(Video link here.) We’ve been at a loss for words to write about Steve Jobs’ passing, so thought we’d publish a few really potent ones from our friends and colleagues, along with the original “Think Different” ad from the 90′s, sent to us by Pamela Hovland: ”…it expressed his vision for the company (Apple) but embodied his own way of thinking/creating as well. “
“He thought differently, and now we do too.” –Tara Mann
(Video link here.) We’ve long been a fan of Elizabeth Streb, an “action architect” whose wondrous choreography interweaves risk, action, danger, and flow into a thrilling experience; her dancers interact with swinging concrete blocks and giant wheels where the potential is full-on hurt if they make a mistep; they often run into walls and fall flat on their faces, artfully, an amazing thing to see.
We were knocked out by Streb’s answer, in a recent 99% interview to the question: Why is risk necessary in art?
“When you are attempting to create new languages, the investigations can get stuck in the brain and often find no escape there, especially when the idea is invisible as it is while contending with extreme actions, forces, and time.
I have found it to be a fruitful idea to agree to get hurt a bit or more than a bit, in the search for a real move.This “real move” is the holy grail of the act, the heart of the machine, the virus in the Petri dish. This alone tells the truth of where, when, what, and how. read more…
Cara De Silva alerted us to this compelling piece by David Brooks in the New York times. It’s a short profile about Philip Leakey, son of famed anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey. We love the description of where he lives (though couldn’t find a photo of the “mountaintop tent”), his numerous projects, many of them experimental, and the central operating principle of this life… Here’s an excerpt, which reads sort of like an adult’s bedtime story:
I met him at the remote mountain camp where he now lives, a bumpy 4-hour ride south of Nairobi near the Rift Valley. Leakey and his wife Katy… have created an enterprise called the Leakey Collection, which employs up to 1,200 of the local Maasai, and sells designer jewelry and household items around the world.
The Leakeys live in a mountaintop tent. Their kitchen and dining room is a lean-to with endless views across the valley. The workers sit out under the trees gossiping and making jewelry. Getting a tour of the facilities is like walking through “Swiss Family Robinson” or “Dr. Dolittle.”
Philip has experiments running up and down the mountainside. read more…
(Video link here.) Hans Namuth‘s Jackson Pollock 51 is ten illuminating minutes of the abstract expressionist painter at work at his studio on Long Island. Pollock’s sparse words annotates his process in real time: simple declarative statements that give wonderful insight into an original, creative mind, like the idea that reacting against someone or something can be a way of discovering one’s own voice: “At the Art Student’s League…I studied with Tom Benton. He was a strong personality to react against.”
About halfway through, Namuth filmed Pollock making a painting on glass, filming from below to view Pollock through his glass canvas. An extraordinarily intimate view.
Read more about Namuth’s experience filming Pollock at Open Culture.
The Animators Letter Project was started by Willie Downs, an animation student who, just a year ago, was an aspiring animator pursuing a career he knew wasn’t right for him. Petrified of the risk he would be taking in dropping out of an expensive and presumably more reliable degree program to attend animation school, Downs wrote to two animators for advice. One particularly inspiring response from Aaron Hartline at Pixar said “Don’t give up!!! and sparked Willie to start his blog project, asking other animators to write letters to aspiring animators, offering advice and encouragement. Now that project has morphed into The Inspirational Letters Project.
What’s great about these letters are how easily they translate—many of the letters contain nuggets of inspiration for anyone taking a career risk or running up against a wall in their job. Our favorite is this letter from animator Austin Madison in which he comes clean about what may be the eternal truth of a lot of creative work: 3% of the time you are on fire, and 97% of the time is a messy slog. The key: persist, despite all the difficulties… read more…
When our friend Andrea Raisfeld sent us a compelling scan from Malcolm Gladwell’s piece Creation Myth in the May 16th issue of The New Yorker, we went online to find the story and explore its ideas more fully. In the process, the post we intended to write about the creative process turned into a post about bad design.
While trying to use the New Yorker’s digital archive (as print subscribers, we theoretically have access) we inadvertently encountered an avalanche of ill un-considered technology. Our established password didn’t work, even when we reset it; the website didn’t recognize the email address we’ve used for years. Our first three emails to Customer Service went unanswered (There is no phone number for Customer Service on their Contact Us page). Then we began to receive robo-messages repeating the same instructions after each subsequent email asking for help. When we finally created a NEW account on our desktop, it would not work on our iPad.
Finally, we sent a very specific email outlining our experience and wrote HUMAN BEING PLEASE in the subject line. We got another non-sequitur robo-message, repeating previous instructions, this time signed “Shar”.
For ten days running, the digital New Yorker broke the record for website glitches, ineffective instructions, horrific customer service and pure wasted time. Bad design.
Our experience mades us hate a magazine we love. That’s REALLY bad design. But it also made us realize the simple key to good design (of anything): read more…
(Video link here.) We recently came across this great talk by Joshua Foer that explores the success of “experts.” The video is 17 minutes, which we know is long, so we’ve culled the gist for you, hoping you’ll listen at some point; we think it’s truly useful and super interesting.
According to Foer and the scientists he draws from, becoming an expert has a whole lot more to do with psychology than innate ability. We generally push ourselves to achieve at a given skill only up to the point at which we can get the job done. Foer uses the example of typing—most of us type for at least an hour a day, yet we don’t get measurably faster…we settle into a speed we think is good enough. We hit an “OK plateau.”
Psychologists who study skill acquisition have found that experts across a wide variety of fields know that you can’t improve at something as long as you’re stuck on the OK plateau, and routinely use the four strategies below to ensure that their minds continue to climb uphill, so to speak. Even if you’re not striving to become an “expert” in your field, we think these strategies are helpful for anyone trying to pick up a new skill or practice, or get better at an old one. Here they are: read more…
(Video link here.) Here’s a glimpse of the interactive iPAD app that Björk recently created to be part of her recent album, as she tries to give create ever more dimensions in her music. Its introduction, narrated by David Attenborough, is a strange combination of beautiful, inspiring and ever-so-slightly hokey, in a good way. We like what she’s trying to do and the sentiment behind it…especially the idea of our selves as gateways:
Forget the size of the human body. Remember that you are a gateway between universal and the microscopic, the unseen forces that stir the depths of your innermost being and nature who embraces you and all that there is.
This photo of artist Lucio Fontana reminded us how central that concept of “blank canvas” is to ‘the improvised life’. Getting up in the morning, the day ahead is our first blank canvas. Each post we write starts as one as well: blank space that is pure potential; we often don’t know where it will go, but we know for sure that something will appear; it always does. That might be one of the most wonderful lessons we’ve learned from ‘the improvised life’.
A blank canvas is where all the things around us started: tea cup, computer, lamp, clothes, writing. Each moment has that blank-canvas potential. Amazing! read more…
This is the really fast gist of a two hour presentation Richard St. John gives to high school students (Video link here). We edited the transcript down to a handy little list:
“…the first thing is passion. Freeman Thomas says, “I’m driven by my passion.” Carol Coletta says, “I would pay someone to do what I do.” And the interesting thing is, if you do it for love, the money comes anyway.
Work! Rupert Murdoch said to me, “It’s all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun.” Alex Garden says, “To be successful put your nose down in something and get damn good at it.” There’s no magic, it’s practice, practice, practice.
Fun!..have fun working.
Focus. Norman Jewison said to me, “I think it all has to do with focusing yourself on one thing”
Push! David Gallo says, “Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you’ve gotta push, push, push.” You gotta push through shyness and self-doubt. Goldie Hawn says, “I always had self-doubts. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t think I’d make it.” read more…
Pamela Hovland alerted us to this astonishing and deeply heartening TED talk by artist Janet Echelman. (Video link here). Her “unlikely” path to making transformative monumental sculptures is a BIG FAT reminder that graduate degrees do not an artist/engineer/inventor/visionary make.
This story is about taking imagination seriously. 14 years ago, I first encountered this ordinary material, fishnet, used the same way for centuries. Today, I’m using it to create permanent, billowing, voluptuous forms the scale of hard-edged buildings in cities around the world. I was an unlikely person to be doing this. I never studied sculpture, engineering or architecture. In fact, after college I applied to seven art schools and was rejected by all seven.
I went off on my own to become an artist, read more…
"Many" by Alexander Calder, Courtesy of The Calder Foundation
The message telling us of our friend Mary’s passing described her has having been”surrounded by a tremendous field of love”. We imagined all the people who were part of that field, all over the world, near and far, sending their love in all kinds of ways, some as real as sitting by her bedside or doing an errand done or cooking dinner, some not tangible at all, but there all the same.
After we left the spare message on ‘the improvised life’ saying why there would be no posts for a day, we felt the emergence of another field of love. Through comments and emails, we received messages from friends and strangers, of comfort, condolence, wishes, healing, and concern…to powerful effect: we felt better. Then we realized that ‘the improvised life’ had become a field, too.
We don’t know what a field of love looks like, but we know what it feels like. We know that it’s possible to make one in any moment: read more…