The Vigilant Robot

a watchful eye of creative complexity

Monthly Archives: October 2013

On Creative People and their Creative Madness

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.

Word count

I think this is very good advice and I believe it applies to all forms of creative practice. I think it might be more helpful to set a certain amount of time each day to draw or design than it is to set a certain number of completed drawings or prints per day. The challenge is to actually stick to the amount of time you set aside without any distractions.

Curation and the Role of the Curator

Chicago Ideas Week, which began on October 14th and ended today on the 20th, is a week full of talks, discussions, and interactions meant to stimulate the intellect and share ideas and inspirations. Topics range from arts and culture, to social entrepreneurship, to the environment and the hosts and speakers are notable people in their particular field of employment or aspiration. I was able to attend two events on the Creative track, the first and the one this post focuses on, was “Design Cloud: Open to the Public: Why The Role Of Curator Is No Longer Limited To Fine Art.”

At Design Cloud, a co-working studio space and art gallery, there were five panelists discussing the role of the curator and the meaning of curation. Where did the idea of “curating” come from? Who started it? What is the role of the curator? Can you curate anything? If so, what is the standard? Who can call themselves a curator? What is good and bad curation? What is the difference between strategy and curation? How about the difference between being a promoter and a curator? These are what I thought were some of the more important and more interesting questions of the night. Panelist Angela Bryant, curator and founder of Abryant Gallery, enlightened everyone in the room by telling us that curating actually originated from the Catholic Church. The priests would “curate” the parish. Curating was then taken on by the art world, with the traditional curator being an arts administrator who would curate by selecting artists and artworks to display. Nowadays, the artists often curate their own works themselves.

A large part of curating is telling a story. If one is just selecting works to display and no story is being told, no strong theme present, is one really a curator? Most of the panelists that evening would say no. One can call themselves a curator, but if there is no story among the works presented, then the show hasn’t been curated. This brings us to the question of what is good and bad curation. It’s a bit easier to say what is bad curation than good curation. If there is no experience felt within the viewer as the viewer is walking through a show, the curation is bad. If there is no story, nothing that can be taken away from the show besides gazing at the works itself, the curation is bad. Good shows share a perspective, have somewhat of an organized focus, hopefully allowing viewers to think more about a subject or more deeply about particular works of art. This, according to panelist and event producer Joe Luchesse, requires high emotional intelligence. Context, audience, and emotion need to be taken into consideration. A good curator needs to understand what types of objects and subjects can evoke certain types of emotions and when to evoke these emotions in a show’s layout. Good works of art should stand alone, but good curation should enhance the art.

A discussion between Joe and panelist and fashion stylist, April Francis, occurred on the difference between strategy and curation. They agreed that curation occurs with “inanimate objects, not people.” The organizing and managing of people in a setting is strategy. April doesn’t believe that there is one opinion on the matter and doesn’t believe that these terms are things we need to agree on. While we may not all have to agree on certain terms and their definitions, I think that there has to be some form of agreement on what is curating otherwise there is no standard and actual curatorial work is diluted. It no longer has meaning. So what is the standard when everything can be curated or considered curation? I’m not sure. I don’t know if anyone can really say what the standard is, but I think—I hope—that we can agree on what the standard is not. During the discussion, the host, Mike Carpenter mentioned online music radio stations like Pandora and Last.FM and that they are curators of a sort, bringing you the music they think you’d like. Thankfully, panelist and medical illustrator, Vanessa Ruiz brought up the word “tastes.” What happened to tastes? Aren’t online shopping sites and music sites just providing the customer with what suits their tastes? Indeed. Pandora and Last.FM are not curators. is not a curator. An online shopping experience is not curated. I think there is a big difference between curating objects to enhance each individual object and to tell a story and tailoring products and music to one’s tastes, one’s preferences. The latter is basically called “marketing.” This is also the difference between being a promoter and a curator. When one gathers a bunch of artworks to place in a gallery setting without paying attention to the details of the actual layout and story the pieces are telling, one is promoting the artists and their works. Again, when one places the works in a way that tells a story and provides the viewer with a particular experience, one is then a curator.

An interesting point was brought up from an audience member about curators outshining the artists and their works. Angela believes that curators can make or break an artist. There are times when the curator becomes the well-known individual, but Angela believes in finding a balance. The artists should be recognized for their work, while the curator should be recognized for their curation, their selection and storytelling. She mentioned that some curators are now calling themselves “platformists” in order not to place all of the attention on themselves. Curators select artists and their works, purposefully lay them out in a gallery, provide an experience to the viewer in order allow viewers—the public—to benefit from these works of art. They do provide a platform for the artists and are a bridge between the public and the art. Artists and curators are not higher or lower than each other; they simply have different roles. When they come together, they allow the public to share in their work. The public also plays a role; without an audience, curated exhibitions have no meaning.

In the end, while anyone can call themselves a curator and can consider anything curated, this doesn’t make it so. We should pay attention to language so as not to diminish the value of one’s work.


I Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead in Love (hand-lettering)

Inspired by lyrics in Tricky’s song,  “Does It” featuring Francesca Belmonte, I decided to sketch the letters of a line that really grabbed my attention: “I wouldn’t be caught dead in love; I wouldn’t be caught dead in love.”





“Does It” by Tricky featuring Francesca Belmonte

“We are the protesters, the slogans and signs,
this will be a swift decline,
I wouldn’t be caught dead in love; I wouldn’t be caught dead in love…”