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


Working it out on stage

While David Plowden and Richard Serra talk of a parent as champion, filial relationships can also be complicated.  In Spark,  Rosanne Cash talks about growing up as Johnny Cash’s daughter, and his unwavering support of her choice to become a musician and writer.  But, as with all parents and children, there were moments of discord – Rosanne describes one played out backstage in one of the world’s most famous concert halls.

“He was performing at Carnegie Hall, and I was going through a period in my life where I was angry with him, and all of the childhood resentment had surfaced at that point.  I had stuff to talk with him about, and he asked if I would sing with him at Carnegie Hall that night. I was just angry and said, ‘No I’ve got a headache I don’t want to.’ He kind of just nodded and said, ‘Okay.’

“He got up and walked away and there was just something about the look of his back that I had seen onstage a million times, that back framed in spotlight, and it just broke my heart. And I called after him and I said, ‘Dad, I’ll do it.’ So, we sang I’ll Still Miss Him on that night at Carnegie Hall. It was a transcendent moment; it was like everything was washed clean. And it made me realize that the stage is where my dad worked out all of his deep problems and where he got healed. And there was a space to contain me in that that night. It was beautiful, it was a really sweet moment.”

Black Cadillac, the album Rosanne Cash recorded after her father’s death, includes extraordinary, beautiful songs of memory and lament.  You can listen to Rosanne perform some of them live on Studio 360 here, or find the album here.

Was there a moment of conflict and forgiveness with your mother or father that stays with you?


Trauma and transcendence

Bill Viola makes video art that is haunting, beautiful, and unsettling.  He often includes water in his images, placing his camera deep underwater to capture a person floating downward, focusing on a lone figure at the edge of a lake, using a sheet of water as a scrim through which people pass and transform.

Viola traces his fascination with water way back to a summer afternoon when he was six years old, on vacation with his family on Trout Lake in New York State.  He was out on the raft in the middle of the lake and jumped in, but forgot to grab his inner tube and sank to the bottom like a stone.

“After some time – I don’t know how long – my uncle dove in and grabbed me and saved me and I was sputtering and crying, but I had glimpsed another world that stayed with me for my whole life. I can still see it now and feel it – it was the most peaceful experience I ever had. A place I wanted to stay in, I had no fear even though I was drowning. And it was a place I try to get back to my whole life.   I guess I do that through all this water imagery.

“At that point, I was young, I was 6 years old, it’s already programmed into the operating system at that point.  It’s pretty deeply situated in there, and I do to this day firmly believe in a level of reality and experience beneath the surface world that we live in, that we’re talking from right now.  I do believe in the existence of this other world, whatever you want to call it, whatever religious connotation you want to put on it, there is more to the wolrd and to life than meets the eye.”

In Spark, so many creative people describe a childhood moment that was accidental, unexpected, and yet sparked their adult work.  What was yours?  Post a comment, it would be wonderful to hear your story.

Watch the Tate’s video about Bill Viola’s beautiful Ocean Without a Shore.

Purchase Bill Viola’s The Passing here.


“She was my champion.”

This week in Studio 360, I talk with Kurt Andersen about the lingering resonance of childhood in many artists’ work.  Over the next few days I’ll post stories that connect with this idea, and I wanted to start with a photographer whose work I fell in love with when we had him on the show: David Plowden.  He’s taken moving and resonant photographs of our American way of life as it disappears, focusing on steam trains, small towns, harbors and steel mills and the people who work there. 

David’s passion for trains began early – in fact the first picture he ever took was of a train pulling into the station in Putney, Vermont.  He was 11 years old, and had just been given a camera as a present.

 “Well the first time I went to photograph it, I got buck fever, and I handed the camera to my mother. I said, here you take it. I started to shake. The next time I went down I was steadier, and I managed to take a picture. I still have it.”

David grew up in New York City, staring out his apartment window at the boats that traveled up and down the East River.  He went to boarding school, and then to Yale – but after graduation, instead of working in an office, he went to work for the railroad.

“I rode all over the place, to the despair of my uncles and aunts and my mother’s friends, who said, ‘What’s he going to amount to? He just rides trains.’ And she said, ‘I don’t know what he’s doing, but he does. Leave him alone; he’s gathering grist for the mill.’ She was my champion.”

I think of David Plowden’s mother often as I imagine my own sons’ futures.  I hope I can be as determined as she was to grant them the time to figure out who they are.

Where do you go to gather grist for your mill?




"My son the artist"

As I was writing Spark and looking through the Studio 360 archive for stories about childhood, I found that some people knew from an incredibly early age that they would become artists.  The sculptor Richard Serra is one of those – although it was actually his mother who decided that he was destined to be an artist.  Here’s what he had to say about it: “I don’t know if you know anything about Jewish mothers, but they’re very important. And she was very insistent right away – in the third grade a teacher pulled her into class and they had all of my drawings up around the room. She called my mother in and pointed it out and said you should take this child to museums to encourage what he’s already doing. So my mother totally got onto the program and started taking me to museums very early and started introducing me as “Richard the Artist.”

Serra’s mom called Serra's brother “the lawyer” when he was growing up and he became a quite famous lawyer.  It is interesting to hear how one artist’s mother knew before anyone else that her child would become someone who could shape the way we see the world.  Now, as a mom myself I know that I can’t shape my sons’ entire future – nor would I want to -- but I do catch myself saying one is “my science kid” and the other is “my writer.”  Will that have an impact on their future?

You can hear Richard Serra, Chuck Close, Richard Ford and Mira Nair talk about childhood this weekend on Studio 360 when I speak with host Kurt Andersen about Spark

Did you know who you would become when you were small?  Did your parents?  I'd love to hear your story about the moment you knew what you wanted to do.

Photo by GlennFleishman


Spark: How Creativity Works to be published by Harper 

I'm thrilled that my first book, and the first Studio 360 book, will be published in February.  It's called Spark: How Creativity Works, and in it I continue the Studio 360 exploration of where art and real life collide through observations and conversations with artists, filmmakers, writers, musicians, and dancers about where they find their inspiration, how they overcome challenges, and the importance of just getting to work. 

These extrarodinary creators, who have all appeared on Studio 360, include Chuck Close, Mira Nair, Ang Lee, Richard Ford, Tony Kushner, Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Robert Plant, and Richard Serra. 


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