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Saturday, December 8, 2012

VJ content checklists
#4 surface visual journal checklist [due Dec 10-11]

imagine collab
  1. documentation of finished project - photographs (1-2) of project
  2. five (5) things you learned from others during crit
  3. critique write up (self evaluation -- cover form, concept, presentation, craft, and materials) 
big idea  
  1. documentation of finished project - photographs (1-2) of project
  2. five (5) things you learned from others during crit
  3. critique write up (self evaluation--cover form, concept, presentation, craft, and materials) 
color triptych
  1. documentation of finished project - photographs of project (one of whole set plus at least one of some important detail)
  2. critique write up (self evaluation -- cover the role of color in how it worked as a whole set, then evaluate each piece -- form, concept, craft, presentation, materials)  

Friday, December 7, 2012

Lecture Exam #2 Review

Download Review Sheet

Art Fundamentals
chapters 7 (emphasis on properties, aesthetic relationships, role of color and balance)--8 (space)
Themes in Contemporary Art
chapters 5--8 (place, language, science)
In the Making
chapters 4--6 (expressing an artistic attitude, choosing a mission, measuring success)
Text Images/Artists
You will not be asked to identify specific dates or titles. You should be able to recognize these artists in terms of medium and overarching themes of their work and any significant processes. Expect to see these artists both in the multiple choice/matching sections as well as potential artists for essay[s]. Use book index to focus reading and images for the following artists:

Themes in Contemporary Art | Ann Hamilton, Betsy Damon, Eduardo Kac (GFP Bunny {Alba}), Kara Walker, Lorna Simpson, Mel Chin (Revival Field, Safe House), Patricia Piccinini (Children Series), Rebecca Horn, Shirin Neshat

In the Making | Betsy Damon (The Living Water Garden of Chengdu, China), Shirin Neshat (Woman of Allah), Lorna Simpson (Call Waiting)

Art Fundamentals | Ann Hamilton, Rebecca Horn
PLUS Ernesto Nato and Leandro Erlich (google and class notes)

Identify + Define Artistic Themes/Ideas/Trends
tension, sampling, gaze, grand narrative, identity, body, time, place, installation, science [soft+hard], language, spirituality, neutrality [looking, making, language, memory, history]

trends (1) gender (2) identity sexuality (3) race/heritage (4) national politics/war/governing bodies (5) sense of otherness (6) sense of oppression/resistance (7) expression of pain (8) awareness (either creating for self or for the viewer) (9) documentation/historical connections (10) call for social change

Inside the Artist Studio [identify materials, themes, teaching area]   
Annie Strader, Becky Finley Martin Amorous, Pat Lawler
Student Presentation Notes [focus on artists listed from texts above]

see handout 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

surface crit schedule

Monday/Tuesday (12/3-4) = Big idea crit + surface project wish list for exhibition.

Wednesday/Thursday (12/5-6) = Color triptych crit

Friday = final review +  art cards due.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

weekEND 12 to-do checklist

  1. Review [p9] building mood; building with value handout
  2. Complete Found Color [phase 1] 
  3. Measurements: 4" x 12" Color Relationship: Monochromatic {one color + shades + tints} based on one of the colors chosen for your overall color scheme 
    Materials: Free color swatches, scissors, exacto knife and new blades, clear drying glue, modge podge, 2 copies properly sized Xerox or laser copy of image, 4" x 12" masonite board, single hole punch (optional). 
    Technique: Transfer or securely modge podge source image to surface. Collage thin rectangular slices and simple shaped pieces of your color swatches (monochromatic- -one hue, many values) to the surface based on source image values. You will cover the entire piece of masonite with this collage and have the option of coating the surface with modge podge, matte medium or gloss medium when completed.  
    Frame: PICK UP WOOD + BRING TO NEXT STUDIO [~12' in length and 1 to 4" wide and 1-2"thick] You will build a cradle frame, so the piece extends off the wall. The depth of the frame, along with the treatment of frame’s surface {paint, collage, stain, natural} is up to you. Mentors will help cutting the wood and advice you on frame building.  
    Label BACK: your first + last name, must be on the back, not the front of work  
    Timeline: Mini-critique over phase one, Nov 19/20
  4. Hand Created Color Library
    Preparation for Torn+Mixed Color [phase two]
    Measurements: 12" x 12"
    Color Relationship: Monochromatic based on overall color scheme. Do not use hue used in phase one. 
    Materials: Several bristol paper sheets, and other experimental paper surfaces, masonite, acrylic house paint SAMPLER (~$3 at hardware store, Walmart, paint store) that matches your selected color, variety of mark making/texture creating tools (as in mark making) and a couple of cheap brushes, clear drying glue, modge podge or matte medium, wood glue and wood for framing, NO SCISSORS! 
    Technique: For your selected color create a value library of varied surface treatments. Each swatch should be ~6x6 on heavy weight paper like bristol. First generate a series of at least 5 tints, one pure hue, and 5 shades by mixing your color with white and black acrylic paint. Create a second series (at least 10 swatches) of value explorations that are varied due to implied surface texture (think mark making) treatment. TEST + EXPLORE -- Thick, thin, textured, expressive, watery (wash), as well as a variety of values {tints=adding white; shades=adding black} with in your color palette.
     Nov 19/20 are color work days, mini phase one crit and big idea pitches

Big Idea
  1. Review [p] Big Idea project sheet
  2. Prepare Big Idea Elevator Pitch
Include: overall description and sketches, theme and relationship to identity essentials project, materials and binding agents, facility needs, images of other artists that influence this piece.

Friday, November 9, 2012

content checklists #3 surface visual journal checklist [Nov 12-13]

  1. photographs - white space photo series (4)
  2. crit write up - [p4] human comp collab
  3. photo - human comp collab collection of team photos as seen on the wall
  4. crit write up - human comp collab crit PLUS list 3 1/2 items you learned from [p4] crit to apply to identity essential
  5. photographs - walk the line series (4)
  6. listings for mood mark characteristics: Anger--Joy--Sadness--Laughter--Boredom--Fear--Control [see blog checklist weekend 7 for details]
  7. write up - [p6] imagine collab -- harvesting from artist questions on handout
  8. sketches/proposal/evelvator pitch - [p6] imagine collab proposal
  9. storyLINE story version 1
  10. storyLINE story version 1 peer feedback
  11. storyLINE version 1 corrected
  12. storyLINE initial research -- list dominate or sample of each of the following from story, written or inferred -- Mood/emotion;Sensory experience;Body movement; Word – verb, noun, adjective;Materiality;Ground (substructure);Metaphor/symbol
  13. storyLINE version 2 
  14. sketches/proposal/elevator pitch - [p7] storyLINE ARTifact proposal
    (list of things to be included)
  15. crit write up - TYPED write up addressing ALL items on guide for identity essentials project
  16. crit write up - fill out on storyLINE self crit guide
  17. write up - five things learned from storyLINE crit
  18. photographs - of storyLINE ARTifact

  19. all grade sheets

Friday, November 2, 2012

WEEKend 10 to-do list

  1. completion, 85-90%,  of storyLINE ARTifact, installed in WASH house.
  2. interesting well documented process picture POSTED on WASH facebook page by 9 pm
    (Sunday for MW crew + Monday for TTH crew)
  3. progress on imagine collab

Saturday, October 27, 2012

WEEKend 9 to-do

  1. Both storyLINEs version 1 + 2 
  2. storyLINE ARTifact project sheet 
  3. Discussed proposal 
  4. Add to your research (many of you were give specific directives)

  1. Collect materials for storyLINE ARTifact 
  2. Observable testing + fabrication on storyLINE
    (collection of materials does not qualify as observable testing/progress)  

storyLINE proposal, sketches, photographs, materials, binding systems, BLUE tape, specialty tools as needed, initial fabricated storyLINE ARTifact

Monday, October 22, 2012

midWEEK 9 - storyLINE ARTifact proposal development


Review team notes on three ARTifact pitches for your storyLINE.
Develop your own proposal for your storyLINE ARTifact (this may be taken from team ideas or your own idea). THIS IS FOR A GRADE.

Proposal + Elevator Pitch [a copy in your VJ and a copy for me]
  1. sketches
  2. photos of other artists' works that might be similar or inspirational
  3. description 
  4. include each of the following with your description and describe how it relates to your story
  • mood
  • movement
  • metaphor
  • materials
  • sensory experience
  • key words
  • how it emphasizes line
  • presentation method

lost? review some of pinterest collections [they all apply] for idea generation.
WASH storyLINE, WASH body, WASH mm,
WASH body as site of conflict, WASH dot/map scapes,
WASH lump art here, some past WASH projects.
collect potential materials to test, BRING, including possible binding agents/systems, and bring both proposal copies (VJ + KK copy) to surface studio.

Wednesday / Thursday is a storyLINE studio WORKDAY. Bring materials to start your storyLINE ARTifact.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


bring seven (7) copies of storyLINE version #2 are needed for Monday/Tuesday! pass this on to your table mates, please. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

surface WEEKend 8 to-do list


  1. Identity Essentials self evaluation using crit guide; address each item; be thorough; TYPE up. Due m/t.

  2. StoryLINE version #1 revisions/corrections should be in VJ.

  3. StoryLINE version #2 write; bring 7 copies next studio [m/t].
    Options for rewrite (choose only 1):
    • Reverse storyline
    • Write from the other person’s perspective
    • Write from perspective of inanimate object or space
    • Change tense (past/present/future)
    • Exaggerate an unexpected or mundane portion
    • Sensualize it (not sexualize)
    • Rearrange it based on some system
    • Twist it
    • Reverse the meaning
    • Remove noun(s) and replace with descriptions
    • Write it as though it happened 60 years later (as though it had occurred in old age)

  4. Generate storyLINE list of words, one for each of the following relative to your story (in it or inferred):
    • mood
    • meaning/metaphor 
    • materials

  5. READ storyLINE ARTifact project sheet.
  6. Put together a storyLINE ARTifact pitch (with two options) for two possible directions for the piece to go. Include: sketches, photographs of related work, how it relates to your story in terms of mood, movement, meaning/metaphor, materials AND LINE.

  7. READ big IDEA project sheet

  8. Gather materials for imagine collab, put some independent workdays on your calendar.

Bring Identity Essential write up (2 copies--one to turn in; one for VJ)
storyLINE artifact elevator pitch support,
storyLINE version #2 (2 copies),
storyLINE artifacts material samples to test and for elevator pitch

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

CHANGE for Thursday Identity Essential install

important notice of change due to WIND! pass it on to the rest of your table mates!

  • prior to 9:30 am.
  • install will need to be INSIDE on walls.
  • choose a wall area that allows crit access
  • present your work more vertically vs horizontally to allow room for peers
mounting system
hot glue string/wire across back
be sure it is centered and exactly same distance from top for each picture

create a thin cardboard (cereal box thickness) tab on back to hang
be sure it is centered and exactly same distance from top for each picture
put flat style thumbtack in wall and hang work. be sure images are arranged intentionally and level

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

midWEEK 8 to-dos (due W/TH)

  • Revise/correct storyLINE version #1 (due next studio) 
  • StoryLINE artifact project development (from storyLINE #1)
    LIST dominate or sample of EACH of the following from your story, written or inferred. 
  1. Mood/emotion 
  2. Sensory experience 
  3. Body movement 
  4. Word (one for each) – verb, noun, adjective 
  5. Materiality 
  6. Ground (substructure) 
  7. Metaphor/symbol 
independent drawing series 3 - ghost drawings  
  1. magnets preattached to backs (via hot glue or Velcro) of each identity essential photo 
  2. name label (tape will work) on back of EACH identity essential photo AND number of vertical viewing order (top #1 - bottom #5) 
  3. tape, paper 
  4. camera to document identity essential display of your work 
  5. as always, VJ  
Friday -- lecture major EXAM. do not be absent--no make ups. check out blackboard WASH lecture > course documents for study guide + plus quiz 1 & 2

Thursday, October 11, 2012

WEEKend 7 to do checklist

  1. Review/read imagine collab project sheet 
  2. Complete human comp collab write up-include image of entire set. 
  3. Prepare imagine collab proposal (elevator pitch, precise facility request, sketches)
    sketches, description, material, presentation, precise facility location request.
    be prepared to meet one on one for your elevator pitch with above support material
  4. Read storyLINE project sheet 
  5. Write storyLINE, proof, refine, type, print SEVEN (7) copies 
  6. Mood mark characteristics: develop a list of mark/line 4 to 5 qualities or characteristics as general principles for define each of the following moods. Next to each characteristic list a body movement that parallels the feeling of the mark. Example: anger--heavy, dark, large but concentrated (mark); raising of arm and shaking fist in specific direction (body). 
  1. StoryLINE 
  2. Walk the line photo series (no posts to fb); print real photographic prints (no ink or bubble jet) 
  3. Imagine collab proposal   
  4. Identity essential photo series (due w/th)
  • All previous drawings
  • 7 copies of your storyLINE
  • Imag collab proposal (copy for you and me)
  • CHARCOAL (soft and dark, messy, smeary)
  • RAG
week 8 coming DUE 
walk the line photo series + story version 1
Imagine collab proposal + elevator pitch

identity essentials photo series crit

Friday lecture exam

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

midWEEK 7 to do

  1. Using  human comp collab crit guide to determine content, writing in paragraph form and complete sentences, self reflect on your teams project. 
  2. LIST 3 1/2 things you learned that you should consider for identity essentials 
  3. Review storyline story handout (story due 10/15-16—7 copies) 
  1. Drawing series 2
  2. Review both drawings series 1 & 2 AND drawings from class. 
  3. Choose line drawing that best represents  EACH of the following (write your name and the emotion in bottom corner [VERY SMALL] of each drawing):
    1. anger
    2. joy
    3. boredom
    4. fright/fear
    5. laughter
    6. sadness
    7. control 
    a CD/DVD or bring on USB with human comp collab final presentation set [1 per team]
  1. LOOOOOOONNNNNNNGGG STICK or ruler, something that will extend your reach 2 to 3 feet.
  2. INK + wide mouth container for ink, 
  3. crazy non-art objects to dip in ink (bring 15 items minimum)
  4. lots of PAPEr (quality that will handle ink)
  5. tape to secure paper

Sunday, October 7, 2012

human comp collab install

    put your name, MW or TTH, table number on the back each of your individual comps. write on tape or label and secure to back.
    ROLLING WALLS each table team is to use ONE SIDE of one rolling walls.

    PRESENTATION install the entire teams work paying attention to formal and conceptual relationships and sequencing

    NAME TAG create a small table team tag. include table team number and each team members first name.

    ATTACHMENT use sticky velcro dots to secure pictures to plywood walls.
    if strategically placed, each image should only need one dot.
    NO other types of sticky stuff may be used.

    WHEN work should be installed prior to 9 pm crit day (10/8 - MW; 10/9 - TTH)
    AFTER space studio is fully dismissed by Valerie, remove velcro from team wall. if a residue is left on wall, your team will need to remove it with goobe gone before 5 pm.

    KK will photographs

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

WEEKend 6 to-do checklist

update VJ--due Oct 8-9
content for check up #2 surface visual journal

  1. dot or square comp--selected for [p3] mapscapes
  2. sketches--12 polished topographic + magnetic sketch studies
  3. research evidence--additional research for mapscapes. see WEEKend #4 checklist
  4. brainstorming lists--[p4] human comp collab
  5. calendar/schedule--[p4] human comp collab
  6. research--[p4] human comp collabs individual research (see blog posting week 5)
  7. crit notes--[p3] mapscapes (5 things you learned from others plus crit notes)
  8. crit write up--use mapscape crit guide
  9. gradesheets--dots, squared blitz, mapscapes
  10. photographs--[min] three photos of [p3] mapscapes; 1-both together; 1-topo only; 1 mag only; recommend some detail shots as well
  11. photographs--your two [p4] human comp collab 
  • complete human comp collab. crit 10/8-9 (install night prior).
  • complete independent line drawings Series One Drawings 
Tony Orrico
Remember to not hold your marking utensil based on writing habits. Explore holding multiple tools at once (ie 5 pencils instead of one). If too large create a cardboard sandwich to protect them. Bring all drawings to studio.

Complete each on separate paper. Repeat until you find the results interesting AND pleasing. Recommend using good paper.
  1. Draw 100 parallel lines with your eyes closed. 
  2. Attack the page with a mark-making tool 
  3. Attack the page with an alternate mark-making tool 
  4. Draw 200 lines. 100 with each hand at the same time. 
  5. Crumple paper and smooth, then draw repetitive lines for 4-8 minutes. 
  6. Fold paper and smooth, then draw repetitive lines for 4 minutes. 
  7. Tape your page down, write your name 100 or more times with your eyes closed. 
  8. Tape your page down, write a thought over and over until the page is full (10 minutes or more).
PENCILS (presharpened)...consider some with softer (dark) lead, INK, wide mouth container for ink, crazy non-art objects to dip in ink (bring 15 items minimum), lots of PAPEr (quality that will handle ink), tape to secure paper

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

midWEEK 6

Read/Research/Write [VJ] 
  • photo document mapscapes [3 photos; see notes on dry erase board]
  • mount photos in VJ by crit write up
  • VJ due next week
  • SPACKLE, sanding sponge
  • VJ as usual
  • paper [white, larger than 8.5 x 11] , 50 plus sheets
  • pencils [~20, sharpen before coming to class]
2nd studio this week
  • Q&A on independent projects
  • finish mapscape crit
  • PCA for mapscapes (be sure you signed the plates prior to studio)
  • sensory translation explorations (lots of papers & pencils)
    music > movement > mark > mood
  • deinstallation and wall restoration
  • secure and store mapscapes for end of semester exhibition

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Friday Lecture Week 5 -- the plan

  1. Turn in Writing #3 Harvesting from Life
  2. Project handout: Imagine (artist) Collaboration
  3. Student artist presentations: Letty Perez — Roxy Paine; Ben P. — Chuck Close;
    Courtney W. — Chris Burden; Chris J. — Pepon Osorio; James E. — Mark Bradford;
    Brandyn H. — Mel Chin; Andrew M. — Tim Hawkinson; Amanda R. — Dan Flavin;
    Shin H. — Matthew Ritchie
  4. Lecture: That's pretty good...for a girl —body + feminism [Essentialism, Anti-Essentialism, Transnational Feminism]
  5. Project handout: Identity Essentials

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

WEEKend 5 surface to-do checklist
can't wait to see the scapes fully realized!

WASH house is closed this weekend for BFA review.
You may return to the WASH house after 5 pm on Sunday.

Read/Research/Record [VJ]
  • review [p3] mapscape project sheet; confirm parameters
  • [p4] eye candy: last semester, pinterest
  • research [p4] human comp collab [evidence of research should be in VJ--image sampling from other artists, research relative to questions, and personal expanded research]
    RESEARCH human comp collab
  1. human theme silly or serious (mood?)? why?
    is that the strongest direction for the theme? how so or not?
  2. how does the manner in which you create the dots support the theme and the silliness or serious degree? explain. is that best solution to support concept and mood? how does the manner or location for the white space support the theme and mood? does it strengthen? weaken? or is it neutral? explain.  
  3. independently research your theme (historical references, contemporary samples, personal examples, connections to other ideas, stereotypes, etc).
  4. is the piece calling viewer to a light moment of laughter, create an awareness about a real issue, activating viewer to respond? what is the point of the work? what are you saying with it? anything worth hearing?
  5. add some independ research based on your interests relative to the theme your team has choosen
  6. list 5 ways you think the team could improve the project conceptual and formally.
  • [p3] mapscape #1 to WOW level-blow us away and yourself with your ambitiousness and thoughtful use of materials and craft
  • [p3] mapscape #2 to WOW level-blow yourself away with with ambition, thoughtfulness and craft
  • installing your crews mapscape exhibition for crit
    this can knock other work off the wall even if 15 or more feet away!
    Bring the hardware to hang your work
    and some alternatives just in case. Sheet rock screws work fine. You do not need super sized screws. Depth range from 1 5/8 to 2 inches should work fine. Three drills are available during tool room hours as well as levels.
    MW crew - install on east walls and rolling walls
    Sunday night beginning at 6 pm through Monday morning at 9 am.

    TTH crew - install on west walls
    Monday 5pm -Tuesday 9 am.

    Your top mapscape should be just above 57".
    Note height of work already on wall. Coordinate.
    Your work should be put up like an exhibition and consider what is on either side.

    Don't forget your fortune cookie sized name tag.
  • Touch base with team on human comp collab
VJ and a fully awake brain. Bring brainstorming and supplies for [p4] Human Comp Collab just in case their is time to continue working on.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Week 5

M/T surface studio
mapscape #1 brought in finished state
work on scape #2

refine scape #1 based on in studio feedback
complete 50% scape #2
human comp collab brainstorming
W/TH in surface studio
review scape #2 and gather feedback.
workday for #2
Weekend checklist will be posted


Friday 9/28 Artist Presentations
(1) Raiel, (2) Letty, (3) Ben, (4) Courtney W, (5) Chris J, (6) James E, (7) Brandyn, (8) Andrew, (9) Amanda R, (10) Shin H

visual presentation support
PDF format via USB or CD
MW studio crew-due surface studio WEDNESDAY
TTH studio crew-due surface studio THURSDAY

Mentors will transfer your file to WASH computer during surface studio. It is your responsibility to confirm transfer of file with them and that it works.
Powerpoint and Keynote conversion to PDF
file > print > PDF (bottom left corner of print dialog box) > save as acrobat PDF

after saving, open file to confirm it works and is as you expect.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WEEKend 4 to-do checklist

Research/Respond/Write in VJ
  1. mount [p1] + [p2] comps in VJ
  2. READ [p4] human comp collab
  3. cogitate on human comp collab brainstorming while working on maps and cardboard hybrids.
    note questions you have for Kathy + brainstorming ideas in VJ.
    be ready to meet with your team.
  4. REread [p3] mapscapes
  5. continue your RESEARCH (thorough evidence of research should be documented in VJ…text, ideas for materials, ideas for solutions, sketches, ideas for binding methods)
    What materials are you using? why?
    What are personal memories or connotations you have with these materials?
    What is juxtatoposed against these materials? why? too similar? too different?
    Are you generating tension? meaning? why not? how so?
    How could you catch viewers interest?
    Do the material choices or usage feel a bit kid craftish?
    Is your binding method working?
    Have you check how gravity will impact the piece?
    How will you mount it on the wall?
    Eye candy
    Previous solutions
    from WASH (this album includes all last semester, no matter the grade)
    WASH dot/mapscape pinterest album
    see link on blog
  1. complete map #1
  2. research, test, collect all materials for map #2


One completed mapscape. All previous dot and square sketches and VJ. All materials (bring several options) for mapscapes, plus binding agent, understructure material and tools (ie scissors) you might need.

The lack of supplies (materials, binding agents, tools) will result in an absence towards your grade.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

WEEKend 3 to-do checklist

Research/Respond/Write in VJ
  1. Mount photo of final dot/square comp (as presented on wall) 
  2. complete P1 + P2 crit write up – follow guide, address each item even if group did not discuss. 
  3. Mount 4 photographs from DOT walk and write up 
  4. Read [p3] mapscapes
  5. RESEARCH (thorough evidence of research should be documented in VJ…text, ideas for materials, ideas for solutions, sketches, ideas for binding methods)
    Why we map? explore as many options as possible
    Topographic mapping
    Magnetic mapping
    Material options
    Possible methods of combining
    Binding methods to test
    Previous solutions from WASH (this album includes all last semester, no matter the grade)
    WASH dot/mapscape pinterest album see link on blog 
  1. From topographic mapping sampling and your selected comp, 6 polished sketches 
  2. From magnetic mapping sampling and your selected comp, 6 polished sketches 
  3. Collect and test material idea
surface VJ due first studio -- MW 9/17 + TTH 9/18


All polished sketches, VJ, materials (bring several options) for map scapes, plus binding agent, understructure material and tools (ie scissors) you might need. The lack of supplies (materials, binding agents, tools) will result in an absence towards your grade.

INie or OUTie: hunting for and harvesting from
our influences and inspiration

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from Kathy's crazy elmo lecture notes
(in case you missed part when she flung the analog pen scratched pages quickly away)

BRAIN PICKINGS: A five-step technique for producing an idea

A 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas circa 1939

“…the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.”
Literature is the original “inter-net,” woven of a web of allusions, references, and citations that link different works together into an endless rabbit hole of discovery. Case in point: Last week’s wonderful field guide to creativity,Dancing About Architecture, mentioned in passing an intriguing old book originally published byJames Webb Young in 1939 — A Technique for Producing Ideas (public library), which I promptly hunted down and which will be the best $5 you spend this year, or the most justified trip to your public library.
Young — an ad man by trade but, as we’ll see, a voraciously curious and cross-disciplinary thinker at heart — lays out with striking lucidity and clarity the five essential steps for a productive creative process, touching on a number of elements corroborated by modern science and thinking on creativity: its reliance on process over mystical talent, itscombinatorial nature, its demand for a pondering period, its dependence on the brain’s unconscious processes, and more.
Right from the introduction, original Mad Man and DDB founder Bill Bernbach captures the essence of Young’s ideas, with which Steve Jobs would have no doubt agreed when he proclaimed that “creativity is just connecting things”:
Mr. Young is in the tradition of some of our greatest thinkers when he describes the workings of the creative process. It is a tribute to him that such scientific giants as Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein have written similarly on this subject. They agree that knowledge is basic to good creative thinking but that it is not enough, that this knowledge must be digested and eventually emerge in the form of fresh, new combinations and relationships. Einstein refers to this as intuition, which he considers the only path to new insights.
To be sure, however, Young marries the intuitive with the practical in his formulation:
[T]he production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; that the production of ideas, too, runs on an assembly line; that in this production the mind follows anoperative technique which can be learned and controlled; and that its effective use is just as much a matter of practice in the technique as is the effective use of any tool.
In a chapter on training the mind, Young offers:
In learning any art the important things to learn are, first, Principles, and second, Method. This is true of the art of producing ideas.
Particular bits of knowledge are nothing, because they are made up [of] so called rapidly aging facts. Principles and method are everything.
So with the art of producing ideas. What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas.
But the most compelling part of Young’s treatise, in a true embodiment of combinatorial creativity, builds upon the work of legendary Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (of Pareto principle fame) and his The Mind and Society. Young proposes two key principles for creating — that an idea is a new combination and that the ability to generate new combinations depends on the ability to see relationships between different elements.
The first [principle is] that an idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.
The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships. Here, I suspect, is where minds differ to the greatest degree when it comes to the production of ideas. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts.
Consequently the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.
Young talks about the importance of building a rich pool of “raw material” — mental resources from which to build new combinations — in a way that resonates deeply with the Brain Pickings founding philosophy, and also articulates the increasing importance of quality information filters in our modern information diet. This notion of gathering raw material is the first step in his outline of the creative process:
Gathering raw material in a real way is not as simple as it sounds. It is such a terrible chore that we are constantly trying to dodge it. The time that ought to be spent in material gathering is spent in wool gathering. Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us. When we do that we are trying to get the mind to take the fourth step in the idea-producing process while we dodge the preceding steps.
Even seven decades into the past, Young knew that the future belongs to the curious. His insistence on the importance of curiosity would make Richard Feynman nod in agreement:
Every really good creative person…whom I have ever known has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested — from, say, Egyptian burial customs to modern art. Every facet of life had fascination for him. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information. For it is with the advertising man as with the cow: no browsing, no milk.
The process is something like that which takes place in the kaleidoscope. The kaleidoscope, as you know, is an instrument which designers sometimes use in searching for new patterns. It has little pieces of colored glass in it, and when these are viewed through a prism they reveal all sorts of geometrical designs. Every turn of its crank shifts these bits of glass into a new relationship and reveals a new pattern. The mathematical possibilities of such new combinations in the kaleidoscope are enormous, and the greater the number of pieces of glass in it the greater become the possibilities for new and striking combinations.
(I once used a similar analogy with LEGO.)
In his second stage of the creative process, digesting the material, Young affirms Paola Antonelli’s brilliant metaphor of the curious octopus:
What you do is to take the different bits of material which you have gathered and feel them all over, as it were, with the tentacles of the mind. You take one fact, turn it this way and that, look at it in different lights, and feel for the meaning of it. You bring two facts together and see how they fit. What you are seeking now is the relationship, a synthesis where everything will come together in a neat combination, like a jig-saw puzzle.
In his third stage of the creative process, Young stresses the importance of making absolutely “no effort of a direct nature”:
It is important to realize that this is just as definite and just as necessary a stage in the process as the two preceding ones. What you have to do at this time, apparently, is to turn the problem over to your unconscious mind and let it work while you sleep.
[W]hen you reach this third stage in the production of an idea, drop the problem completely and turn to whatever stimulates your imagination and emotions. Listen to music, go to the theater or movies, read poetry or a detective story.
Then and only then, Young promises, everything will click in the fourth stage of the seemingly serendipitous a-ha! moment:
Out of nowhere the Idea will appear.
It will come to you when you are least expecting it — while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.
Young calls the last stage “the cold, gray dawn of the morning after,” when your newborn idea has to face reality:
It requires a deal of patient working over to make most ideas fit the exact conditions, or the practical exigencies, under which they must work. And here is where many good ideas are lost. The idea man, like the inventor, is often not patient enough or practical enough to go through with this adapting part of the process. But it has to be done if you are to put ideas to work in a work-a-day world.
Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious.
When you do, a surprising thing will happen. You will find that a good idea has, as it were, self-expanding qualities. It stimulates those who see it to add to it. Thus possibilities in it which you have overlooked will come to light.
* * *
Years later, upon reissuing A Technique for Producing Ideas, Young recounted the many letters he had gotten from “poets, painters, engineers, scientists, and even one writer of legal briefs” who had found his technique empowering and helpful. But what’s perhaps most interesting is the following note he made to the postscript of a reprint:
From my own further experience in advertising, government, and public affairs I find no essential points which I would modify in the idea-producing process. There is one, however, on which I would put greater emphasis. This is as to the store of general materials in the idea-producer’s reservoir.
I am convinced, however, that you gather this vicarious experience best, not when you are boning up on it for an immediate purpose, but when you are pursuing it as an end in itself.
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