I love creating things, whether I'm developing a TED talk, hosting a conversation series for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving a talk about creativity, throwing a tea cup, creating a Peabody Award-winning radio show, or cooking dinner.  My first book, Spark: How Creativity Works, is published by Harper and is released as an audio book.  And please check out my podcast series, Pursuit of Spark! There you'll find conversations about creative approaches to the possibilities, challenges, and pleasures of everyday life.

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 Photo by Pavlina Perry

Appearances

My Spark Talks continue this season at The Met in spring 2015, with a series I'm very excited about, exploring words and images in ancient and modern art and design.  More information here.

 

Four lessons in Creativity at TED:

Loved leading a workshop on uncertainty and giving a keynote on creativity at Days of Communication Croatia in May.  Wonderful participants, fascinating stories, and a beautiful setting in Rovinj.  

Thrilled with the recent Spark Talk at The Met on April 30, exploring the way artists play with time, with wonderful guests -- musician Laurie Anderson; Rebecca Stead, author of When You Reach Me; astrophysicist and art historian SeungJung Kim; and Met curator Melanie Holcomb.   

It was a pleasure to give the keynote at the Clifford Symposium at Middlebury College.

Mitch Joel and I had a conversation at TED about creativity, which you can hear on Mitch's Six Pixels of Separation Podcast.

Big Think asked me to speak about creativity for three short segments.

Webcast of my talk for educators at the Smithsonian.

My thoughts about creative struggle in SGI Quarterly.

 

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Today's blog -- Four lessons in creativity.

Pursuit of Spark: conversations about creative approaches to the challenges, pleasures and possibilities of everyday life

Friday
Oct282011

October's breath

William Cullen Bryant and Thomas Cole by Asher B. DurandLast Sunday was beautiful, crisp and clear, an unexpectedly perfect afternoon to drive with my mother and my 16 year old son Zeke to visit the cemetery where my father and grandparents are buried.  It's on a hill, very verdant, my grandmother chose a spot halfway up, just below the Workman's Circle section, which pleases my mom a lot.  As Zeke noted, it's beautiful if you look uphill, you can hear the birds singing, but once you look downhill, there's a clear view to the Jersey Turnpike and a factory belching smoke.  A very New Jersey cemetery.

What was lovely was that Zeke really engaged with my mom and me, asking questions about my dad and my grandparents. As we walked away from their graves, downhill toward the car, Zeke said "This reminds me of a poem we're studying in school," and proceeded to recite a poem that perfectly captured the day, and the moment. It's by William Cullen Bryant, and here it is:

October

Aye, thou art welcome, heaven's delicious breath!
When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf,
And sons grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief,
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
Wind of the sunny south! oh, still delay
In the gay woods and in the golden air,
Like to a good old age released from care,
Journeying, in long serenity, away.
In such a bright, late quiet, would that I
Might wear out life like thee, 'mid bowers and brooks,
And dearer yet, the sunshine of kind looks,
And music of kind voices ever nigh;
And when my last sand twinkled in the glass,
Pass silently from men, as thou dost pass.

 

Photo by Joy Yagid

Wednesday
Oct192011

Grey matter in technicolor

Ibn al-Haytham (circa 1027, published in 1083). From Book of Optics. Courtesy of the Süleymaniye Library, IstanbulA human brain is remarkably heavy when you hold it in your hands.  I had the chance to do just that when I attended my friend Wendy Suzuki’s first neurobiology class of the semester at NYU last month. 

Wendy told her students that she became a scientist because of an experience in a class just like this one, which she took during her freshman year at UC Berkeley.  She was hooked when her teacher, the renowned neuroscientist Marion C. Diamond, opened up a hatbox and pulled out a human brain, saying “This is the most complex structure known to us – it’s the only structure that can think about itself.”

Wendy had invited me to her class because she talked about a chapter in Spark during her lecture, using the painter Chuck Close’s experiences with severe learning disabilities to explore why neurobiology is central to our lives.  She also spoke about Portraits of the Mind, by Carl Schoonover, which has extraordinary images of how we’ve tried to imagine and capture what happens in the brain.  The oldest known image in the book is almost a thousand years old, a startlingly accurate drawing of the optical system by Ibn al-Haytham of Cairo.

Wendy also projected this drawing of a dog's olfactory bulb by Camillo Golgi, from 1875.  Camillo Golgi (1875). Courtesy of Dr. Paolo Mazzarello, University of Pavia

Golgi's draftsmanship is so beautiful that his drawing could hang in a gallery as a work of art, but he was a groundbreaking scientist who invented a way of staining tissue so it can be studied.  The Golgi Stain is still in use today. 

Thomas Deerinck and Mark Ellisman (2004)Portraits of the Mind offers athought-provoking journey through how we've tried to make sense of the brain, from Ibn al-Haytham's schematic drawing to contemporary technicolor images of the hippocampus.  These pictures were much more vivid than the preserved human brain Wendy placed into my hands, a wrinkled, tannish double handful.  She described how the elaborate folds in the brain allow it to have maximum surface area in a minimum amount of space, so that babies' heads can fit through the birth canal.  The mass of wrinkled matter wasn’t visually inspiring, but I found myself in awe, holding in my hands a mind that had once thought, moved, lived.



Thursday
Aug112011

Senna

Last week, when I was guest host of The Leonard Lopate Show, I had the chance to speak with film director Asif Kapadia about his new movie, Senna.  I am definitely not the traditional target audience for this film about a Brazilian Formula One racecar driver.  But I loved it, even though watching Senna and his fellow drivers careen around the track at speeds upwards of 160 miles per hour, in open cars with no windshields, no protection at all, is terrifying.   Some of the footage is from a camera mounted just above Senna's right shoulder, offering his view as he tears through a race, and it makes your heart jump into your throat.

What captivated me was the spirit and joy of Ayrton Senna, who won three Formula One Championships in his much too short career. In the film, we meet him as a beautiful, gawky 17 year old competing in go-cart races, and follow him as he achieves an exhilarating come-from-behind victory through the rainy streets of Monaco, struggles in the political mine-fields of professional racing, and talks with passion about the sport he loves. 

Senna opens this weekend in New York and LA.  Here is my interview with Asif Kapadia, who is as passionate about his subject as Ayrton Senna was about racing:

 

 

Friday
Jul292011

Brutal

I spend so much of my time shielding myself from the carnage being perpetrated by my sons playing Halo 3 just outside the kitchen.  But last night my 16-year-old and I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar, and we came home feeling almost as blood-soaked as the Roman senators.  Shakespeare's Elizabethan audiences loved watching the actors beat each other bloody, and violence can still enthrall and terrify even those of us who usually try to avoid it.

When the senators killed Caesar, it was a gruesome, intricately choreographed mess.  From our seats in the balcony of the RSC’s facsimile of the Globe Theater, set up in the cavernous and beautiful Park Avenue Armory, we could see the anguish, fear and anger in the eyes of everyone, murderer and murdered alike.  This was not video-game gore, distant and clinical, where your character can die but always returns.  This was awful, personal, and final.  After Caesar utters his famous “Et tu, Brute?”, Brutus embraces his old friend while thrusting in his dagger for the final cut, and Caesar dies in his arms. 

The murder scene made both my son and me shudder.  Later he said “Did you know, mom, that the word brutal comes from Brutus?”  I hadn’t, but after watching this performance, the derivation made perfect sense.

Here you can watch the scene just before the carnage, when Caesar’s wife Calpurnia pleads with him to stay home that day, and also the scene just after the murder, when Mark Antony, red up to the elbows in Caesar’s blood, laments his friend’s death and vows to “let slip the dogs of war.”

In Antony’s public speech, made “to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” the soldier says he’s no great orator like Brutus.  Yet he cunningly turns the tide of public emotion with his sarcastic words against the murderers. 

The way Antony manipulates the crowd by subverting their expectations of him made me think of the new movie The Guard, out today in New York.  It's a dark, hilarious film whose main character, Gerry Boyle, brilliantly played by Brendan Gleeson, is also not what he seems.  On the surface he’s a big, lumbering, bored, racist, and not very bright cop in a remote seaside town on the coast of Ireland.  But as his unlikely partner, a black FBI agent played by Don Cheadle, says, “I don’t know if you’re really fuckin’ dumb, or if you’re really fuckin’ smart!”  Both Antony and Boyle understand the power of playing with people’s expectations, and revel in messing with their unsuspecting audiences.

I had the opportunity to interview Don Cheadle on Monday about the unexpected pleasures and challenges of The Guard.  He was open and generous, and talked about the pleasures of playing a character who mostly reacts, rather than acts, and about his love of jazz and how music plays a part in his performance as an actor.  Here’s the conversation:

Monday
Jun272011

Gasp

If you're in New York City and want to travel through time with some of the most creative people who ever lived, you must spend an hour at the New York Public Library in the exhibit "Celebrating 100 Years."  It's literally breathtaking -- I found myself gasping each time I caught sight of something new. 

First it was a copy of the Declaration -- handwritten by Thomas Jefferson.  Declaration of Independence.  ... Digital ID: psnypl_mss_1228. New York Public Library 

It was thrilling to be able to lean in and almost touch my nose to the glass to peer at his very sensible, legible handwriting.

I turned around, and there was the exquisitely beautiful scroll of the Tale of Genji, still luminous and dreamlike after so many centuries.  Scene 2b Digital ID: psnypl_spn_592. New York Public Library

e.e. cummings' typewriter sat in a case, another held Jack Keruoac's glasses and rolling papers, yet another displayed the notebook George Eliot kept when she was learning Hebrew as she wrote Daniel Deronda. Malcom X's diary was writ large upon the wall, there was an illustrated Megillah, a brilliantly colored book of prints by Matisse, the walking stick Virginia Woolf carried with her into the river, after filling her pockets with stones.  Near the Declaration, a heartbreaking letter from a slave to his wife, who had been sold, telling her that his owner wanted him to forget her and marry someone else. Just a few of the objects that fill the gallery on the main floor of this beautiful building, now 100 years old, guarded by those famous lions.  Sculptured lion in front of N.... Digital ID: psnypl_prn_1082. New York Public Library

These artifacts, created by hands long gone, still speak in strong, clear voices today.  I'm grateful the New York Public Library has shared them with all of us!

 

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