Posted by: Liz Massey | June 16, 2008

Surf’s Up: Creativity Links for June 16, 2008

This week’s links from the creative blogosphere include the musical passions of a world-class architect, a report on motherhood and writing, a fascinating new way for scientists and moviemakers to measure viewer engagement, and an article that forms a resounding rebuttal to the myth that great ideas—and great inventors—are few and far between. Plus, as ever, a few extra bon mots have snuck on to the list, as well. Let’s go!

1. The ArtsJournal blog tipped me off last week to an interesting profile of architect Rafael Viñoly’s passion for, indeed, obsession with pianos and piano music. The article in the New York Sun is interesting on several levels, not the least of which is Viñoly’s view of how making architecture does—or does not—have parallels with making music.

“And although he is among the world’s most knowledgeable architects in music, he’s not one to pay glib lip service to oft-recited similarities between the two disciplines. For him, architecture isn’t frozen music.

“’There is no piece of music that could relate to anything else but itself and its world,’ he asserted. ‘It is truly an independent. The one thing coplanar with music is the compositional aspect, the fact that you are composing something. Architecture is essentially a score, and what happens with it depends on the people who play it, enjoy it, use it, or hate it.’”

Whether or not he believes that the two disciplines are interrelated, he does share one thing in common in both fields—he is very, very good. The article was written as Viñoly prepared for his first recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

2. The Boston Globe ran a good article a week or so ago on the motivations and challenges of stay-at-home mothers who forge literary careers while raising their brood. While the article touches upon what mom-writers have to do to mix deadlines with toddlers (hint: they write when the kids are asleep!), for me, the really interesting part of the article covers how motherhood changes their viewpoint as a writer…

“Motherhood can be a powerful formative experience for writers. ‘All mothers go through this period when they’re terrified about what might happen to their child,’ said Lara JK Wilson, 41, a short-story writer who wrote before and after motherhood, and experienced the difference. ‘Feeling that can bring you to a place that’s sharp as a knife. You feel edginess to your emotional state, and you know what ends you will go to, to protect that child. I can imagine the childhoods of all my adult characters, and it’s because I have a multitude of emotional states in my family life.’”

(A tip o’ the blog to the Creative Construction blog, a group blog of women writers who are also mothers as well, for alerting me to this story.)

3. eScience News recently reported on research from New York University that indicates that that certain motion pictures can exert considerable control over brain activity. Even more fascinating, a film’s content, editing and directing style can all influence the impact they have on a viewer’s brain!

To stimulate subjects’ brain activity, the researchers showed them three motion picture clips: thirty minutes of Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”; an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Bang! You’re Dead”; and an episode of Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” To establish a baseline, subjects viewed a clip of unstructured reality: a 10-minute, unedited, one-shot video filmed during a concert in New York City’s Washington Square Park.

The NYU team used two tools to assess the brain activity of the film viewers: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and inter-subject correlation (ISC) analysis. The fMRI produces a time-series of 3-D pictures of brain activity, and ISC correlates these pictures between the brains of various subjects.

According to eScience News, the results showed that ISC of responses in subjects’ neocortex—which regulates perception and cognition—differed across the four movies:

  • The Hitchcock episode evoked similar responses across all viewers in over 65 percent of the neocortex, indicating a high level of control on viewers’ minds;
  • High ISC was also extensive (45 percent) for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”;
  • Lower ISC was recorded for “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (18 percent) and for the Washington Square Park, or unstructured reality, clip (less than 5 percent).

These findings validate one of the popular perceptions in the film world of Hitchcock’s genius as a director, according to the researchers:

“The fact that Hitchcock was able to orchestrate the responses of so many different brain regions, turning them on and off at the same time across all viewers, may provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers’ minds. Hitchcock often liked to tell interviewers that for him ‘creation is based on an exact science of audience reactions.’”

4. Finally, Innovation Tools blog recently posted about a well-written Malcolm Gladwell article in the New Yorker debunking the myth that great ideas are scarce.

Gladwell tells the story of Intellectual Ventures, a company founded by Nathan Myhrvold that is dedicated to the principle that great ideas can be cultivated in abundance if the right people and the right conditions are present. Myhrvold holds invitation-only “invention sessions,” from which he is regularly harvesting scores of usable ideas and bringing them to market. Currently, the company is filing 500 patents a year and has a backlog of 3,000 ideas.

The article features Gladwell’s signature writing style, as well as a healthy dose of innovation history woven in. All in all, a terrific read for anyone who thinks that there is nothing new under the sun or that the lone inventor always comes up with better ideas than teams of really, really smart people.

Bonus Links!

Chris Csikszentmihalyi is the son of famed psychology researcher Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, an artist, a programmer, as well as an inventor and professor working at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media. World Changing reports that his projects focus on the interface between political action, art, journalism and technology. The article mentions a few really neat examples of using creativity and the new online social media tools to further social change.


Talk about old wine in new bottles! An article in the online version of the UK’s Times newspaper reports on Nonclassical, monthly classical club night run by Gabriel Prokofiev, DJ, producer, composer and grandson of the great Sergei. The event mixes live performances from instrumentalists and singers with sets from electronica DJs. Talking during the performances is encouraged and drinks are served at the bar throughout the night.

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