Creative Intelligence

I mentioned to a few people at the recent meeting of the American Folklore Society that I had seen a reference to a university somewhere offering a course on “creative intelligence.” I found the link: [Creative Intelligence and Innovation]( at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Pixar’s HQ

Space matters. Always. Especially those spaces within which are imaginations are supposed to be working. The Gothic builders understood this perhaps better than we do in the present, but sometimes we remember the purpose of space is not only to house our bodies but also our minds and we build “inspiring” buildings, both in the denotative as well as the cliched sense of that word. [Pixar’s headquarters is a good example][]. (In the article, Steve Jobs sounds a lot like Thomas Jefferson when the latter was building Monticello.)

[Pixar’s headquarters is a good example]:

[John Cleese on creativity.]( Perhaps nothing earth shattering — make time and space and have confidence — but it is John Cleese telling you those things. What’s really useful is his suggestion that within the time you set aside for being creative you need to allow time for your brain to want to run away from the task at hand and that you have to be able to laugh. Solemnity is our enemy. (His definition of solemnity is worth the watch alone.)

By the way, one of the ways he advises you to give yourself permission to work is also to have a definite end time for your session, a time by which you will return to your life and let all those urgent things catch up with you.

*My thanks to my friend Liz for the heads up and the link.*

The Importance of Feedback for Creativity

Bret Victor focused his recent presentation at CUSEC on what he calls “inventing on principle.” Much of the early part of his presentation is fantastic walkthrough of a coding environment he has developed which allows programmers to see the result of code changes immediately and even interactively — in fact, what’s most fascinating is how his initial impulse to “close up” the feedback loop between the writing of code and its compilation actually led him to innovate the environment in really amazing ways.

His principle: “creators need to be able to see what they are doing.” It seems pretty straightforward, but realizing it, say, in how we might teach better, is harder. I’m especially struck by the importance of the tight feedback loop that Victor emphasizes and a recent conversation I had with Sarah Spell about things happening in UL’s Industrial Design department.

Everything Is a Remix

Kirby Ferguson is an independent filmmaker who has both a gift for rapid fire verbal delivery as well as the editing chops, and amazing erudition, to back it up. His *Everything Is a Remix* series of shorts are perfect for demonstrating quickly how culture works: he does a nice job of demonstrating how cultural products are influenced by previous products. His focus is largely on films, but other genres get swept into the mix as well.

[Here’s his Vimeo page](

And here’s his most recent piece as of this post:

College Degrees and Creativity

I am a college professor, and, so, far be it for me to deplore the college degree as the mark of civilization and/or individual accomplishment. That would be like Ford saying cars aren’t necessary for everyone. And yet, I worry when we establish these kinds of bench marks if we aren’t forgetting that the bench getting marked wasn’t that of the master craftsman who almost never had/has a college degree.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a terrific interactive website up that allows you not only to zoom in and out on parts of the U.S.A. but also break populations down by gender and “race.” I used the site to generate the following map (but we cold also call it a visualization or, more popularly, an infographic):

South Louisina Graduation Rates

I decided to zoom the map to the part of the world in which I live and work … and study. As you can see, Lafayette parish (parish = county), the somewhat triangular blue shape in the middle of the map, is the only parish in southwest Louisiana to be average. (It is above average for Asian Americans with degrees, and, sadly, below average for African Americans.) Lafayette is an island surrounded by a sea of under average parishes. Does that mean that intellectual capacity and/or engagement are under average? Clearly, my own research argues that this is not the case. In fact, of the boat makers and engine designers profiled in Genius Loci, only one has a college degree, and yet these are men responsible for the creation of industries and market capitalization in the millions of dollars. They have also created jobs on an unprecedented scale.

So, yes, tracking college degrees is important, but it is not as important, nor is it a good index, of intelligence and creativity.

Coppola on the New Creative Economy

Nice interview with Francis Ford Coppola in The 99 Percent on his three rules “1) Write and direct original screenplays,  2) make them with the most modern technology available,  and 3) self-finance them” and much more. Along the way he laments that cinema was so quickly commercialized and he makes this very interesting comment about the future of content creation:

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.


Accidental Genius

I just finished a long post to the digital humanities seminar about free writing, which they will be doing, and the internet. I mentioned Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius, from which I will be drawing for some of our free writing techniques, and my quick search to turn up a link both to the book and to his website, turned up this wonderful article from Wired, entitled “Accidental Genius” which recounts how the law of unintended consequences has worked out for several inventions:

  • Gunpowder was meant to prolong life (as a pill).
  • The mechanical clock’s intended use was to regulate monastic prayer.
  • Edison developed the phonograph to record telephone calls.
  • Viagra was developed to help with angina.

Sympathetic Sensibilities

One of the awesome — in the original sense of *awe* — things about the web, and about blogs in particular, that is both like and unlike, say, the experience of literature, is coming across someone with sensibilities akin to your own. You get a sense of affinity sometimes with literature, especially in the realm of autobiography, but it’s a drawing toward. The thrill I sometimes get when I read someone in the middle of a project, in the middle of thinking, is drawing alongside them. We are peers in the sense that they write and I read and, in some cases, I write and they read. It’s not yet a thrill I have encountered in my scholarship, but perhaps I will one day.[^1]

This *drawing alongside* (a bit of Heidegger there in keeping with my newfound desire to return to my intellectual roots) is thrilling in the sense that one finds oneself in the company of like-minded others. More importantly, it is often the case that these writers are themselves struggling to articulate something themselves. Thus, there is a kind of drawing together in not yet knowing what one wants to draw.

Such is the case for me and the [Coudal Partners][cp] in general: they have realized my own love for notebooks in an actual, [ongoing commercial enterprise][fn], by creating the _Field Notes_ line of notebooks:

Field Notes

No, I don’t use them myself — I prefer a slightly larger notebook, as I have discussed elsewhere, but hey, CP, we can talk about it! — but all the trouble they’ve gone to get them right, and the fact that they are now in the offset printing business is something I find totally amazing.

What prompted this post, however, is eeriness of their current project, a film with the working title of [_Seventy-Two Degrees_][72]. The idea, and driving force, behind the film is this photograph:

When I showed it to my wife and described how “the picture” had become an obsession that transformed itself into a film project for the Coudal Partners, she laughed out loud, recognizing my own fondness for that particular era and that particular aesthetic. I have, in general, always been fond on high modernism, especially its European inflections and in some of the American manifestations of the fifties and sixties. I am also quite taken with the allure that technology held in that era. Before encountering this post, I had begun to re-read some old Alistair MacLean novels, having watched _Three Days of the Condor_ while at UCLA for the NEH seminar:

The folks at Coudal go one better in their research and turned up this great gem from the fifties: [“On Guard! The Story of SAGE”][film] by IBM Corporation, Military Products Division. (Really, you need to watch it — and *thank you*, [Internet Archive][ia].)

Where this takes me next … well, I have a few ideas.

For one, now that I am beginning to enjoy writing the boat book — I mean, actually looking forward to producing prose — I find myself thinking about what I would like to write next. Sure, some more work in this area might be possible: I’ve begun a dialogue with the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology and BOEMRE to extend my research on fabrication shops into larger shops that service the offshore industry. And I am also thinking about thinking about the nature of the creative dynamic within the Cajun and Creole music scenes in Louisiana. But I also find myself thinking about fiction writing.

More on that some other time.

[^1]: I would even, I think, change the subject and scope of my scholarship were I to find a partner, let alone a larger collaboration, with whom to work. Granted, the only way others will be able to find me is if I publish more. But I am not entirely sure that the pieces I have coming out in the next few years really represent what all I am interested in. Scholarship is such that we break off very small pieces these days. (Again, if I make this assertion it is up to me to find a way out of it.)


Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid, and Steve Jobs

[Signal vs. Noise](, the weblog of 37signals, has a terrific post up about [Steve Jobs meeting Edwin Land]( What I find especially interesting is the account of Land’s sense of “discovery” over “innovation” or “creativity” — see how I put all those words in quotation marks there? They rattle around so much these days they almost feel more like baggage than useful tools for thinking. Anyway, Land is reported to have remarked: “I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me before I had ever built one.” The post has a brief bio of Land that reveals someone who just wouldn’t quit — he worked on one of his earliest inventions by regularly using a lab at Columbia University which he accessed by climbing in through an unlocked window.

Kurt Vonnegut at the Blackboard

[This flashback]( at Lapham’s Quarterly makes me realize two things: writers often don’t have much to say about writing and I will never understand how people can get anything out of presentations that really don’t say anything. Is it just the brand name? Really? Vonnegut says it and somehow it’s profound?

> But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.

Sometimes Twitter Is Good

I only *tweet* occasionally. Not as many people follow me on Twitter as read this blog. I’m okay with that. And, for the record, I only check my Facebook page once every two weeks. I am completely not okay with the fact that Facebook not only makes it impossible for me to get back out anything I put in, but that they are using whatever I put in to sell me stuff. Others are okay with that, but the promise of the web, to me, was that it would not only be a read-write experience but that we would own our own writing. Facebook is easy and convenient, but it’s not democratic.

But back to Twitter. There’s a guy who tweets [things his dad says]( Apparently he got a deal to write a pilot for television. (I’m not making that up: you’ll have to look it up on TechCrunch, though — I already closed the page.) This is kind of cool. It means people can experiment with content and it might just end up paying the bills. For the record, his dad, be he fictional or real, says mostly expletive-laden things that occasionally make you smile. Only one made me laugh out loud:

> “No, I’m not a pessimist. At some point the world shits on everybody. Pretending it ain’t shit makes you an idiot, not an optimist.”

A Cyborg Composer?

While I am writing about new forms of creativity, I would also like to point out this terrific [profile of UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor David Cope][profile]. Cope was the inventor of Emmy, Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI, or “Emmy”), which was well received by some but made others uncomfortable with the questions it raised about human creativity — the short answer for me is that all the formulas Cope entered into Emmy were clearly based on work done by humans, but I don’t know entirely how Emmy works. Cope is about to release a successor to Emmy, known as Emily Howell. Two compositions by Emily are included in the article. They make for an interesting listen.

[Emily Howell Sample Composition](