As I mentioned in my last post, last week was Chicago Ideas Week and I was able to attend two events on the creative track. The second one I attended was “Creative Process: A Method to the Madness,” presented by Leo Burnett. It was a talk featuring five people across different industries sharing their experiences and creative processes with their work. It was a little underwhelming and not nearly as inspiring as I hoped it would be, if at all, but there were some intriguing and amusing moments I was able to take away from the event and I will talk about those salient moments.
One of the moments I found most interesting was the opening talk given by the host, Danny Forster, designer and host of the Science Channel’s “Build it Bigger.” He spoke about architecture and the thought process of and amount of research done by architects for each project. Place, including the culture, location, climate and general environment plays the largest roll. While this may seem obvious, there were points mentioned in Danny’s presentation that most people probably do not think too much about, but make total sense: the place’s history, culture, and current trends are designed into a good building. While one person may look at a building in another country and find it displeasing to the eyes or too ornate, it may reflect that country’s tastes very well and the people of that country may greatly enjoy the building and its aesthetics. Aesthetics are not universal, although there may be universal principles. I do question whether designing a building to incorporate a place’s current trends is actually a “good” idea because it may no longer be trendy in ten years and the building may no longer be as pleasing. I’m sure, however, that architects think about the future of their buildings when building and debate what would be considered timeless for a particular place. Towards the end of Danny’s introduction he used a metaphor to describe the work of architects that I found very significant and applicable to all creative fields; he said that architects act as “filters, ingesting ideas of circumstance.” Yes, all creatives ingest ideas of circumstance—who, what, where, when, why, how, etc.—in order to produce the best possible rendition of a creation.
Danny interviewed Mario Batali, chef & restaurateur, about all the work that is done to create his latest restaurant in New York City. Mario’s goal, and I suppose the goal of any good restaurateur, is to manipulate everything about the customer’s experience in order to leave the customer and everyone around satisfied. Every aspect of the experience of dining at his restaurant is thought about from someone spotting his restaurant while standing across the street to realizing when it’s time to leave the restaurant; this includes the wait time at the bar, the food, the server, the music, and the furniture. The most interesting aspect of this to me was that the music changes volumes depending on the time, so after the normal scheduled dinner time, say 7:30 p.m. (I don’t recall exactly the times Mario mentioned), the music will get louder and that signifies to the customer that they have been sitting for an hour and a half and that they should probably leave. I will try to pay attention to this the next time I go out to eat.
After Danny’s interview with Mario, Jennifer Rogien gave a presentation on her work as a costume designer for the shows she is currently working on, “Girls” and “Orange is the New Black.” I found this to the most intriguing part of the event. I have often wondered about how the characters’ outfits in television shows are specifically chosen and Jennifer took the audience through the entire process. She showed us all of the steps: reading the descriptions of the characters and the particular episode’s script, creating a style board of multiple outfits, having her assistants go shopping in-stores and online for the specific pieces of clothing, making unique pieces of clothing that do not exist in stores, and fittings with the actors to make a final decision. Once the main characters’ wardrobes are set for the episode, Jennifer then focuses on all the background characters, as they play a part in making the scene appear realistic. When more than one episode takes place within the same day—a “continuity day”—Jennifer focuses on the clothes; when the episodes are a variety of days, she focuses on the “look” of the character as a whole more than the specific outfits. Jennifer showed us tweets from people who were surprised to find out that “Orange is the New Black” has a costume designer. The main idea we can take away from that and from her entire presentation is that if you, as a viewer, never think about the fact that there is a costume designer behind the outfits in your favorite television show, then the costumer designer has done his or her job properly. If you do not realize that a costume designer even exists, then the outfitting fits the character so well that it seems real. The only qualm I had with her nicely designed presentation was that it was lacking ligatures. It was hard not to focus on the dot/tittle from the “i” touching the tip of the “f.”
The third speaker was writer and actor, Tracy Letts. He was the funny man of the night providing us with ten exercises he does to boost his creativity: 1. Don’t do anything, 2. Stop listening to NPR, 3. Get out of the way, 4. Stop Drinking, 5. Masturbate, 6. Lie, 7. Steal, 8. Get help, 9. Read fiction, 10. Don’t create anything. Of course these all have more meaning than simply what they state, such as varying your informational sources (#2), not censoring your mind regardless of where it takes you (#3), breaking your habits and patterns to help you move on to or discover something new (#8), and allowing what already exists within your natural, intuitive self to be (#10). He had humorous anecdotes to go with some of these points and the audience was laughing pretty heavily. It was an enjoyable presentation.
Next on stage Danny welcomed and interviewed Hebru Brantley, the Chicago Ideas Week artist-in-residence. Danny mentioned how Hebru’s work is much more intuitive than the others and questioned him about this intuitive process, if it actually is a process. Hebru spoke in depth about the variety that actually occurs within his process and that his process is correlated to the degree with which he is present. As a graffiti artist, his process can be intensive due to the time-sensitive nature of getting the work out into the world without getting caught. He uses this intensive process and applies it to his other artistic work regardless of the medium. The space and the emotion of the project, of himself, and of the surroundings dictate the work and nine out of ten times he does not know what the work is going to look like. Hebru creates some beautiful work, mostly paintings and often focusing on social issues and youth, but his latest and first, I believe, sculptural piece in Chicago is stunning. “The Watch” is a colorful group of goggled youth standing in slightly different ways, focusing as what I see, on the struggles of youth and their ability to overcome them. They look ready to take on whatever the world is prepared to give them, and they will rise above it all.
Hebru elaborated on his excitement with seeing the final product, and commented that a fully-realized creation of art “is better than sex.” The interview concluded with a comment by Danny and agreement by Hebru, “Birthing an object is as close as a man can get to childbirth.”
Lastly, Dan Arielly, author and professor, spoke about his research and the placebo effect. It was a different type of creative process than the rest, which I appreciated, but I don’t think that his information about the placebo effect was too fascinating, as some of his findings were not really shocking if you already know how the placebo effect works with respect to expectations and prior knowledge. I did think that the stories of his little experiments were nice to hear. Even though Danny Forster said some closing remarks as the host, I don’t think Dan Arielly’s talk was a proper way to end the event; it was almost awkward as Dan didn’t even know what to say to tie in his work with the other speakers.
While everyone has their own work process, whether it be in a creative field or not, there are similarities between all of those who spoke during the event. Each one of these people does work that involves other human beings who are not involved in their process—the building owner and/or visitor, the restaurant customer, the TV show watcher, the play viewer, the art appreciator or everyday citizen, and the experimented on—and the amount of work put into every detail in order to manipulate the experience of those uninvolved in the process is a theme that runs throughout all of their work. Each element of that show you watch or space you are sitting in was designed to make you think a certain way, forget about everything that isn’t you and the experience you are having, and hopefully, have an enjoyable time. Think about that the next time you sit down to watch your favorite TV show or have dinner at a nice restaurant. I know I will.