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


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


"How old is your son, Cello, Mr. Greenhouse?"

This weekend I was brought back to the years I produced a radio show for Carnegie Hall when I read that the cellist Bernard Greenhouse had died. He was a founding member of The Beaux Arts Trio, and I had the good fortune to interview him and his colleagues Isidore Cohen and Menahem Pressler when they came to perform at Carnegie years ago.  Their camaraderie and musicality came through in their conversation, and it was a delight to talk with them in the plant-filled, sunny living room on the Upper West Side where they rehearsed. 

Bernard Greenhouse played with the Beaux Arts for more than 30 years, and after he retired in 1987 continued performing and teaching into his 90’s.  His life and music are lovingly described in the obituary that ran in the NY Times this weekend – and also his sly humor.  The obit ends with a story about how, when the trio would travel, they would book a fourth ticket for Mr. Greenhouse’s cello:

Once, at an airport check-in counter, an agent, reading the name on just such a ticket, asked, “And how old is your son, Cello, Mr. Greenhouse?”

“Two hundred fifty years,” Mr. Greenhouse replied promptly, before collecting his son’s boarding pass and lugging him to the gate.

Take a listen to his wonderful musicianship on the Beaux Arts recordings – you can hear their lively performances of Haydn’s Trios here.



What happens after arts school?

Does majoring in the visual and performing arts doom you to struggle and frustration, waiting for your big break?    A new study confirms some of the conventional wisdom (graduates are not thrilled about their income, and for a few disciplines one of the three top occupations is “food preparation related”) but also contains some encouraging results (92 percent of graduates who chose to stay in the arts currently have jobs in the field, and most are quite satisfied with their education, whether they remain in the arts or not).

The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project was released on May 3, and it surveys more than 13,000 alumni from 154 institutions.  In April, I met one of the lead investigators, Steven J. Tepper from Vanderbilt’s Curb Center, and he mentioned that more students who graduate with arts degrees find jobs within the field than science graduates find jobs in the sciences.  There’s a nifty interactive graphic of the findings here, and an article about the study here.  Food for thought if you’re a parent or student, or just passionate about the arts.


Another solution for the Four O'Clock Problem

Yesterday during my afternoon tea break, I was finally able to take a look at the business section of this past Sunday's NY Times.  In it is a fascinating interview with Doreen Lorenzo, the president of Frog Design.  She talks about her company's approach to what sculptor Richard Serra calls the Four O'Clock Problem, when creativity hits a wall in the middle of the afternoon: at Frog Design studios all over the world, four o'clock is coffee time, when everyone takes a break.    

"They might play a game of Ping-Pong, they might play a video game, and there are pool tables, foosball. Different studios have different toys. That’s a ritual and that’s just accepted. . . These are intense people. This is a time for them to take a break, to talk to people they might not work with, and to listen to things. That’s every day, Monday through Friday. We often joke that if we ever took coffee time away, we think everybody would quit."

I wish there had been coffee time at the companies where I once worked!  It neatly addresses a couple of institutional problems at once -- the deep need for caffeine in the middle of the afternoon, the creation of a public space where employees who might not ever see each other can meet and share ideas, and the recognition that in order to nurture creativity, you must take a break sometimes! 

Photo of Frog Design's CompostAll, finalist in the Greener Gadgets Design Competiton


Perfection: enemy of powerful

When my kids were little, they liked to draw, but sometimes crumpled up the paper in a fury because the image they were able to create didn’t look like what they were trying to do, it wasn’t “perfect.”  It made me sad to watch their frustration and unhappiness, in part because what they created was often much more resonant and exciting than if it had been a perfect copy of what they were focused on.  But I could also completely relate to the irritation.  In Spark, I write about my own youthful quest for perfection, and how I learned to make my best work only when I was able to let go of the goal of perfection and revel in the messiness and unexpected grace of accident and imperfection.

This morning on the BBC Newshour, drummer Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters) talked about  how he hates listening to music on the radio that is so perfect it no longer sounds human.  “We should be imperfect,” he said.  "This is rock and roll.  Not everything is lining up perfectly.  And that’s what it gives it swing and groove, and feel, and that’s what we’re after.”  Digital tools allow us to play endlessly in the pursuit of perfection, but, Grohl says, that pursuit disregards where the power lies in rock and roll – in the emotion, not the surface perfection.  Which is why he recorded his new album Wasting Light with the old technology of audio tape. 

My family and I went to see American Idiot on Broadway yesterday.  We're all Green Day fans, and the kids loved the show, but said that they’d choose to see one of Green Day’s concerts instead any time.  The show was a lively, nihilistic 90 minutes – but too polished, too, perhaps, perfect, for it to have the same emotional punch as the original rock and roll.

In your art, do you find yourself seduced by pursuing the perfect?  Or do you have the courage to present work that is more raw, yet may be able to touch people more directly and deeply?


Devastation and rebuilding

My heart has been so heavy reading about the devastation in Japan. A number of years ago, I was fortunate to spend six months in that beautiful country on a fellowship, meeting artists and designers, and I have a deep love for the people and the artistic culture there. 

Looking at the satellite images on the NY Times website this morning, which show what the seaside towns looked like just a few days ago, and what is left in the wake of the tsunami, I thought of one of the most sacred places in Japan, the Shinto shrine at Ise Jingu, which for more than a millennia has been taken down and rebuilt nearby every twenty years.  The ground where the old shrine once stood is covered in stones until it becomes the site for a new shrine 20 years later.  Japan has a deep understanding of the terrible, inevitable cycle of destruction and rebirth. 


While listening to the news and feeling so sad, I heard a powerful interview with the playwright Tony Kushner on WNYC which was a balm to the spirit.  His work delves deep into the human response to loss and devastation, and in the interview he said that he thinks that hope is not just an emotion – it’s a moral obligation. 

It’s so difficult to think about hope at a time like this.  But the effort to rebuild, after devastation, is a creative act that can help us develop hope for the future. 

You can listen to Andrea Bernstein’s interview with Tony Kushner here.

Photos of Ise Jingu by ajari and yuichirock