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creativity (104 posts)
Cohen, 30, has been captivated by older women for as long as he can remember—especially his late grandmother, Bluma, with whom he'd spend hours watching old movies and poring over faded scrapbooks. "I was struck by how elegantly everyone was dressed," he recalls of Bluma's Depression-era snapshots. "The women didn't have money, but they had amazing clothes." Not long after his grandmother died, in 2007, Cohen moved from his hometown of San Diego to New York; Bluma, a graduate of Columbia University, had told him all creative people should live there. He landed a job supervising a bookstore. And in his free time, he took long walks around neighborhoods like the stately Upper East Side, marveling at the "independent, well-dressed older people" he encountered and snapping pictures. While dozens of so-called street-style blogs were chronicling the cutting-edge sartorial statements of the city's youth, Cohen couldn't help noticing that septuagenarians were strangely invisible on the Internet. Hoping to change that, he launched his own blog in August 2008. "I wanted to create something positive and inspiring," he says, "and to show younger women that they don't have to be afraid of getting older."
In 2010 Cohen quit his job to focus on the blog full-time. These days Advanced Style attracts up to 50,000 page views daily. Earlier this year, he published a coffee-table book of favorite images; next up is a documentary about the women to whom he's dedicated his life. "We go to movies together, we talk about plays, we go to concerts. We're collaborators, in a way," he says. "Some of them refer to me as sort of a grandson."
Unleash your creativity: How to start any project
"You can find just about anything on my paintings," says Mae Chevrette. "Old maps, lengths of tape measure, vintage sheet music. I moved last year to an industrial part of Boston, so lately I've incorporated tack nails onto the edges of my work." These found objects typically encircle an arresting quote, such as Emerson's "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea / Drink the wild air" or Tennessee Williams's "Make voyages! Attempt them! There is nothing else."
Chevrette starts with a printout of one of thousands of photos from her travels, which she adheres to a canvas. Then she embeds ephemera and applies broad strokes of paint. "I keep layering until the piece matches what's in my head," she says. Finally, she adds the quote. "These are words that have been helpful in my life," she says. "I don't want to forget them."
Chevrette was 18 when she embarked on a cross-country drive from her hometown of Seattle to Massachusetts for college. To calm her nerves, Chevrette jotted a note to herself: "It is in all of us to defy expectations, to go into the world and to be brave...." The words became the centerpiece of To Be Brave, now Chevrette's most popular print. Subsequent trips have also informed paintings: The real coffee stain on The Road is a shout-out to the small-town diners she visited in Wyoming and South Dakota, and American West features snapshots of the power lines above Route 66. "I want to get across a feeling of wanderlust," says Chevrette. "I want to convey the sense that our lives are filled with possibility." (Prints start at $20; maechevrette.com.)
Unleash your creativity: How to start any project
Pop quiz: Was the above said by:
a) A teenager in Des Moines, Iowa?
b) A teenager in rural Wales?
c) Jack Mubiru, a father of the skateboarding scene in Uganda?
If you guessed all of the above, you would be right. The New York Times Magazine has some gorgeous photos of the relatively new skateboarding scene in Uganda. They are images of beautiful decay; they document people having the best time; they also remind us of how alike we all are, in the end. The Uganda Skateboarder's Saloon may not seem to have much in common with some sleek Californian skate park all voluptuous with curvy concrete hills, but the idea behind both places is the same: people need something to do, and in a void, they make their own fun.
Relearning How to Have Fun
Three Ways to Beat Boredom in Your Life
In the waters off Long Island, cameras captured a woman with flowing hair, a seashell bra—and a fish tail. The mermaid (or rather, the woman in the mermaid costume) was performing in documentary filmmaker Susan Rockefeller's Mission of Mermaids, a short film that combines a sweeping history of mermaid lore (from ancient Greece to the Disney era) with startling facts about the pollution and overfishing that threaten our seas. Rockefeller's decision to lend her project a dash of storytelling pizzazz was a strategic one. "We're inundated with statistics about global issues, and it gets overwhelming," she explains. "So I wanted to combine myth with science." The film—a sneak peek of which showed at Sundance this year—suggests ways to save our seas, from refusing plastic grocery bags to buying sustainable seafood. Recently, Rockefeller also designed a line of mermaid-inspired jewelry, available at susanrockefeller.com; a portion of each sale benefits the marine protection organization Oceana. When people compliment the pieces, Rockefeller leaps at the chance to share her enthusiasm. "You don't win people's hearts by preaching," she says. "They need to see your passion."
If there’s one played-out idea I love anyway, it’s the staycation. Vacations are just so very much WORK, what with all the planning and the packing and the paying of the money. When really, we can get so much of the same lovely eye-ball-refreshing, the same much-needed brain-scrubbing, by just looking at our usual surroundings through a different lens. But it’s surprisingly hard to do: even as you set out for an aimless stroll through a part of town you don’t usually frequent, don’t you find yourself wandering, as if magnetized, toward the places you always go? Toward the park you know you like, or the building you’ve always admired, or even just the path you usually walk the dog?
Well, consider this prolific artist named James Gulliver Hancock, who has made it his mission to draw every building in New York City. His site is fascinating to click through, whether you’re an urbanite or a totally-not-that – the scratchy little lines, the loose sketches that suggest a boozy evening or else a quick stop on a crowded street, the more organized and tightly-constructed portraits that call out details you might have never noticed otherwise.
Here is his drawing of the Hearst Tower (Oprah.com headquarters!):
Hancock's virtual sketchbook makes me think, how might I see the structures around me a little more clearly? What would focus my vision and force me to look around rather than, let's admit it, at my phone?
Here then is an assignment for me, and anyone else interested in taking the world’s easiest staycation, practically guaranteed to make things seem fresh. You don’t even need to leave your neighborhood. All you need is a pen and notepad. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, that’s not the point. The point is to walk and look, really look. Go somewhere new (but stay safe!), or go somewhere you see all the time but never really SEE. Pick a building. A house. A rec center. A dog house. And draw it. Who knows what we will start to see?
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3 Ways to See the World With Fresh Eyes
As an only-abstractly ambitious high school senior, I eschewed useless topics such as science, math, and whenever possible gym, in favor of the practical-life-skills-building Advanced Placement Art. Auspicious, I know. And yet, thanks to Facebook, I know that two of the girls (well, women now) from my class have gone on to support themselves as straight-up artists. They were both talented from the get-go, but they weren't the only or even the most talented artists in the class. They were, however, the most driven. Now, one was an excellent draftsman (draftswoman?). She was the only person I ever knew who could draw a horse. She makes her living as a graphic artist, and she's very good at what she does. The other girl, in my teenaged estimation, not the best at drawing. Her stuff didn't look like stuff. She couldn't really draw a horse. But she had ideas. She had crazy, amazing, creative ideas. She would tweak the assignments we were given and create, well, works of art. And, you guessed it, she is now a real, honest-to-god, gallery-showing painter. She's one of those painters with ideas, with vision, with Creativity with a Big C.
Even as a student I knew that though my paintings of cups and things were sort of nice, I did not have what this girl had. This ability to innovate, to really see things in a whole new way. Because that's the nature of creativity, isn't it? It's not strictly creating something to paint its portrait; to truly make something new you must see things in a unique way, which is a harder skill to learn than, say, shading something to make it look round. Which leads me to this: the 3-D Alphabet.
Ji Lee's site Please Enjoy is full of projects as clever as they are masterfully handled, and most have this element of, dare I say, genius -- that strange combination of being at once so unique you would never think of them, and so deceptively simple-seeming that once you've seen them you suspect you might have almost thought of them once... though you never actually would. It's that whiff of inevitability that makes the 3-D alphabet such a delight. Of course! Each letter rendered in 3-D! Why didn't I think of that? Reading a word "written" in the 3-D-ized letters becomes a brain-twisting pleasure; the whimsical space-age robot world created from the 3-D word building blocks becomes the most fun kind of puzzle.
The 3-D alphabet is fun for what it is. But it's also fun for what it reminds us: that a creative mind can transform anything.
The Creative Commandments
Unblocking Your Creativity
Quotes to Inspire Creativity
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* Junot Díaz, author of The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and this fall's This Is How You Lose Her, discusses how race influences his work and his debt to women writers in this insightful Q&A. (Boston Review)
* In early 2011, Mike Tetreault found out he might get 10 minutes to prove to the Boston Symphony Orchestra that he's one of the best percussionists in the world. Boston Magazine tells the nail-biting story of what it's like to train for the nearly impossible. (Boston Magazine)
* "When you really become a professional at this stuff, what’s important is how well you can do when you’re not inspired. If that’s still workable, then you have a career."—Louis C.K. is talking about comedy in this interview, but it could be applied to pretty much anything. (A.V. Club)
Graphic designer Milton Glaser claims that what he does is "move things around until they look right" and that he's been doing it "for centuries." The creator of the "I [Heart] NY" graphic -- which has become so iconic it's hard to imagine it ever had to be created at all -- shares his thoughts on creativity in this great video, and what he says is relevant to all of us, artists or not: "Anything I've ever discovered has come through the act of work or making things... the act itself is the path to discovery."
To master anything, says Glaser, we need to move toward what we don't know. "Most significant works come out of misunderstanding," he goes on to say. "It is the path to attempt to understand that is what you're looking for. The path by which you arrive at understanding is the whole point of the game, not the arrival." We know this, of course we do, but when faced with a big challenge at work, or any problem that demands creative solutions, it's all too easy to lose the nerve to search, the possibility of risk.
The On Creativity site has more designers, cartoonists, and artists of all kinds sharing their thoughts on creativity -- each says something worth writing down and pinning to the wall near your work station. An installation artist admits to a fear of the blank wall. A renowned designer decrees: "Use what is essentially you." No losing-of-nerve allowed. Go forth, into your future, embracing the possibility of failure. As Glaser puts it, if you're the best at drawing cocker spaniels...try to draw a goldfish. Good advice for all of us cocker-spaniel-drawers.
More on Creativity:
How to Start Any Project
How to Beat Procrastination
How to Get Out of a Life Block
The upside of this kind of mania is that it goes both ways. This weekend I had finally sailed to port at the end of a supermarket voyage, both kids in the cart – at least I think so, somewhere there under all the berry cartons and bunny crackers– my list clutched in my fist like a besmirched treasure map, all my energy devoted to willing the kids to stop wailing for cookies and freedom...and there it was, the final gauntlet. The Clerk. She held the future of our day in her hands. Would she glare at my mewling young, shout out my way-more-than-I’d-thought-total, even, expect me to bag my own groceries while also convincing my baby of the wisdom of silence?
No. No she did not. This woman, she gave my daughter a sticker. Then she carefully, methodically, jigsaw-puzzled my purchases into my disgusting, over-re-used bags, with an artistry I have never before seen. She worked quickly, but you could see the concentration on her face. In a few moments, she had, with the precision of an eyebrow threader, filled one bag with the frozen goods, one with the boxes, one with the perishables. Fruit was nestled safely in a protective fence engineered of cereal boxes. Each bag was easy to lift, not too heavy. Unpacking the groceries at home would be a breeze, for in organizing my bags she had also organized my kitchen.
"You’ve changed my life!” I said. She nodded, sagely. She knew.
The thing was, she’d dealt with my groceries, with her job, for which she is likely not paid enough and certainly not much celebrated in the public imagination, the way I’d hope to deal with every task, no matter how large or small: with care and attention, with thought and organization, without expectation of glory or acknowledgement; doing a small task the best way possible simply because it is possible to do it well. I thought of her later that day as I loaded the dishwasher and took an extra 30 seconds to actually line up the dishes properly; again as I sat down to respond to an email in a thoughtful, sane way, yes, even spelling out every single word.
I'm not suggesting that everyone has to love their job every second. But since, every second, we have jobs to do, why not do them as well as possible, with the ninja-like mindfulness of, you know, a store clerk?
Finding A Love for Laundry
The Art of Living in the Present
Transform Your Life by Altering Your Thoughts
Q: I have an idea, and even some talent or training, but every time I sit down to do something about it, all I can hear is a sniveling, critical, who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are voice in my head. How can I get past that?
A: Freezing when you sit down to work by yourself is the same thing as freezing in front of an audience. In both cases, you're stymied by the fear of what people will think of you. The only difference is that here, the audience is in your head--a hypothetical group of people who will judge your output in the future. How can an imaginary audience have such a paralyzing effect? The answer is that deep down you feel you have to be perfect to win their validation. That's impossible. In fact, there's a strange truth about human creativity: The most creative part of you is also the most imperfect. This imperfect part of you is what we call the Shadow; and you shouldn't freeze it out of the creative process, you should invite it back in. This requires you to accept the worst--in whatever form it comes out: Write the worst sentence, paint the worst portrait, play as off-key as you can. Once you do this, the Shadow feels accepted--and creativity will then take over. For most people, this is pretty counterintuitive, but here's the truth: A real creative process isn't immediately gratifying. It's frustrating, mysterious, and uncertain.