Bridging the Arts and Sciences

LASER_postcardA_7x5

 

Creative ideas are the work of collective minds. So our plan is to bring the arts and sciences together.

New concepts can easily be traced to a source—which came from another source. To a degree, nothing is wholly original. Even the theories of a genius loner like Isaac Newton (and he was as reclusive and brilliant as one could be) were influenced by others. His concepts were built on the ideas of those who had come before. In a famous letter to Robert Hooke, he says, “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.”[i] Newton knew very well that he was part of a larger network of knowledge building. It would be nearly impossible to create a way of thinking independent from the influence of others.

In fact, studies have been undertaken to determine if there really are any people who are original in their thinking. I find it hard to believe than one could trace something like that. But from these studies, it appears that there are only three people who were original: “first-century Confucian metaphysicist Wang Chu’ung, 14th-century Zen spiritualist Bassui Tokusho, and 14th-century Arabic philosopher Ibn Khaldun.”[ii] Consider those three in comparison to how many people have lived on the planet—over a hundred billion. Going solo seems nearly impossible.

As the Department of Art at Augusta University grows, we will foster a collective mindset through a series of interactive discussions called LASER Talks.

LASER stands for Leonard Art Science Evening Rendezvous. These are events sponsored by Leonardo the International Society for Arts, Sciences, and Technology (Leonardo/ISAST). They happen all over the world including Zurich, University of San Francisco, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, New York City, London, Tacoma, Toronto, Montreal and Kansas State University.

Last year, we hosted our first LASER and became an affiliate. Thus, add Augusta to the list.

Fortunately for us, the Director of Cultural Programs for the National Academy of Sciences flew in to moderate ours. He was amazing, and the event was a huge success. We packed a large auditorium with a wide range of people from the university’s upper administration to esteemed researchers to high school students. We formed our panel to include art history, studio art, otolaryngology and anaplastology. It’s amazing how quickly the audience drew connections from these seemingly disparate fields. How do we know we succeeded? No one left the room for two hours—not even to use the bathroom. That’s success.

This year, plan to hold more LASER Talks. Plus, we opened it as a collaborative event including the university and region. We are collaborating with areas throughout the university to synthesize ideas from an array of fields. The first talk will be hosted by the College of Education. The second talk will be hosted by Allied Health. The third, will be the Department of Art (us). And the fourth will be a unique hybrid summit hosted by our Office of Leadership Development. Over the next couple of years, we plan to collaborate with all facets of the institution to foster conversation and collaboration between the arts and sciences.

Our first LASER of the year hosted by the College of Education is on September 13. The outstanding lineup includes experts from the local area focused on STEAM initiatives and innovation in teaching and technology. I’ll announce the specifics soon. We’ll also simulcast it so everyone can view.

On a final note, as we expand into the community and improve our offerings to students, we will seek the support of the community. If you would like to help us build a new form of art education, please click here. Where it says designation, toggle to “other” and type “Department of Art 29115.”

Thank you!

[i] (wikiquotes n.d.)

[ii] (Uzzi and Spiro 2005, Volume 111, Number 2, September, 448)

Why Augusta University is the Place for Art

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To say Augusta is the perfect city for art may be a stretch. It’s not a cultural hub, and it doesn’t have a lot of galleries. But Augusta is the perfect city for building a transformative art department. The timing and circumstances are right.

As a city, Augusta is like many others. Geographically, it’s a city between cities. There’s a river running through and a beautiful lake nearby. Suburban areas surrounding it are on an exponential growth curve. What’s unique about this place however, is how it’s changing. The obvious connections to art and the two art festivals in town which are very successful and building the level of interest in arts and culture—“Westobou” and “Arts in the Heart.” My department is involved in both. But the real forces of change are below.

Air Force Cyber Command online for future operations

Capt. Jason Simmons and Staff Sgt. Clinton Tips update anti-virus software for Air Force units to assist in the prevention of cyberspace hackers July 12 at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. The Air Force is setting up the Air Force Cyberspace Command soon and these Airmen will be the operators on the ground floor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo)

 

Fort Gordon is becoming the Cyber Command Headquarters for U.S. Army. Currently, the fort employs around 20,000 people. By 2019, Fort Gordon will be a defensive operation actively protecting networks spanning the globe. This is bringing all kinds of investment and interesting people to the area. Everyone in the area seems to be scrambling to capitalize on cyber something. Thus we are seeing an influx of tech initiatives. Rent is cheap, and tech startups don’t need a lot of infrastructure. Click here to read an article on it.

AMAGJJ2016Cover

Augusta University is a new institution forged from a collision of two unlike colleges. I wasn’t here when it happened, but to hear people talk, it was a collision. And with that, the Board of Regents directed it to be a top tier research institution. We have a new name and a new mission. To lead us in the right direction, we also have a new president, Brooks A. Keel, PhD. He’s an alumni of both institutions that formed Augusta University. He totally understands the future of education, and is working hard to build a leading university known for innovation. I feel very fortunate having him at the helm. To read about his vision click here for a recent article in Augusta Magazine.

As of now, my department is relatively small and local. I looked the other day and we have 94 majors. We offer the regular range of degrees concentrating in ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, drawing, painting, photography and graphic design. Our faculty and staff are talented and active. As we grow, we’ll continue to offer more design oriented degrees until we reach a 50/50 relationship between fine arts and design. What makes us special though, is that we plan to develop an innovative model of contemporary art education with an emphasis on fulfilling creative careers—in a wide spectrum of fields. We’ll be building bridges between the arts and the sciences and demonstrate how universities and communities should be collaborative and complementary. In my next post I’ll let you in on one of our new initiatives.

Please join us on our journey.

Is Typography Art or Design?

Recently, I’ve been looking at design works that look like art, and art that looks like design. It makes me think, how we should differentiate the two. Or should we even try?

Is Typography Art or Design?

 

One work in particular is LENBACHHAUS by the artist, Thomas Demand. It serves as signage for the Lenbachhaus Museum. On the surface it seems more like something the architect designed to identify the entrance. But here’s how the museum describes it.

Far more than just a nametag, the sculpture, which stands out from the façade by virtue of its color, is composed of individual letters. Their bodies, set off from the façade by a few inches, grow out of an antiqua base, tapering toward the beholder to form a sans-serif typeface. The two-tiered lettering of the metal sculpture is held together by wedge-shaped crosspieces, creating a three-dimensional effect and heightening the interplay of light and shadow. The slender lines of the unadorned metal letters are illuminated, so as night falls, the sculpture continues to highlight the new entrance to the museum. The antiqua typeface was borrowed from the design first used when the Lenbachhaus was founded in 1929; the sans-serif, meanwhile, matches the museum’s current typographic identity.

They think it’s a sculpture. Demand, not known as a graphic designer usually creates life size installations of ordinary scenes in cardboard. Yeah, that escalator is cardboard. He photographs the installation and then destroys the original sculpture.

Is Typography Art or Design?

Here’s a design by Stefan Sagmeister.  Sagmeister is a graphic designer whose work is hard to define. My students often refer to him as a typographer. I’m not sure why. On his site, he’s describes himself as a graphic designer. But his design for the Adobe Max Conference looks like art to me. It was actually a 24 hour performance piece where he and Jessica Walsh spent 24 hours creating a variety of designs. The performance was streamed on a Times Square Billboard.

Is Typography Art or Design?

So the question arises, is it just old people trying to draw distinctions between art and design? It may be. We can go back to definitions of aesthetics of beauty by Immanuel Kant and try to parse words. It’s a great philosophical exercise. But in the end, as an educator, I think it may be time to let it go. We may be drawing boundaries that limit students’ ability to express themselves. Some of my past students create works that when I was in school, definitely would have been considered fine art. Peter Clark is an ex-student working for AutoFuss.  Below is an installation he created with some other designers. His major was motion media, a design degree.

 

This is his design for an event call OFF2014. He created an animated title for Anton & Irene. Click here to see a video of the process.

 

Is Typography Art or Design?

 

The time may have come to just push students to create their best work. If it jumps outside one area, let it. Being that everyone is a designer now to some degree through social media and all, maybe the artists are the ones doing it better.

Y Combinator Put Its Course Online, For Free!

Y Combinator Put Its Course Online, For Free!

Y Combinator is one of the best startup accelerators for tech entrepreneurs. It’s been around since 2008 and launched an amazing array of success stories including: Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit and Twitch. Now, they’ve launched an online course explaining their methods. And for the best part, it’s free. The course, “How to Start a Startup” is exactly how it sounds, a course on how to start a startup. And it’s great. I haven’t watched all the lectures. But the ones I have are really informative.

I recommend it for any creative person wanting to take control of their future.

5 Questions That Make You More Creative

5 Questions That Make You More Creative

 

 

 

If you want a better solution, ask a better question. I first saw this statement in something by Edward de Bono, probably his book book Lateral Thinking. As I’ve written before, what you see is in part what you expect to see. Those who expect to see ordinary things, see those. And those who look for more unique things, find more interesting ones.

 

While lecturing on brainstorming, I often ask those in the audience a series of questions. The first one is “what am I wearing?” I have them write their answers in a few quick sentences. Following that, I ask the same question again, but with one word added, “specifically.” So the new questions is, “What specifically am I wearing?” It’s interesting how that one word, changes their answers. The responses to the first question are things like a button down shirt and khakis. The answers to the second question, as you may have guessed, include actual colors, patterns, brand names and other more informative insights than before. And that’s the difference one word makes.

 

To be more creative, you have to ask better questions. So here are five main questions you should ask yourself during projects.

 

How can I combine this with something else? Synthesis is the easiest method of generating unusual ideas. Any two things can be combined to make a new concept. And in the beginning of the creative process, this is a great question to expand your possibilities. How can a bridge be combined with a fan? Click here to see.

 

How can I adapt this concept to fit something else? The idea you have may be a good one, but it may work even better in another field. Who knew adding bike lanes to traffic would actually  speed up traffic? Click here for that. .

 

What can be substituted for this? There may be something out there that works better to solve your problem. This could be a different material, a different color or a different person to do it. Take time to switch out parts of the solution even though it seems to work well now. If you are trying to create light in an impoverished village with no electricity, maybe a liter bottle of water would do the trick. Click here for the video.

 

What negative could I turn into a positive? There are always shortcomings of products. But sometimes these shortcomings can be turned into assets if just looked at in the right way. A problem with roadways is that they take up a lot of space while reflecting a lot of heat and sun. What if we were to use them to collect energy? Here is an idea for solar roadways.

 

How can I simplify this? Usually, we tend to over-design products. As we keep improving the design, we keep adding more stuff. Eventually, they become confusing. The example here is an old one, the iPod. When it came out it was a revolution; it took only three clicks to get any song. If you can remember that far back, think of all the other mp3 players at the time. They had so many buttons it took an engineer to just turn them on. Here’s an idea.  Next time you create a PowerPoint presentation, take out half the words. See what that does. I bet more people pay attention to.

 

For more questions like these click here for a larger list called SCAMPER Questions on my blog.

 

To Be Creative, Choose a Lifestyle Not a Trick

Choose a lifestyle not a trick

I’ve read a ton of posts with tricks for being a better, smarter, more creative, or generally more successful person. I’m assuming that you have too. But honestly, do these tricks help—not really. They are fun to read and interesting to think about. But very few of us will actually be impacted by them. That’s because tricks don’t change behavior.

A long time ago I read some studies on the best methods for losing weight and getting in better shape. These were studies that dealt with actual results rather than hype. Surprisingly, the best method for being healthier didn’t involve a radical style of exercise, a gimmicky diet, the latest treadmill or some other quick fix. Instead, the research found that if you really want to get into shape, date someone who is already in shape.

It’s true. To change your lifestyle, you really need to change your general way of doing things. By dating someone who is already in shape, you’ll start picking up on their habits and begin incorporating them into your life. The sad part is that they probably will slide into a few of your tendencies. But there is a real lesson here. I have tons or methods for generating ideas and synthesizing concepts. And they do work. Or, you could buy the book “Thinkertoys.” It has hundreds of games and techniques in it. But none of these make you more creative in the long term. To have a more creative career, you have to actually develop a practice of being creative.

Something I’ve found through research and practice is that one of the best ways for gaining a more creative life is to become more curious.  It’s much easier for all those other things related to creativity to fall into place for a curious person than a person who isn’t curious. Curiosity works because it compels you to act, to seek out new things. Creativity people are problem finders. And curious people seek out problems. Curiosity comes from a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. Once you know you don’t know something, you will want to figure out what it is that you don’t know. So taking walks, camping, tinkering with stuff, talking to new people – these all lead to heightened curiosity. Curiosity isn’t a drive where the more you get the fuller you get. Instead, the more stimulus you get via curiosity,  the more curious you become.

But most of all, hang around others who are curious and creative. That is how you will actually increase your odds of being creative yourself.

Are there really any boring problems?

Are there really any boring problems?

Creativity starts with a problem. As one who teaches creativity, I advise starting with an interesting problem. It’s seems logical that interesting solutions come from interesting problems. But when you think about it, are there any boring problems?

Often times, the determining factor of a boring or interesting problem is in the way you look at it. If you think a certain topic is of little interest, problems associated with that topic are likely to seem that way too. But if you put your brain to work, seemingly dull topics can become interesting. Like many things, once you identify hindrances to clear thinking, it becomes easier to view problems more objectively. Here are some barriers to clear thinking that get in our way.

Egocentrism – we have a self-serving bias when viewing topics. So if we don’t like it, we may think it’s boring.

Sociocentrism – this is defined by group centered thinking. If the group doesn’t think it’s interesting, it isn’t.

Unwarranted assumptions and stereotypes – we often take things for granted. The topic of accounting might not interest a lot of people. But there may be a lot of interesting problems within accounting where innovation could take place.

Relativistic thinking – this is when we believe that truth is a matter of opinion. Last year, I had students describe simple tools in depth to prepare for a pitch. One of the students said, “Why are we describing a screwdriver? Everyone knows how to use one.” Then a student next to him chimed in and said she didn’t.

Wishful thinking – sometimes we believe things to be true because we wish them to be. Maybe that accounting problem seems boring because we don’t want to work on accounting problems to begin with.

It’s hard to be impartial on all accounts. But if we give problems a chance, they can all be interesting. Sometimes by just focusing on the topic, it becomes interesting in itself. Take for instance, numbers deemed uninteresting. These are numbers that don’t fall in any type of loaded sequence like primes, squares or Fibonacci. To view these in these as uninteresting is actually a mistake, because the mere fact that they don’t fall in a sequence can make them interesting. See how in this video from Numberphile on uninteresting numbers.

Are Kids Really More Creative than Adults?

Are Kids Really More Creative than Adults?

 

The general impression among people is that kids are more creative than adults. The idea is that kids are more open to new possibilities and less constrained by rules and practicality. In support of this line of thought James Hamblin recently posted, Everyone Was an Artist in Kindergarten, in The Atlantic. The proof in this assumption comes from casual surveys taken by the creative consultant, Gordon MacKenzie, during speaking engagements with young students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.

When MacKenzie would ask kindergarteners, “how many of you are artists?” all would raise their hand. But with older kids, an interesting trend develops. Fewer and fewer students identify themselves as artists as they grow up. By sixth grade, only a small percentage raises their hand in response to the same question of being an artist. The reason for this is that as kids grow up, they feel the judgmental pressures from others and don’t want to take the risk of being judged as weird.

But if we look deeper into the definition of creativity and how it works, there’s another way we could look at this same trend. The most widely recognized definition for creativity is “the production of something novel and useful.” It has three parts. The first part pertains to making. You have to actually make something to be considered creative. Secondly, that thing has to be different, novel, from other things already in existence. The extent to which this thing is different from other things ranges from being novel to you, to being novel to humanity. Then thirdly, this novel thing you create has to useful; it has to solve a problem. The better it does that, the more creative it is rated.

Young children do feel a sense of freedom because they aren’t aware of being judged. But they don’t create many finished products. And if you were to look at the things they make, they are very similar. And mostly, they are the product of what an adult has told them to do. In the end, these things that kids make are rarely more useful than refrigerator decorations. But as kids grow up, they tend to be more selective in what they choose to create. And they the things they create tend to be more functional. And as they get even older, their creations tend to be more unique.

I’ll give you two case studies, my kids (names withheld).

Case study #1

A long time ago (in kid years), my daughter would sing songs for me. I’d push her on the swing in our backyard and she would makeup songs on any topic I gave her. Usually, the themes centered on clouds, grass, fairies or other similar subject matter. While I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm about her ability to create such wonderful phrases, her creations would barely be considered songs if they were written down. In fact, she never wrote any of them down. That’s partly due to the fact that she couldn’t read or write at the time. Today, she can’t remember any of them. Five years later, she won’t sing any songs for me. She gets embarrassed. Did she loose her ability to be creative

Yesterday, my daughter took a sketchbook lying around her room and drew a bunch of dress designs. These days, she spends much of her time changing clothes. This is where her interest lies. The designs she created are all well documented, colored and have intricate patterning. Honestly, they are pretty sophisticated.

Case studey #2

My son, who is much more reserved than my daughter, used to create the most beautiful finger paintings while in pre-K. We even have one framed on the wall. Today as an eleven year old, he never paints.

What he does instead is to obsess on all things NASCAR. He watches races, plays with his collection of NASCAR replicas, and plays NASCAR on the Wii. He has an app on his iPod that enables him to create stop-animation videos of races he stages. Additionally, he has constructed foam core replicas of many of the racetracks in the NASCAR sprint cup series. He does this by drawing the general shape of the track on a flat piece of foam core, and then cutting it out with is pocket knife. Then, he cuts out the rails and tapes everything together. The tracks even include pit areas. He does all this all on his own. In time, he has created new ways of constructing tracks and more effective ways of filming his videos.

Are my kids more or less creative than before?

Let’s take a look back at being an artist. When we think of artists, we think of creativity. But not all artists are creative. Many artists, base their entire careers on tradition. This misconception often comes from people confusing creativity with expression. You can easily be very expressive without being creative. Also, artists don’t have a lock on creativity. Creative people are found in all sorts of fields. So just because kids don’t think of themselves as artists, doesn’t mean they don’t still want to do creative acts. Remember, I’m an artist who exhibited and sold works for years.

What I’m trying to say is that just because we don’t all see ourselves as artists, doesn’t mean we aren’t creative. Today all fields involve creativity, not just art. In fact, many adults are far more creative than kids. Partly, that’s because adults have the ability to follow through on their creative ideas.

Creativity To-Do List for the Summer

Creativity To-Do List for the Summer: Scott Thorp

The other day I asked my students how they planned to be creative this summer. Specifically, I was targeting my seniors. Their facial expressions were telling. They had no idea. Those who have jobs plan to be employed. Those who don’t are looking to get jobs. Other than that, no one had a plan. Upon realizing this, one student got so nervous she came to talk with me after class.

Creativity is a practice. Like so many other practices, if you don’t maintain it, your skills begin to wane. Eventually, the urge to create subsides. Some of the best advice I received during grad school was to pay rent on a studio before I graduated. What my mentor meant was that I needed to have some obligation, or plan to be an artist. Having a studio is an obligation. I had a bill, and I wanted to get my money’s worth. So instead of watching TV the day after graduation, I went to work in my studio as an artist. It’s so easy to put off things to tomorrow. But often times, tomorrow never comes.

The creativity to-do list for the summer should include three things: curious endeavors, creative goals, and creative output.

Curious endeavors: curiosity is the fuel for creativity. By poking around and looking at interesting stuff, we’ll be more compelled to find out even more stuff. Curiosity comes from the realization of a gap in our knowledge. Once we find there is a gap, we instinctively work to close that gap. If you see a door open, you walk to see why it is open. Taking interesting vacations, talking to interesting people or studying up on topics does this for us. Imagine going camping and looking at river rocks. Once you see how interesting the rocks are, you start picking up more rocks.

Creative goals: It’s funny how much creativity is about managing time. We often let time go by without making good use of it. Establishing short term and long term goals for the summer is a great way to overcome this. Short term goals could be as simple as making a list of 20 ideas each week. This is called an idea log. Long term goals could be to develop one complete design over the summer. While setting goals doesn’t sound all that creative, it ensures that you’ll actually do something. That’s most of the battle. It’s also fulfilling to meet goals.

Creative output: It’s not enough to think about being creative; we have to actually do it. Don’t let those good ideas stay in your head. Put them to paper. Creative people are productive. They make things. It may also be good to take time working on a network of creative partners. Much of creativity is about collaboration. Spending time over the summer establishing a network of like-minded people will help for those times in the future when we need help. How great would it be to have a famous designer critique your senior project before you hand it to your professor? Or, what if you need quick advice from an engineer on the solar light fixture you designed. To do so, you must establish the connection beforehand.

Traffic Light Epiphany: Curriculum Should be Based on Cognitive Abilities

Traffic Light Epiphany: Education Should Base Curriculum on Cognitive Abilities

 

As creativity goes, I was stuck at a traffic light about a week ago and had a moment of insight. I’d been actively thinking about education for a while and decided to give it a rest. According to Graham Walla, I decided to go into the incubation stage—unintentionally of course. So, sitting at a traffic light in front of Sam’s Club, it came to me (Walla’s moment of illumination). We should structure education around cognitive abilities rather than subjects.

Currently, we structure education mostly around subjects; we pass through a series of courses related to that subject on our way to obtaining a degree. As we progress, these courses do become more intense, but they don’t necessarily climb the ladder of Bloom’s Taxonomy. During our senior years, much of our education still hinges on remembering, the lowest on the scale of six intellectual skills ranging from: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating to creating. Creating is the highest on the ladder.

There’s a developing trend in primary and secondary levels of education to incorporate such a model of cognitive skills. Classical schools utilize the trivium of the old Greeks to transform elementary, middle, and high school levels to grammar, logic and rhetoric. It was combined with the quadrivium of subjects to fully education someone:  arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The trivium was also at the core of many medieval universities. With the trivium, you essentially advance cognitively as you grow. Grammar has a lot to do with remembering. Logic helps you make sense of things. And finally, rhetoric enables you to communicate these ideas, debate and to come to conclusions yourself (hopefully).

Essentially, this is a humanities education. But I think there is something more we could add to this equation. Education as a whole is based on a model of scarcity. We assume that you can’t get the information we give you in the classroom. Nowadays, that’s a false assumption. With just a little work—about ten minutes typing on a keyboard—you can get access to the best information in the world, on any subject. If you don’t believe me, click here. That’s a link to Michael Sandel’s ethics course at Harvard. You can watch every lecture. The Khan Academy is free and lists a huge number of subjects you can learn.

What I propose is a form of higher education where students begin by learning facts and end by creating things. Senior year should look less like a classroom and more like a Fab Lab. Keith Sawyer wrote about learning how to create and found that the studio model may be the best way to learn, for real. Artists and designers have been using the studio model of decades. It’s a model where students have real-world assignments and make stuff. They fail frequently and are heavily criticized. They learn the value of prototyping and creativity. Best of all, with this model of education, students actually retain much of more of their education. They also learn how their education applies to the real world.