Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Life on the Beach

Although new products within a single domain provide excitement and enthusiasm, products that emerge from the crossover of two or more domains create an even more awe-inspiring experience for the product’s audience. This is the case for the current artist, Theo Jansen. He is a Dutch native that has become known throughout the world for his moving sculptures. Jansen has innovatively combined the fields of art and engineering in order to produce truly magnificent beasts that roam the beaches of the Netherlands.
Jansen’s longest and most renowned work is Strandbeest. The work has been a series of creatures created from PVC, wood, and other simple materials that are able to move along the beach through wind power. After multiple installations, Jansen was able to determine environmental factors that endangered or hindered the “life” of his creatures. Thus, he eventually created animals that could sense where they were on the beach with a brain that could detect the location of the water. Additionally, the brain is able to determine when a storm is approaching and triggers the animal to drive a spike in the ground so that it does not get blown away during the storm. With all of these adaptations and more to come, Jansen eventually wants to have herds of his creatures roaming the beaches.
As seen through the series of adaptations, Jansen has a continuous and progressive process to creating his moving sculptures. After one work or sketch, he makes improvements to the point where there is seemingly no end. His creativity allows him to find more ways to improve the previous work. This is seemingly identical to the process Picasso went through for his paintings, specifically Guernica. In the process of making Guernica, Picasso made hundreds of sketches and samples in order to make sure that each piece was perfect in respects to the whole.


             Finally, neither Jansen nor Picasso would be able to achieve their levels of creativity without being experts in their fields. Without being a master painter, Picasso would not know the foundations of painting and would not have been able to formulate the style of cubism. Likewise, the kinesthetic sculptures of Jansen would have never come into being without his knowledge of engineering. Both creators use their knowledge of their domain and their progressive processes in order to create truly sensational works of art.

In order to see Jansen's creatures in action as well as hear more about them, visit the following link and watch the brief TED Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/theo_jansen_creates_new_creatures

Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds: An anatomy of creativity sen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi. New York: Basic Books.

Weisberg, R. W. (1993). Chapter 4: Creative problem solving. Creativity: Beyond the myth of genius. New York: Freeman.


The Man Behind the Universe


           Love the action-filled, unreasonably humorous and witty Marvel movies that have been coming out for the past ten years? Love seeing Tony Stark banter with Captain Steve Rogers, or Natasha Romanov prove that women are kickass? Well, you can thank the man behind the universe – Stan Lee.
            Stan Lee is a comic book writer, editor, publisher, actor, and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics. He is the creator of characters such as Spider-Man, the Hulk, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil, Thor, the X-Men, and many others that can be found in the Marvel Universe. As a child he was influenced by books and movies, particularly those with Errol Flynn playing heroic roles, and he also enjoyed writing, with dreams of one day writing the "Great American Novel". Lee began his comic book career at Timely Comics, doing miniscule tasks such as refilling inkwells and proofreading for the likes of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon who would one day help Lee achieve his dreams of writing. Lee’s first go at the story telling was in Captain America Comics #3.

            In the 1950s, Timely would undergo its transition to Marvel Comics in response to the emerging universe the DC Comics was producing. The editor of Timely, Martin Goodman asked Lee create a new superhero team and Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with his own stories, advice that he ran with. Lee created characters with flaws, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written of superheroes with idealistically perfect lives and no serious, lasting problems. Lee introduced the complex, naturalistic characters that we enjoy in the movies today. The first superhero group Lee and artist Jack Kirby created was the Fantastic Four. The team's immediate popularity led many other new stories including the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and the X-Men and Marvel's most successful character, Spider-Man. Lee was able to create a universe in which all these characters could exist and in which they could team up for initiatives such as the Avengers – a universe that has been laid out for everyone in some pretty epic movies of late. Lee is a much respected mentor in the comic book industry, and many artists and writers today can name him as their inspiration - Lee pushed boundaries of censorship, practicality and relatability to his audiences, a feat that has yet to be matched by others in the field. At 94 years old, Lee is still creating new characters and interacting with the universe he created.
Of his creative process Lee has said:
“To explain the creative process would just be to give me a lot more competitors, if anybody is listening to this. So, I would have to say I really have no idea. If we need a new character and decide we need a new project, I just go home and do some thinking, some doodling with a pencil and paper until an idea comes to me.”
I believe that the mechanism of mental imagery has a large influence on Lee’s creativity – his ability to visualize each of these characters and their stories helped him to form an entire universe in his head before applying it to the world. Ward, Finke & Smith argue that this ability to visualize in the mind is an inherent aspect of those involved in the visual arts. This aspect of creativity is obvious throughout Lee’s career and within his portfolio of achievements.
Fun fact: Stan Lee has a cameo in every Marvel movie.

Spectacles- Post What You See!

In this day and age, everything is being recorded. The best way to save memories is not to remember them, but to have physical evidence that they happened in the form of picture or video. Technology has come a long way since the first polaroid camera and video camera. Now, we have 12 megapixels worth of photography capabilities in our pockets at all times, built right into our iPhones or Android devices. If this is not sufficient, we also have video devices built into our laptops, tablets, and even video game devices. Certain companies take what is already a part of our phones and build on them. I am going to focus in on Snapchat, specifically their most recent creative innovation, the Spectacles. These glasses link directly to the Snapchat app on your phone and with the simple push of a button, allow you to record 10 second “snaps” of whatever you are doing and post it so that everybody can see. Snap Inc CEO Evan Spiegel is behind the idea of Snapchat and the Spectacles. Snapchat is one of the most used social medias, allowing users to post pictures and videos (maximum 10 seconds) of what they are doing to share with friends, and these posts all disappear within 24 hours. With the invention of Spectacles, there is no longer a need to open the app to post, it can all happen with the push of a button on the glasses.

Evan Spiegel, one of the founders behind the app and its products, always had a knack for creativity. He attended Stanford university to study product design. Before this, he took many design classes in high school as well. These facts show that Spiegel was interested in creating new products well before college, so it is not a surprise that he is behind one of the largest social media/image sharing platforms of the current day. Snapchat itself has made it easy to share videos directly all using one app without having to upload, edit, and post media to sites. The creation of the Spectacles by Spiegel demonstrates the emerging theme of “Support at the Time of Breakthrough” that was discussed in Creating Minds. This theme says that the creative has to have support at the time of innovation. I took this to mean not literal companionship, but overall support by the target audience. In this specific case, the target audience is users of the app, their support would determine the overall success of the product. Since the Spectacles have received good reviews, we can infer that the creator(s) had the support system needed, and as a result succeeded with their creative product. Collaboration is also an important theme, as Evan Spiegel did not create the product by himself. He founded a company made up of hundreds of people, all working towards the same goal of making social media postings of media easier. All the minds of these individuals worked together to bring us the final product. No man or woman alone possesses the necessary creative talent to achieve something of this magnitude, collaboration plays a key role (the most important, in my opinions) in the creative process.

The Spectacles are creative because they represent a novel idea. Video cameras built into glasses have been designed before (think of spycams and other accessories that you can buy). But never has there been a direct link between them and a social media outlet. If you wanted to share a video, you would have to go through the gruesome task of uploading the content, editing it to fit upload parameters, and then finally posting it. With the Spectacles, all this is bypassed and the video is posted immediately. The creation addresses the above problem with a simple link between recording content and uploading it. The Spectacles address the idea that society is constantly moving forward, and that pictures and sharing on social media is the new way to share memories with loved ones. The product uses the Big C creativity model to shift as society does and explore new domains of sharing content with the world. 

Ray Kurzweil: Futuristic Genius

Deemed as the "restless genius" by The Wall Street Journal and the "ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes Inc., Ray Kurzweil consistently brings forth new innovations and ideas to the world of technology. Kurzweil invented the CCD, the charged-coupled device flatbed scanner, the first OCR, optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine, and more. Furthermore, Kurzweil is an incredibly talented futurist, claiming accuracy in predicting future technologies throughout his life.

My first encounter with Kurzweil was through optical character recognition, or OCR. As a student, I constantly transcribe physical texts onto Word documents so that I can work with them quicker for assignments. I was introduced to OCR through my job at the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities. OCR is a software individuals can use to recognize and scan physical texts into digital files. The original software recognizes most modern script and the updated software recognizes older script as well. OCR is a useful technology for individuals studying digital humanities and is offered to Loyola students through the Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities.

Kurzweil's creativity spans much further than simply OCR, however. Along with engineering, Kurzweil is able to use his knowledge to predict future trends of technology. This relates to the creative process of mental imagery. He takes his past memories and knowledge then sits and thinks about potential gaps in current technology. Using these gaps, he creates predictions for future innovations. Some of Kurzweil's notable past predictions include predicting that a world chess champion would lose to a computer, PC's would be able to answer queries through Internet information, exoskeletal libs would allow disabled individuals to walk, and individuals would be able to give verbal commands to their computers. All of these predictions occurred within the timespan he predicted them to. For the next 25 years, Kurzweil is predicting glasses beaming images directly onto the retina, nanobots intelligence to be smarter than medical technology so most diseases will be eradicated, an ability to upload our mind and consciousness onto a computer, and many more.

Kurzweil uses mental imagery to make these predictions as they are all innovative, creative, and brand new. They are all, however, incredibly possible, and in some cases, likely probably for the near future.  Kurzweil's creativity does not go unnoticed. He won the $500,000 MIT-Lemelson Prize, the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton, induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, received 20 honorary doctorates, and various honors from three presidents. He is an engineer, author of seven books, and a renowned futurist. By conditioning himself to constantly think and allow himself to explore creativity, Kurzweil has contributed greatly to invaluable technological advances.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Creating in 140 Characters

“Unyielding and obsessed young man from St. Louis Missouri creates social network to connect individuals beyond confines of geographic barriers”

Within the 140 character constraint of his own creation, Jack Dorsey can be described as articulated in the above composition. Twitter, a social network online, was created in San Francisco in 2006 as the brainchild of Jack Dorsey, St. Louis Native. @jack was the first ever twitter account activated for social updates.


The goal of this website was to connect individuals and their location, activity and interests all over the world. Inspired by the text message, this communication form is instantaneous and can be received on a cell phone or internet accessible device. However, there are limits to the user’s activity. Twitter is designed for fast information sharing, and thus, not bogged down with verbosity. Tweets are restricted to 140 characters so that the thoughts and statements shared are as concise as possible.

Creator, Jack Dorsey, follows a familiar trope of creative genius: college dropout, relationship failure, minimalist, and chronic mis-communicator. Dorsey grew up in Missouri listening to the police radio transmitter bought by his father as a birthday gift. Enthralled by the fast pace and short nature of the emergency messages, he began to map where the emergency vehicles were in the city. When his map was well done, however, he realized that it was missing something critical: individuals.

Connections like these have been the pinnacle analogy in Dorsey’s life of creativity. His forearm displays an elongated “S” tattoo, representing a connection in his favorite fascinations: the f hole in a violin, the calculus symbol, and the collarbone. The connections that Dorsey saw everyday on public transit, and in colony systems, like ants, aspen trees and among people, became his obsession. These systems, “where you have a strong dependence on a network,” were the analogies with which Twitter became inspired.

Twitter is an example of analogical creativity, but more so an example of the creative Problem Solving described in Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius by Robert W. Weisberg. Dorsey saw a problem in the lack of interpersonal information provided by tech communications. He saw a need for individual specificity in his mapping software. The problem-solving process involved using analog frames to solve the problem. Dorsey used his understanding of other colony structures to create the Twitter social network to have global interpersonal messages.

Dorsey’s process was far from the instantaneous and “a ha” nature of Van Steenburgh and colleagues’ idea of creation. Whereas the authors of the study on insight saw a more instant idea formation, Dorsey pursued a lifelong theme of connecting with others to make his debut creating Twitter. Like Van Steenburgh’s frame of insight through incubation, however, Jack Dorsey was not always actively seeking a solution to his problem, but it was always present in the background.


Since being thrust into the public eye, Dorsey has been compared to tech creative titan, Steve Jobs. His incomplete college experience and innovative personality have caused a surface level comparison, though to his employees, he is nothing like Jobs. The founder has been described as “quiet” and several times has refused ideas because they are too “like apple.” However, his minimalism and bodily restriction (paleo dieting, exercise and simple dress) are more deeply similar to creative Gandhi, who practiced constant restraint. Unlike Gandhi, though, Dorsey has a net worth of roughly $1.28 billion dollars as of February 20, 2017. The lavish lifestyle he and his girlfriend live in San Francisco has been criticized as counter to the original idea of his site’s design: simplicity and efficiency.

Dorsey, Jack. Twitter. N.p., 21 Mar. 2006. Web. 
Max, D.T. "Two-Hit-Wonder." The New Yorker. Conde Nast, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 
"The World's Billionaires." Forbes. N.p., 20 Feb. 2017. Web.
Van Steenburgh, Fleck, Beeman, and Kounios. Insight. N.p., n.d. Web. 

Weisberg, Robert W. Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

More than broken hearts and drinking songs

            One of the most poignant memories I have growing up is singing to the radio while my mom drives me to school in the morning and after school. Listening to the guitar strings and hearing the crooning of country music will always trigger memories of long road trips with my family and dancing in the kitchen with my dad. Over time, country music has developed the reputation of only having one sound and repeating the same things over and over, with themes like heartbreak, drinking, praying to God, and trying to woo the girl. While there are plenty of songs like that, I tend to see that each artist has their own style to spin on these templates for stardom. One artist though that stands out from the others is Hunter Hayes, who started out in Nashville in 2008, as a songwriter and became a performer in 2010.

            Hunter was no stranger to singing and playing instruments before this, though. He was playing instruments before he was four, singing songs in both English and French. Performing locally and nationally, Hunter even performed at a White House lawn party during Bill Clinton’s term as president. While a majority of his concerts has Hunter either singing or playing the guitar and sometimes the piano, he can play more than 30 instruments, similar to how Stravinsky was noted to be able to play various instruments as well when writing the scores for the ballets he helped to produce. Both men had expertise in more than one aspect of producing their musical creations.

            In producing his albums, Hunter Hayes does more than just sing the songs, he writes them as well. He wrote by himself and with others. One song he wrote by himself appeared on the soundtrack for the movie, Act of Valor. For some songs on his album Storyline, he comments on how he would collaborate with others about the lyrics and talk about what music would go along with it. There are even times that the collaboration helps him to determine what story he wants to tell with his music, like his song Invisible. He talks about how they were trying to write a love song but then talked about not fitting in, and how they each had their own story about it. The story went on to talk about how they each found their place where they fit in, and Hunter felt he was meant to share that story. This reminded me of Melcher’s interview about jazz music where it mentions the artist’s “message must be greater than the limitations of the instrument.” This is what I feel makes Hunter stand out. Even though he can play so many instruments and sing so well, it takes true creativity to be able to pull a listener in and share a story beyond the music and lyrics.

            In each of his songs, there is a greater sentiment that can touch someone besides what you hear in the song. Whether it is talking about love, God, or just growing up, there is something in his music that makes me feel. His music speaks about more than what is normally seen in the stereotype of country music. It takes creativity to be that diverse in crafting music and words that fit so well together while at the same time expressing thoughts and ideas without saying it out loud. Just putting on one of his songs makes me want to get up and dance. At the same time, I think about how the lyrics speak to my own experiences, be it feeling like no one sees me, or enjoying the feeling of being another year older. There is something special about Hunter Hayes and his music, something I am looking forward to discovering more and more with each new song.

Live from New York, it's Saturday night!

In a TV guide saturated with a dizzying number of late-night TV programs and actors, some better than others, there is one that stands out. Saturday Night Live is a staple of TV in the United States, and its influence on culture here lasts far longer than the hour and a half it airs every Saturday. I would be surprised to find someone who doesn’t recognize at least one of the famous skits that has aired during the show’s 42 seasons, or someone who doesn’t know even one of the many stars that gained his or her fame as a cast member or writer on the famous program.

Brainchild of Lorne Michaels, Saturday Night Live is a unique blend of light-hearted comedy and serious political messages, often combining both into the same skit. SNL both honors pop culture, featuring celebrity hosts and musical guests, and critiques it with honesty. The live nature of the show means that viewers see when the cast members crack and hear the audience’s reaction to bad jokes and controversial statements. No other show manages such an ambitious format, especially with as much caliber, as SNL. It has won 50 Emmys (with more Emmy nominations than any other show on TV), two Peabody Awards, and three Screenwriter’s Guild Awards.

In 1974, Johnny Carson decided he wanted the reruns of his popular late night show aired during the week instead of the weekend, and NBC found itself in need of a new show to fill the spot. Dick Ebersol, VP of late night programming at the time, approached Lorne Michaels and SNL was soon born. While the show was quickly popular with baby-boomers, NBC found itself receiving angry letters and calls from people offended by some of the sketches, especially with the addition of the “Weekend Update” segment, which made light of news and politics.

Though the show has always been a collaborative work, Michaels is the heart of its production. In 1980 he tried to take time off to pursue other projects, but most of the cast and writers followed him. Drama ensued and the production team faced turmoil as it attempted to find someone who could replace Michaels. The show suffered- Michaels returned in 1985, but his first season back did not go well and the show was slated to be cancelled. Executives gave him one more chance and he quickly revived SNL. In the mid-90s the show hit another round of intense criticism and CBS offered Michaels a role developing a Saturday night variety show, but he stuck with SNL. His loyalty to the network has been essential for the success of the show.

So how has Michaels managed to develop the concept of such a one of a kind show, then continue running it almost every week for several decades? He claims: “There’s a mantra that I have, which is fatigue is your friend. There’s a point at which, in anything artistic, at least from my perspective, the critical faculty can overwhelm the creative faculty… When you’re tired, you just write it, and all sorts of different kinds of work comes out.” The lack of inhibition that comes with fatigue brings a greater willingness to take a risk, which is an essential part of the creative process. Scientific studies back this up: one study by Wieth and Zacks shows “consistently greater insight problem solving performance during non-optimal times of day.” Van Steenburgh et. al. describe insight as the “aha!” moment of problem solving, contrasting it with analytical thinking. It involves a break in the analytical thought process that causes the mind to become almost distracted, which is when the solution suddenly comes to the thinker. This is essential for creating good comedy- a good joke is usually not one that you think about for hours, rather, something clever that comes naturally.

However, this lack of inhibition must be coupled with a rigid adherence to rules when necessary. To produce a TV show as successful as SNL, the producer must be on top of everything. Cast member Tina Fey wrote in her book Bossypants of SNL:

‘“A TV show comprises many departments — Costumes, Props, Talent, Graphics, Set Dressing, Transportation. Everyone in every department wants to show off their skills and contribute creatively to the show, which is a blessing. You’re grateful to work with people who are talented and enthusiastic about their jobs.
You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm. You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says “Welcome to Denmark.”
“We just thought it would be funny.”
And you have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa’s face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let’s go with the bran muffin on the white plate.
And then sometimes Actors have what they call “ideas.” Usually it involves them talking more, or, in the case of more experienced actors, sitting more. When Actors have ideas it’s very important to get to the core reason behind their idea. Is there something you’re asking them to do that is making them uncomfortable… is there someone in the room the actor is trying to impress?”’

SNL is not all taking risks and suddenly coming up with funny jokes on a few hours of sleep. It is an enormous production, and as one that is presented on live television, is one where everything must go smoothly. This takes concentration and thoughtfulness, and an ability to see what the consequences of a decision will be. To recognize these things, mastery of the domain is necessary, and Lorne definitely exceeds the 10,000 hours needed to achieve it. Michaels has a firm grasp of cinematography, pop culture, politics, directing, and many other disciplines to make sure the show goes smoothly each week.

And here we find the genius of Lorne Michaels’ creative process, which allowed him to create a late-night empire (He also manages several other late-night programs, many of them staring SNL alumni). Few can combine uninhibited insight and risk-taking with a high level of control and foresight the way Michaels has. His process is a blend of mastery and putting aside everything that is known and has been done before, a process that has worked with most of Gardner’s major creators. This seems to be the key to producing high-level comedy, especially on a live show to an incredibly diverse audience.

Tina Fey has also said of Michaels, "He put me on TV, and no one else would have done that. Lorne created a show that's impacted culture for over 35 years. No one has ever really successfully been able to replicate it." SNL is incredibly unique thanks to the creativity of Lorne Michaels. Next time you’re debating whether or not to stay up to watch the show, consider that with a little bit of experience and studying, the sleep lost might contribute to you coming up with an idea as innovative as Saturday Night Live.