Archives for category: Uncategorized

While in DC last spring I paid a visit to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, to see The Art of Video Games, one of the first exhibits to document the forty-year history of home video games.  The sophisticated aesthetics that we have grown to expect of games speaks volumes about the marriage between artistry and technology.  For example, the beauty and fluidity embodied in games such as Flower and Journey would not be possible without advancements in technology. Although attention was paid to the talent that contributes to on-screen artistry, overall there was little emphasis placed on the artistic elements that contribute to video game graphics.  However, there were a number of interviews with media scholars, video game designers, and producers, most of which offered insightful glimpses into another form of artistry: that of the gamer.

Storytelling and emotional connection through gaming were dominant themes in the interviews.  One of the best articles I have read about the exhibit includes a quote from Chris Melissinos, curator of the exhibit.  Melissinos notes that one of the things about the exhibit that has been most rewarding is “helping to elevate the argument about what video games can mean to society at large”.

More recently I was in NY and paid a visit to the MoMA to see Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000, an exhibition that demonstrated, among other things, some of the major influences upon learning throughout the 20th century.  Among the early influencers were individuals such as Freidrich Froebel, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner.  The exhibit was an invaluable opportunity to see how learning and artifacts of play have changed over time.  For example, while I was aware of Froebel’s influence on early childhood education, the exhibit enabled me to learn more about his methods.  The exhibit featured Froebel’s “Gifts”, a series of twenty-one playthings he designed with the intention of fostering curiosity and creativity in children.

Among the many things that struck me was the history of playgrounds in the United States, which developed in concert with the Arts and Craft movement in Chicago.  John Dewey’s contributions in the realm of education also added momentum to what was then only a nascent concept of playground, as Chicago was the location of his Laboratory School.

Overall, the thing I found to be the most though-provoking was the method of rapid chalk sketching Rudolf Steiner relied upon for mark-making, in order to communicate “his sense of thought as living, creative energy” and of the individual as part of a larger whole.  As I considered Steiner’s methods I realized that part of the appeal was the sense of vitality those methods exuded.  The sense of immediacy found in Steiner’s markings reminded me of an experience I had last summer when I participated in my first Gamestorming session.  More recently, I experienced a similar vitality, while helping to build a temporary playground in one of Philadelphia’s most famed neighborhoods, Rittenhouse Square.  A mere two hours of building reminded me of the intrinsic value of playgrounds, not to mention the significance of the individual as part of a larger whole.

Reflecting on these two exhibits, along with my recent experiences engaging in various forms of analog play, the experiential differences between digital and analog stand in contrast.  In a recent online discussion about Gamestorming, there were various remarks made about the benefits of working in analog.

One of the most compelling arguments I have encountered about analog play comes from Katie Salen, DePaul University, the Executive Director of the Institute of Play, in this remarkable seven minute video.
To quote Ms. Salen:
“Play creates in people a reason for them to want to engage.”

As the influence of digital and virtual are increasingly blended into our lives, we face many new questions and new realities in our analog space.  Games such as Minecraft seem to have myriad applications with respect to learning.  And, as I write this post, in the wake of the most destructive storms I have ever experienced, I am acutely aware of the way technology helps to connect us, and, in doing so, elevates our human experience.

My hope is that the dialogue that Mr. Melissinos refers to regarding video games will continue.  Books such as Jane McGonigal’s, Reality is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, certainly make a very compelling case for why the dialogue ought to continue.

As we endeavor to enrich our communities, I hope we will also choose to take full advantage of games and modes of discovery that are purely analog in nature.  Why?
Because these experiences will also make us better and will help to change the world.

© 2012 Kira Campo

For the last few months I’ve been working on a series with the title Noticing: An Homage in Analog. The earliest stage of this series began with my participation in Mary Ann Reilly’s CrowdSourcingLove project. Even as I rendered the first notecard I had already begun to envision what might be included in other works.  Each piece contains unifying elements—hand lettered notecards, postmarked stamps, a line of text excerpted from various poems, as well as imagery rendered in pencil and watercolor.

Acts of noticing allow us to experience any moment in a rich, full fashion.  When we pause, to allow ourselves to become absorbed in the moment, we break from routine and the typical pace of our everyday lives.  Though the unique things that capture our attention may vary, these acts of noticing begin to develop the invaluable skill of observation.

Last month there was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, How to End the Age of Inattention.  The article describes the value of sharp observation skills within the medical profession and cites “museum interventions” at Yale’s School of Medicine as an effective means of strengthening such skills.  While the practice of medicine benefits from heightened observation skills in significant ways, the benefits are not limited to the field of medicine.  Tony Schwartz, President and CEO of the Energy Project, also made a remarkably convincing case for paying attention in his post, Slow Down, You Move Too Fast.

This summer I have been revisiting the writing of Ellen Langer, whose research examines Mindfulness.  Also on my summer reading list is Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart.  Rheingold advocates that we establish tactics and practices to balance the manner of “information scanning” we have grown so accustom to in the digital age.  As I read Langer’s writing again, Mindfulness continues to feel like an important avenue to consider as we strive for balance.  In fact, early in Rheingold’s book he asserts, “It’s impossible to separate signal from noise without exercising attention, so mindfulness is a prerequisite to effective crap detection.” (Loc 205)

As for my series, Noticing, the process of conceiving each work, along with the execution, is the point.  I look forward to completing these works later this summer, but it will not mark the end of my noticing.  Quite the contrary.  The series is one of many ways to emphasize, embody and record a commitment to noticing and observation.  One of the things I value most about having a personal creative practice is each new opportunity to give tangible form to a lifetime of observation.

The popularity of digital sharing platforms such as Instagram or Pinterest reminds us that noticing can take many forms.  Responding to something posted online or posting a new photo are among the ways we demonstrate our instinct for noticing in the digital era.  On the other hand, the appeal of a sketchbook, used by artists and scientists to document observations for centuries, is hardly lost. It’s not as if digital and analog are at odds; they may just serve our noticing in different ways.

© 2012 Kira Campo

I decided to dive a bit further into the CrowdSourcingLove theme.  The photo below documents the direction I’ve taken.  After finishing a final design for the notecards last week, I was able to include one in a collage that I’ve begun.

Here’s a looksie…

P.S. Mary Ann Reilly has turned her CrowdSourcingLove project into a book. check it out! http://maryannreilly.blogspot.com/2012/02/crowd-sourcing-love-book.html 

(text on card: Hafez, That Moon Language)

© 2012 Kira Campo

Mary Ann Reilly inspired me recently with a post on her blog, Between the By-Road and the Main Road.  It was not the first post by Mary Ann to offer inspiration, and, as a faithful reader of her blog, I am certain it will not be the last.  The post was entitled, CrowdSourcingLove, and it included an invitation to readers to express something about love.  Mary Ann followed her original post with many others; each subsequent post featuring a unique demonstration of love.  CrowdSourcingLove  invites others to participate; an invitation to consider further their own demonstrations of love.

I gladly accepted Mary Ann’s invitation and decided to design a notecard.  With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s a timely project.  It also reflects my preference for handmade notes and cards. I’ve been tinkering a bit with ideas and drafts.  As with most creative tasks, some parts have been satisfying…and other parts…less so.  Next week, when the project is complete, I’ll share a little more about the tinkering.

Meanwhile, greatest thanks to Mary Ann Reilly for CrowdSourcingLove!

draft for CrowdSourcingLove

draft for CrowdSourcingLove

(text on card: Hafez, That Moon Language)

© 2012 Kira Campo

My creative practice has taught me more than a few invaluable lessons through the years.  Lessons acquired through the process of expression inform daily life.  Once the lessons of art are internalized, key principles become relevant in contexts which are independent of art, as well.

I’ve written about lessons before, such as the ability to See Anew or Explore Multiple Angles.  And I’ll be writing about others in the future, no doubt!  But for now…

  1. Edit, Edit, Edit: Communicating an idea can be messy stuff. With any creative process, a “refined” idea is the result of a once “fuzzy” idea that has been articulated more fully.  Through the editing process extraneous elements fall away, allowing the crux of the idea to become more clear.  Early drafts and studies serve as evidence that this takes place.  As a result, this universal transition from “fuzzy” to “refined” is made more apparent.
  1. Experience Dynamic Interaction: An important part of my process is allowing a painting or drawing to evolve in an organic way. Each step builds on the steps before, the result of dynamic interaction between my aesthetic judgment and the marks left on the page.  In many ways this practice of dynamic interaction that is integral to painting serves as a metaphor.  A similar type of active engagement helps us to thrive in the world; dynamic interaction with our surroundings develops qualitative reasoning skills.  The act of painting makes me more cognizant of this process in all contexts.
  1. Embrace Mistakes: “Happy Accident” is a phrase that describes those fortuitous moments that sometimes shape the process.  It’s not uncommon for an artist to experience a mistake that ends up improving their work in some way.   Although the cause of the change was unintentional, the effect of  the mistake sometimes leads to an outcome that is more preferable.  The happy accident is about discovery, at its best.  When we persist through a mistake  we learn that unforeseen obstacles do not need to deter our progress.  And, in this way, we experience that a mindset of flexibility and adaptability often produces the most satisfying end.

© 2011 Kira Campo

In 2001 I took part in a painting workshop that changed my relationship to artmaking in a very fundamental way.  While I had dabbled in various creative pursuits for much of my life, only after this particular workshop did I begin to accurately appreciate the value of those pursuits.  Over the last ten years I have experienced how maintaining a personal creative practice yields a remarkable return on investment.

The workshop emphasized the basic elements of design: color/line/texture/form/etc.  It was an opportunity to explore the fundamentals, relying only upon basic technique.  Without rigid structure, it afforded ample space to experiment.  In doing so, the workshop facilitated deep engagement by providing sufficient time and conditions (through acts of painting and collage) that were favorable for open-ended exploration.

Though the exercises would change each week, every exercise served as a lesson in observation and reflection.  I was deeply engaged during each two-hour session.  Over time I noticed that many of the skills activated by this new hobby also informed the hours between my weekly sessions.  As a result of  artmaking I was developing a sensitivity to details like texture/shadow/color/line.  Increasingly this sensitivity extended into everyday life, and I began to attend to aesthetics during my non-painting hours much more vividly.  This new lens was a direct result of a shift in my attention, born from a desire to express abstraction on the page in an authentic way.  Researcher Ellen Langer explores this manner of conscious attentiveness brilliantly in her book, ‘Mindfulness’.

One summer, several years later, I conducted a painting workshop as a volunteer in an assisted living facility.  The experience of deep engagement I had found through painting was echoed in the stories that were told to me by some of the participants.  Their own lives were enriched as a result of their increased awareness to detail and nuance, much like mine had been years before.  Eric Booth, in his book ‘The Everyday Work of Art’, describes the nature of such awareness in exquisite detail.

The true return on investment I gain from painting is never the completed painting.  No, my technical skills are still a work in progress (a fact that often motivates me to devote more time to the craft of painting!).  The greatest benefits are the Habits of Mind that result from the act of painting, habits that inform and improve my everyday life.  Awareness through deep engagement enables me to think more critically and creatively, which extends into my relationships, my professional life and my academic pursuits.

Painting, much like watching a live performance, sensitizes me to my own interior world, and, more broadly, to humanity.  Once I learned to consciously traverse the terrain of deep engagement, I began to regard the thinking skills I had acquired through the process of painting as invaluable life skills.  Knowing the dividends that I will receive from a regular practice of artmaking makes it far easier for me to choose how to invest my time.

© 2011 Kira Campo

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the creativity-innovation partnership.

The title ‘An Imaginary Line’ referred to the figurative device in the post…an attempt to illustrate the connection between innovation and the type of activities which influence our capacity to achieve the creative outcomes we so prize.  The line I described looked something like this:

______________________________

It seems that maybe I had the line all wrong.  I should have been thinking less linear.

I should have been thinking of a squiggle…

I am referring to Damien Newman’s spot-on, brilliant depiction of the design process, shown here, as “The Squiggle”.

The creative process is not linear.  And given the many constraints and imperatives associated with innovative outcomes, why should we assume that any process of innovation would have the luxury of being linear?

Each day we are met by experiences, observations and ideas which have tremendous potential to influence our creativity.  In some instances the impact of this new data can be directly mapped to a creative outcome, and in other instances outward evidence of such connections may be less overt.  I refer to those activities that impact creativity as foundational activities. Engaging in foundational activities ensures that we are equipped with the thinking skills that are needed to construct outcomes that break with the status quo.  Examples of foundational activities are so abundant, and varied, that the concept of plotting such examples hardly evokes the image of a straight line!  Enter “The Squiggle”.

All figurative devices aside, the heart of this discussion is not lines, squiggles or an exercise in plotting!  Taking time to identify and articulate some of the foundational activities that lead to innovation is what is really of interest.  Foundational activities that are important to my creative practice have included painting, shooting photographs, practicing intentional observation…to name a few.

What activities are important to your practice?

I have some thoughts about how to explore the relationship between foundational activities and innovation from a new perspective in 2012.
I invite you to check back in January for the details.

© 2011 Kira Campo

Earlier this week John Eger published a post on ARTSblog, a forum hosted by Americans for the Arts, entitled, “The Future of Business is the Arts”.  The piece included many compelling points, and responding to all of them in a single post would be ambitious.  In lieu of that, it seemed best to focus on a single thread.  So, here goes:

In the final paragraph of Mr. Eger’s post he suggests what seems to me to be a logical action step.  He writes,

“Lastly though, business execs and artists don’t mix, don’t talk to one another. They may not even know each other. A new effort to change all that might work. Just getting to know one another might be the first step for communities in cities everywhere.”

The blending of arts and business has yielded many fruitful partnerships.  Examples of such partnerships (as well as the benefits that often result) are numerous.  The need for breaking down silos seems to be increasingly emphasized.  Presumably, more can be understood and achieved through collaboration than rigid delineation.  What benefits might occur from considering creativity and innovation in this same spirit, softening the delineation between the two?

Last February I read a fantastic post written by Louise Stevens which contained the phrase “creativity-innovation partnership”.  The phrase immediately resonated, as it aptly and succinctly describes the continuum between individuals’ creativity and the type of creative outcomes we broadly refer to as innovation.  Viewing creativity and innovation as a continuum reveals the direct connection between the activities that inspire and support individuals’ creativity and the attainment of innovate outcomes.  Thinking of the continuum in this way—as a true partnership—enables me to envision various points along an imaginary line.

Near the left end of this line are the foundational activities that support individuals’ creativity, such as travel, exposure to new music, taking photos, or, perhaps the most iconic example, sitting in on a calligraphy class in college that will forever shape one’s worldview.  Foundational activities whet the appetite of the imagination.  Near the right end of this line are myriad examples of innovation.  Only one end tends to make headlines.

Those activities which comprise the foundation for innovation are less sexy, but such activities are critical if the imaginary line is to remain intact.  The varied points along the continuum which are relevant to individuals’ creativity are integral to producing innovative outcomes.  Very often the matter of individuals’ creativity is seemingly relegated to one silo and innovation to another.  Such sharp delineation robs us of making the valuable connection between creativity-relevant activities and innovative outcomes.  Understanding the partnership as a continuum inherently softens sharp delineation, allowing us to recognized the relevance between activities we might not immediately see as being meaningful to the innovation process.  Rather than regarding creativity as a silent partner—necessary, but not always the public face—we ought to encourage greater visibility.

How does this relate to Mr. Eger’s suggestion?  The artistic mind is emblematic of innovation and problem solving in action…that is, constant observation, reflection and imagination, always with the intention of producing something novel.  Such habits of mind are universal elements of the creative process, and are necessary for producing innovate results, regardless of the domain or discipline.  Creating additional opportunities for dialogue between arts and business is one immediate way to explore innovation using the lens of creativity.  In doing so, the connection between these two concepts, as well as the nature of their partnership, may become better understood.

What would these opportunities look like?  Where would we plot them on the imaginary line?

© 2011 Kira Campo

This photo was taken last Sunday at a lake near my home.

And, so was this.

On one hand these shots might seem entirely similar.  Same lake, different angle.  But if you stop (even briefly!) to attend to the these two shots, it will soon become clear that the differences are numerous.  Same lake, different angle, each offering something distinct.

But suppose you were going to take two minutes to study the differences between these two shots.  How could two minutes enable you to become completely absorbed in studying the details?  Is it enough time to notice more than you might with a cursory glance?
Try it!  (yes, right here and now)

______________________________________

Each of us faces myriad choices in our daily lives.  More often than not, we may simply be moving through familiar tasks on auto-pilot!  And, in many ways, this serves us well; an effective strategy for keeping up with the quick pace that life demands.  But this is not the only strategy…and there are times when this might not even be the *best*  strategy.

Ellen Langer, in her remarkable book, Mindfulness, describes what is lost whenever we make “premature cognitive commitments”.  The act of mindfulness, Langer argues, is an “openness, not only to new information, but to different points of view”.  If and when we consciously choose mindfulness, we are choosing to actively influence the way our mind makes sense of new information.  In doing so, we stand to gain valuable insight that would be lost if we simply chose to coast on auto-pilot!  Mindfulness helps us to resist the “seduction of the known”.

Complete mindfulness each and every day would be utterly impractical.  But in the context of creativity and problem solving, mindfulness has a very practical role.  Learning to explore the multiple angles of an idea or problem space is essential.  There are lots of ways to practice this, but here’s a suggestion: scroll back up and take a look at the photos at the top of the post.  Imagine that you were trying to describe the first photo to someone in full detail.  What would you say?  How would you describe it?  Then imagine you were going to describe the second.  Again, think full, juicy, descriptive detail.

Practicing mindfulness demands that we abandon auto-pilot for deep engagement.  Exploring multiple angles, in an effort to learn something previously unknown or unnoticed, is a practice with great rewards.  (Just think of all the extra details you might have bypassed had you quickly labeled the photos above as “picture of a lake” and left it at that!)  If we think of any idea or problem space we encounter as having multiple angles, and then take time to further explore what information might be distinct or useful, we might just be surprised at what we see.

© 2011 Kira Campo

Earlier this month the Art Educators of New Jersey held their annual conference in New Brunswick, NJ.  This year, like last, I delivered a 50 minute presentation on Studio Thinking and discussed how the Habits of Mind identified in the framework help to cultivate creative thinking skills.

Later that day, as I discussed the same topic over dinner, the conversation veered into the direction of ‘Creative vs. Artistic’.  Since the distinction between Creative and Artistic is often conflated, I offered an experience from my own life to illustrate the difference between those two concepts.  It went something like this:

I was recently asked to judge a group show for an arts organization in my community.  The theme selected for this show was fairly traditional and there were many works in the show that possessed notable artistic merit.  However, there was a single piece, entitled ‘The Tree of My Life’ which demonstrated a degree of creative merit which set it apart from other works in the show.  The work was painstakingly rendered, which lent further power to what was already a rich conceptual accomplishment.  The power in this work was meticulous execution, coupled with a *novel* idea. Relative to the other works in the show, ‘The Tree of Life’ exemplified creativity.

Is that which is artistic also creative?  Ipso facto, just like that? Perhaps!  It is my opinion that any original art object is, by default, creative.  But I also believe that not all art objects are E-Q-U-A-L-L-Y creative.

When we seek to evaluate the creativity of an object it is necessary to consider it in comparison to other works; knowing the available alternatives provides necessary insight about the yardstick being used to measure the creativity quotient.

Likewise, when considering an idea or solution that is not artistic in nature, we are also wise to consider the many alternatives that might exist. Because, very often, with the sufficient investment of time and attention–that is, with deep engagement–solutions abound.  The finest examples of creativity I am able to name *not only* deliver a novel and effective solution, very often they also appear to be the solutions that are out-on-a-limb on the proverbial tree of life.

And, on the rare and marvelous occasion when a solution truly exemplifies creativity, that solution, regardless of  the domain, certainly qualifies as art.

© 2011 Kira Campo