I was interviewed by Chase Jarvis, the co-founder and CEO of Creative Live, an education company that has live education around the clock, every day, in creative fields such as design, filmmaking, photography and music. It’s a great company! I was on their board too.
Here is the interview, which was recorded last week, and is part of a series “30 Days of Genius”, which includes interviews with other folks such as Richard Branson, Swiss Miss, Arianna Huffington and other interesting and unexpected people. I had fun doing it, and, while I chafe at being characterized ONLY as an Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, was able to talk about my experiences along the way.
These are some of the books I mentioned in my interview:
A Blue Fire by James Hillman. Hillman is a student of Carl Jung, but focuses his work on the cultivation of the soul. Great guide for creative pursuits, but for anyone looking beyond success into fulfillment and magnanimity in the old sense: great-souledness.
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald. A German writer, who spent most of his career teaching in East Anglia in England. Sebald writes movingly, is deeply learned. The Emigrants is his masterpiece: a study of men, their lives and failures, their deaths.
Perhaps the best part of my graphic journaling practice is how it is influencing my experience of the ongoing present. A new awareness of moments big, small and routine is growing. By taking time each day to notate images from my mind’s eye, I am honoring the fleeting beauty of the everyday.
Emily Dickinson wrote often about the subject of time.
Forever – Is Composed of Nows –
Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –
From this – experienced Her
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –
Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –
by Emily Dickinson
Poetry is another great way of journaling. What would happen if you reflected on one small detail from your day and wrote a very short poem (one to three lines) capturing it’s essence?
Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings. Nothing but gorgeous. Dickinson’s late experimental work photographed and reproduced exactly as she wrote it on scraps of envelopes. A never-before-possible glimpse into the process of a great poet.
In the meantime, try re-imagining a few moments from your own day. What images pop into your head? How vivid are your recollections? What details stand out? What sensations? What can you see in your mind’s eye?
Further reading and inspiration:
FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel. After seeing the Graphic journaling that I have been doing, a friend recommended that I reads this. IT IS FANTASTIC! Very powerful and funny. Also extraordinary storytelling and the basis of a blockbuster Broadway show.
Sequential Art Bristol Paper Try some graphic journaling. This beautiful paper makes it a pleasure to draw and helps organize your thoughts.
Tomboy Dual Brush pens. Heaven in a box. A royal set of my favorite markers. Mouth-watering colors, and an elegant brush stroke.
I gave a talk this week at PING:Helsinki about storytelling to a group of people working in social media and marketing. There were a bunch of Instagrammers there, YouTubers, bloggers and so on, and as I was writing my talk and seeking inspiration, the first thing that I thought of was this video by Stefan Sagmeister:
“Storytelling” has become the latest buzzword in business, especially in marketing. Telling your “brand story”, re-imagining your company as a story–it makes one long for the days when the marketing world was exhorting individuals to become “personal brands”, telling their own individual stories. Now entire companies are getting into the game.
Sagmeister points out that this is bullshit. Real stories, like the ones made by novelists or filmmakers, take a lifetime of study, practice, and hard work to realize. Journalists know how to tell stories, and some bloggers too. But most of those YouTubers, Instagrammers and marketers have not mastered the form. They’re doing something though. If it is not storytelling, then what is it?
The reason everyone wants to be a storyteller, even if they’re not, is that stories have a magical power of persuasion and seduction. Stories enrapture us, absorb our attention. They take the messy business of living, and wrap it into a tidy package from which meaning, beauty, insight and truth can be gotten.
The snack-sized postings on social media rarely add up to the full meal that make up a real story. If you were to take a long view, and follow a feed or stream through time, you might be able to discern the ghost of a story in the stream, but it wouldn’t be a story until it was written down, and given the shape of a story, with its rising action, climax and conclusion.
Now and in the time to be, I think it will pay for you to zero in on being precise with your language. Try to build and treat your vocabulary the way you are to treat your checking account. Pay every attention to it and try to increase your earnings. The purpose here is not to boost your bedroom eloquence or your professional success — although those, too, can be consequences — nor is it to turn you into parlor sophisticates. The purpose is to enable you to articulate yourselves as fully and precisely as possible; in a word, the purpose is your balance. For the accumulation of things not spelled out, not properly articulated, may result in neurosis. On a daily basis, a lot is happening to one’s psyche; the mode of one’s expression, however, often remains the same. Articulation lags behind experience. That doesn’t go well with the psyche. Sentiments, nuances, thoughts, perceptions that remain nameless, unable to be voiced and dissatisfied with approximations, get pent up within an individual and may lead to a psychological explosion or implosion. To avoid that, one needn’t turn into a bookworm. One should simply acquire a dictionary and read it on the same daily basis — and, on and off, with books of poetry. Dictionaries, however, are of primary importance. There are a lot of them around; some of them even come with a magnifying glass. They are reasonably cheap, but even the most expensive among them (those equipped with a magnifying glass) cost far less than a single visit to a psychiatrist. If you are going to visit one nevertheless, go with the symptoms of a dictionary junkie.
I am a dictionary lover, and was both happy and sad to see a whole pile of dictionaries available on the free rack outside our local bookstore. You may find the same. Pick one up, read it daily. I agree with Brodsky here. Reading the dictionary will expand your vocabulary, and with it, your experience of living. And defend those words, and their meanings. Be alert to when they are under threat, and cautious when you hear buzzwords buzzing about.
On Grief and Reason by Joseph Brodsky is a collection of essays that includes his commencement address, the lecture he gave upon accepting the Nobel Prize, an astonishing essay about living in an apartment in Soviet Russia, and other musings.
The Compact OED. A real dictionary-lover’s dictionary, this is the full 20 volume dictionary reproduced micro graphically. The history of the words, lost definitions, a word-lover’s delectation.
Well, I am seriously loving my new journaling practice.
I have been scribbling, flood filling and shading like there is no tomorrow. I am allowing my subconscious to direct the narrative and letting my instinct decide which shards to borrow from my mind’s eye.
This week’s post picks up where we left off in Baltimore, now on a late night drive home to Brooklyn.
The coolest part of keeping this auto-bio-graphic journal has been the feeling of a neck and neck race between art and life. I find myself looking at life like a composition, then noticing its doodle like quality. More than that- this week I have literally drawn my children to sleep, and willed some cosmos seedlings into existence.
“Life imitates art, far more than art imitates life” -Oscar Wilde
Not only am I using the auto-bio-graphic to chronicle the day to day experiences and events, but I am finding it super helpful as a container for creative ideas, visions, queries and general states of being. Basically, it is helping me to work stuff out. The composite nature of the comic form combined with the truism that a picture tells a thousand words, makes the graphic novel awesome for journaling.
I am free to express the multitudinous facets of being. I am an artist. I am a mother, a poet, a writer, a wife, a friend, a pasta cooker, a clown, a fb addict, a reluctant dishwasher, an angst ridden depressive, an empathizer, a daughter, a sister, a designer, a witch, a sculptor, a dreamer, a spaz.
I am an observer. I am a creator, who feels life deeply. I am seeing this through the mirror of the auto-bio-graphic.
To be continued….
Further reading: MAUS by Art Spiegleman, A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father’s story and history itself.
I have never been a faithful diary keeper. My degenerate handwriting is probably to blame. Or perhaps it is the fact that the written word can fall short as a truth teller- especially for the visually minded.
Over the last few weeks, I have embarked on a new journaling process that is bringing me a lot of pleasure. It is also helping me work through various facets of my creative and emotional life. Each page is an auto-bio-graphic, day in the life, of me- A. Posen.
I was inspired by my kids. Comics are big in my house. Raina Telgemeier looms large, and we all eagerly await the latest version of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. My daughter Celeste is even writing her own graphic novella, which will hopefully make an appearance here at The Creative Hours someday.
Needless to say, I fell for the form. With my ipad and ipencil, I have been drawing these autobiographical depictions of everyday life. Keeping it easy, real and unheady- I am visually jotting down observations, sensations, events, feelings, visions, moments, interactions and dreams.
In my last post, Cold Calling Louise Bourgeois, I shared images from “The Diary of The Inbetween”. This was another form of visual journaling- one in which I committed to crafting an art object each day. I then strung them from the ceiling in consecutive order. The result was a surreal musical score of objects chronicalling my inner state and life impressions.
Journaling is whatever you make it to be.
Let’s see what next week brings…
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier. Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing.
ALAMO ALL-STARS from Nathan Hales’ Hazardous Tales. Hale relays the facts, politics, military actions, and prominent personalities that defined the Texas Revolution in factual yet humorous scenes that will capture the attention of reluctant readers and fans of history alike.
The phone books were stashed under my studio chair. I flipped open the whitepages and dragged my finger through the B’s until I found it. Ha! I picked up the phone, took a deep breath and cross checked the number before dialing.
Shortly after college I went through an inspired cold call phase.
A few rings.
“Hello?” a woman’s voice answered.
The calls were like rites of passage for me. Exercises in bravery. Proof to myself that doors were meant to be passed through.
“Hello…my name is Alexandra Posen, and I am…um…trying to reach the studio of Louise Bourgeois?”
Not daring to believe, I continued, “do I have the right number?”
“This is Louise” an understated voice replied.
My eyes roamed from sculpture to sculpture in my small studio, trying to ground this moment in reality.
“Ms. Bourgeois, I admire your work very much. I am a young artist, and I was wondering…”
I could hear the age and accent now.
“I was wondering if it might be possible to meet you-”
Before I had a chance to fumble through my ill formed request (I hadn’t gotten this far in my mind), Louise abruptly interrupted me.
“Call back Sunday morning.”
“Ok….I will call you back on Sunday. Uh…thank you so much.”
“Good. Good bye.”
It took me a few anxiety ridden moments to process the fact that I had just picked up the phone and made direct contact with a mythical art hero. A few more moments to decide if the call was a good one or a bad one. She sounded a little scary. Had I disturbed her? Did she like me? What was the meaning of calling back on Sunday?
Like so much in my life, then and now, my love of artist Louise Bourgeois and my impulse to call her was largely based on instinct.
Had I done diligent homework, I might have been savvy to the fact that she routinely held a Sunday Soiree in her living room.
Thursday to Sunday felt like an eternity. The second call was infinitely harder to make. I remembered my shyness.
The call however, was successful, and I when hung up, I had a time and a place to meet. I also had a vague idea that there would be other visitors, and certainty that a great adventure lay ahead of me.
Here is the rub: I remember very few concrete details of that special Sunday afternoon.
I do remember the room. How it smelled like dry wood and New York. How Louise sat imperiously behind an indutrial desk as master of ceremonies. How four or five of us sat in chairs and benches along the peripheries of the dim room. How she ate jam from a jar. How one of the guests was a famous curator. How a small man did an expressive dance improvisation in the middle of the room. How nervous I was.
And with much effort and some cringing I have recalled how at my turn, I presented a show and tell. I spoke about puppetry, masks and the art I was making. I shared images from the installation that I was working on at the time- a piece called “The Diary of the Inbetween”.
I remember that Louise looked looked deeply, carefully, and then moved on to the next guest. It was a guy around my age- and all that I can remember about him, is that we shared a falafel afterward and kissed underneath the yellow glow of a West Village lamp post.
My twenties were a maelstrom of passion, insecurity and creative seeking. Memories from that time are a blur of essences only. Even my few hours in the living room of Louise Bourgeois, are obscured by the emotional weather of my young heart and imagination.
I wish I remembered more. Like who that curator was.
But it is ok. Bourgeois dwelled in that foggy space too. She honored the atmospheric nature of emotions, and welcomed messy contradictions and obscurity. In fact, I cannot think of another artist who so firmly grasps the substance of metaphor. Not to mention the abstraction of memory…
As a painter, sculptor, printmaker, and installation artist, she tackled the subconscious intelligence with unique integrity. She worked till the end of her life wrestling potent themes such as sexuality, corporeality, death and the parent child relationship.
Nearly twenty years ago, I followed an adventurous whim and made a pilgrimage to see the queen mother of art. I was, of course, in part, seeking her approval and love. I am not sure that I got it. Then again, I am not sure that I didn’t.
This is a drawing and exercise designed in 2002 by Louise Bourgeois, for DO IT: The Compendium, by Hans Obrist.
When you are walking, try smiling at a stranger.
DO IT: the compendium by Hans Ulrich Obrist The Do It book contains artworks by more than 100 international artists in the form of do-it-yourself text instructions to be completed by the reader. Based on the traveling exhibition and e-flux online project curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the book also includes a selection of essays and interviews, and offers comprehensive material on the groundbreaking show.
Huzzah. People are finally waking up to the serious business of silliness. Like yoga, improv classes are now hot stuff.
Even the corporate sector recognizes that playfulness, improvisation and teamwork affect the bottom line within everyday operations. It is not uncommon for institutions to offer workshops and retreats that focus on theater games and improv skills.
Viola Spolin, enviably remembered as “the mother of improvisation”, understood the gravity of play from the get go.
“Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person – mind, body, intelligence and creativity.” -Viola Spolin
Born in 1906, Spolin started her career as a WPA social worker for immigrants. As “drama coordinator” for this community, she wanted to address some of the very real struggles of being an outsider- isolation, insecurity and hesitance. Spolin had the vision and courage to recognize something profound: the fact that there is agency in child’s play.
When children play, one of their advantages is the focus and commitment that they bring to a given game. Viola Spolin saw the power in such a suspension of disbelief. She also saw this quality as a muscle that could be exercised and developed. Her pedagogy was in a sense, a metaphoric practice for being fully present to life itself.
“Play allows a person to respond with ‘his total organism, in a total environment'” -Viola Spolin
Taking inspiration from the form of traditional children’s games, she sought transformation through her play and improvisation based curriculum. She went on to become a seminal thinker in 20th century American theater and is responsible for popularizing the “theater games” that have become an indispensable part of the actor/director/creator toolkit.
The genius of theater games is that they set up a particular alchemy of play and objective which makes way for spectacular results. For one thing, the game premise mandates “group agreement” and strengthens collaborative bonds. The imperative of the game can also circumvent habitual personal blockages, and simultaneously clear the path of access towards one’s authentic trove of experience and instinct.
“Playing a game is psychologically different in degree but not in kind from dramatic acting. The ability to create a situation imaginatively and to play a role in it is a tremendous experience, a sort of vacation from one’s everyday self and the routine of everyday living. We observe that this psychological freedom creates a condition in which strain and conflict are dissolved and potentialities are released in the spontaneous effort to meet the demands of the situation.” -Viola Spolin
If the visionary Spolin were alive today, I imagine that she would not only be recognized as a theater guru, but also as a spiritual leader. She saw the disconnected plight of grown-up life, and wished for a world in which the rational mind could be quieted, and in which intuition could be readily accessed.
“When student-actors see people and the way they behave when together, see the color of the sky, hear the sounds in the air, feel the ground beneath them and the wind on their faces, they get a wider view of their personal world and development in the theater is quickened. The world provides the material for the theater and artistic growth develops hand-in-hand with one’s recognition of it and one’s self within it.”
For Spolin, improvisation was not just a tool for performance, but a democratic vehicle for empowerment, enlightenment and vitality. It seems appropriate that improv is having a heyday. What Viola Spolin pioneered was a mindfulness practice- one that happened to take root in the context of the performing arts.
In addition to popularizing “theater games”, Spolin authored several books, including the famous “Improvisation for the Theater”. She played a key role in shaping the pedagogy of Chicago’s Second City, and in establishing comedy improv as thriving art form.
Hats off to Viola Spolin.
This is a sensory exercise from “Improvisation for the Theater”. It can be done alone, standing, laying down or even sitting at a desk. A great warm up for ANY creative practice, it fosters mindfulness, and is grounding.
Feeling Self with Self a mindfulness practice
Spend a few minutes with yourself taking inventory of your body.
Feel your feet with your feet
Feel the socks around your ankles
Feel the length of your calves, the shape and angle of your knees
Feel the space behind your thighs. Let one thigh feel the other thigh
Keep reviewing every part of your body. Checking in.
Have your breath say hello to your breath
Let your shoulders sense your shoulders, and feel their weight, their tension, their shape
Feel your face with all the muscles in your face
Feel the top of your head and every hair follicle
End with feeling the weight of your whole body, and an awareness of the space that you are occupying.
Further reading: Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin. Widely considered the bible of improvisational theater, Spolin explains her philosophy and method in this phenomenal book. Her improvisational techniques changed the very nature and practice of modern theater. These techniques have also influenced the fields of education, mental health, social work, and psychology.
How do you make creativity? Curious minds want to know.
Inspired by a beautiful passage from Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, I have put together a list of 8 important ingredients that foster creativity.
First, the passage and a few thoughts about the author:
“Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.”
This description of Sula nails the potency of the creative spirit, and the importance of channeling its energy into articulate expression. As human beings, we all have creative spirit rattling around inside of us, trying to push outwards and take shape. Perhaps what defines an artist is the demanding character of this spirit, and the permission to recognize its cues for what they are: The dire need to create.
More than any other writer I can think of, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winning author Toni Morrison knows how to cut to the aching heart of things, and how to turn the invisible into sensual and tangible form. Her novels, which include masterpieces such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, Song of Solomon and Jazz, are bountiful with a somatic kind of poetry as they delve into the powerful tales and experiences of her African American protagonists.
For Sula, curiosity and a gift for metaphor are the tell-tale signs of her highly creative soul. Which brings me to the promised recipe, or at least a handful of ingredients:
A Recipe for Creativity
Start with a curious mind and an open heart
An unbiased hunger for studying the world
Compassionate interest in experiences beyond oneself
Attentiveness to all the dynamics, properties, qualities and details that you encounter
You will know if you are on the right track if you can find inspiration anywhere and in anything
Remember that you are building an archive of observations
Metaphoric thinking. Metaphors are the tools of translation for all that you see, hear and feel. Metaphors give us words and ideas with which to hold and define our observations
Last but not least, learn some skills, so that you can easily use your understanding to create and express your heart’s desire.
Toni Morrison knows the secret sauce well. The curious, compassionate and metaphoric strengths of her work are out of this world. There is so much to learn from her.
“I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither…. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.” -Toni Morrison
This creative exercise is inspired by master storyteller, Toni Morrison. It encourages you to look closely, and apply compassion and imagination throughout your day. Remember to share photos or thoughts! #TCHhands
Further reading: Sula, by Toni Morrison Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret
Beloved, by Toni Morrison Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a magnificent novel.
“Barely 40 years ago, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein caused a transgressive stir by adopting commercial imagery from newspaper advertisements and comic strips as the subjects of paintings to hang in art galleries. How daring that was, and how dated it is. We are surrounded today by too many images to source or rank.” -Arthur Lubow, from a NYT article on Takashi Murakami
The world is at the mercy of information, imagery and input.
Ever notice that Times Square is ominously boring these days? The place that once shocked the system with electric tugs of attention and vortexes of sparkly seduction, now kind of falls flat. It is largely an issue of relativity. We have changed. We have become acclimated to an omnipresent deluge of media and constant consumption. Midtown’s spattering of LED screens merely joins the new normal spread of our collective psyche.
What does this new normal mean for humanity?
Scientists say that we are stuffing way more data through our system than our brains are built to process. One of the key effects of such surfeit, is that the brain loses its ability to order and prioritize information. In other words, we are in a noisy sea of sameness, and we don’t know where to focus our attention or when to look deeply. Important things, meaningful things, sensitive things get jumbled and flattened with the frivolous, popular and commercial.
In an interview with Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Daniel Levitan explains how information overload effects the brain:
“It puts us into a brain state of decision fatigue. Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they’re living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don’t distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.”
The artist Takashi Murakami captured this phenomenon when he ordained an art movement called Superflat. Originally specific to Japanese culture and history, his concept seems more and more relevant to the global reality of today.
Coined in 2000 for an exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the term Superflat refers to the leveling of distinctions between high and low. Everything is driven by consumerism and there is a virtual flood fill of information. Murakami communicates this state of affairs in his icon-bombed paintings, and through his surreal sculptural mash-ups.
Takashi Murakami came to the Superflat idea partly by reflecting on the missing third dimension that is characteristic in Japanese art history, as well as the critical role that animé and manga played in expressing postwar sentiments in Japan.
“We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment in which, even if we don’t completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. This is what we have come to call art.” -Takashi Murakami
The point is that we are in Murakami’s future now. Information overload and runaway consumerism have spread us thin and made us shallow. We no longer read, we now skim or scroll. We follow power points, rely on headers and avoid complexity. We rarely stop to look closely and reflect.
It makes me think that we all need to work very hard to protect these essential moments of attention and sensitivity that allow for profundity and meaning.
And, is this not the role of art?
If you take the time to look deeply, art will not disappoint.
This whimsical exercise is inspired by the visual bazaar that we live in, Murakami’s paintings and the concept of SUPERFLAT.