Posted by: Liz Massey | February 21, 2009

Surf’s Up: Creativity Links for February 21, 2009


Image courtesy SXC.

Reports on how artists are weathering this (or any) recession, a discussion on the creativity of musical performance, and a cool video on the value of “serious play” are in the lineup for this week’s hyperlink roundup. Plus, as always, we have a couple of fun bonus links.

1. We all know the United States and the rest of the world is squirming under the oppressive effects of a painful recession. What may not immediately come to mind is the fact that the U.S. has weathered a number of economic downturns in its history and artists have survived right along with everyone else.

UK artist Katherine Tyrrell on her fabulous blog Making a Mark, provides an excellent summary of the effect of recessions/depressions past on the art world, with plenty of detail on how artists shifted their subject matter to make it more salable, their tactics for obtaining commissions, and the role of government assistance in encouraging artistic expression when money for privately funded projects is non-existent.

Tyrrell said she was inspired to post on the topic after reading the New York Times article, “Tough Times Call for Shrewd Artists,” by reporter Dorothy Spears. Spears’ article covers much the same ground as Katherine’s post, but does also mention muralist Thomas Hart Benton’s rejection of modernist techniques to create realistic images of what was going on around him in the 1930s:

“Rejecting many of the modernist techniques he had studied in Paris, Benton traveled around the country making hundreds of sketches. ‘It was really an encyclopedic commentary on American civilization as he saw it,’ Douglas Hyland, the director of the New Britain Museum of American Art, in New Britain, Conn., said. ‘He wanted to point out that even though there was record unemployment, and people were rummaging through garbage for food, there was a dynamism and spirit that was different in our country.’”

Both pieces are excellent food for thought on how financial reality impacts the creative imagination!

2. Elaine Fine recently posted an excellent piece on her Musical Assumptions blog about the differences between the creative natures of musical composition and musical performance. I’ve seen it argued that performing musicians aren’t “really” creative, since they are interpreting someone else’s work. I’ve never personally experienced that as true, as a musician or a listener, and Fine definitely feels that both parts of the music-making process are creative:

“Each piece of music has its own life, its own morality, and its own continuity. Perhaps this is where the divide comes between composing and performing. Composing is an act of containment and organization … That material needs to be organized in such a way that the piece of music is meaningful (and interesting) from its inception until its ending point….

“An interpretive musician (i.e. a performing one, even if the performance is only for yourself) gives the music what the composer cannot give it. And an interpretive musician gives a piece what a composer feels is not his or her responsibility to give it: life. As a composer I don’t want performances of pieces I write to be like paintings made from traced photographs. I want them to be like watercolor paintings or sketches that use the framework that I have set up as a springboard for a musician’s own personal (or a group of musicians’ collective) agenda of the moment.”

The entire post will resonate deeply with anyone who has spent time performing music, even if only for their own enjoyment, or a passionate music listener (especially of music performed live).

3. Chuck Frey’s Innovation Tools blog recently tipped me off to the existence of a great video of Tim Brown, CEO of the superstar design thinking firm Ideo, speaking at the 2008 “Serious Play” conference, hosted by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

Here’s the clip, courtesy of YouTube.

I’m especially happy he mentioned the value of prototyping, which he calls “thinking with your hands.” It dovetails nicely with my experience with rapid iteration as a tool for more quickly and easily reaching creative excellence, through a series of “half-right” models.

Watch also for his insights on role-playing (one way to “prototype” a service or process issue) and the importance of empathy when innovating in the business world.

Bonus Links!

Spice it Up, With These Food Photography Tips

Sarah Scrafford guest posts on the PhotoWalkPro blog. Beautiful food shots! Yum!

Robert J. Lang Origami

A mathematician and origami artist who blends art and science in his work.


  1. Thanks for the mention

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