it on the last one? For example, the Kindle knows the last page you read on your iPhone. Can this reduce the overhead of managing all these different gadgets and systems and channels in a significant way?
  • John Hartman: All online social activity tends to lead back to face to face meetings.
  • Whether it’s a website or Twitter, there are many ways to use each tool. When proposing communication projects, present examples not just in the same subject area, but also in the style that fits the situation.
  • Unanswered question: Should devices sense and behave differently based upon the physical and social context? At what point does that become social engineering? And if overdone, does it preclude interesting accidental “misuses” of new gadgets?
  • Social media as an opportunity to “reify the corporate entity”: what is the role of personality in the social media presence of large organizations? (sisoma deserves an award for the most casual and unpretentious use of reify I’ve heard in a long time.)
  • supnah, on the question of converting the unconverted or leaving them be, referred us to his post Why You Should Tweet, A Conversation I’m Sick Of.
  • Want to know if anyone is clicking-through the shortened links you post to Twitter and elsewhere? Snurl, hootsuite and cli.gs were suggested.

Finally, thanks to Steve, John, Bram and all the sponsors for bringing everyone together.

As in life, I’m sure I missed more than I heard.  You can read more here:

A Pair of Post-Event Thoughts

1.

I got a little grumbly in the “Emerging Trends” session about the dark side of electronic medical records. Anyone who has completed a patient information form for the xth time knows how silly our system is, and the statistics show the astonishing share of healthcare spending that we waste on paperwork and bureaucracy.

On further reflection, the root of my concern is that using technology and better information management to make a dysfunctional system more ‘efficient’ won’t make it more effective. When the boat is already leaking and listing and not able to properly accommodate all its passengers, the answer is not “all ahead, full.”

As Larry Lessig discovered in his attempts to make IP law reflect the realities of the 21st century, it is difficult if not impossible for a broken policy-making apparatus to make good decisions. Of course, we did just have an election, Lessig is trying to change congress, Tim O’Reilly just announced the gov2.0 summit, and there are lots of other smart people like PDF and MAPLight working on it, too.

2.

As part of the Getting Unstuck discussion, Chad Mortensen suggested that when you hit a wall, come up with other ways of looking at the wall, or go around it.

Thinking on this later, it reminded me of that old Schoenberg/Cage story: Arnold Schoenberg told John Cage he was terrible at harmony, and if he continued in music, we would constantly come up against that wall. Cage replied that he would dedicate the rest of his life towards banging his head against it.

That sense of persistence and determination reminds me of yet another John Cage story, which I’ll paraphrase as briefly as I can: Cage was playing a recording of Buddhist chant to a group of students, who found it boring. And he said: “If it’s boring after two minutes, listen to it for four. After four, listen to it for eight…”  After a few more iterations, he said: “And suddenly, you will find that what you thought was boring had been beautiful all along.”

In other words, keeping banging your head against the wall until it is beautiful. (Figuratively speaking!)

Hmm, new project idea: A John Cage story for every occasion…

Watch out “Chicken Soup for the _____’s Soul” people!

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