Middle C: On Hitting the Right “Creative” Note

Developing Creativity In the Today’s Digital Age

Creativity can be developed in more ways than one. A life as an artist was once essentially an academic career path, in which one would train extensively with masters and then find one’s own patrons, whether individuals or institutions, and possibly later train others. Now that lifestyle can only be achieved by an incredibly small number of artists. Today artists may have academic training, or might train themselves using available tools and materials, then set about finding and marketing themselves to their own audience–which is no small task. Is there contention among these approaches, and what can be said of elevating a non-academic arts education?

According to Jeffrey Davis, author of “Creativity Is Not About Amateurs or Academies” for Psychology Today, there are two camps in creativity. On one end are those who evangelize self-expression and see the digital world as a beneficial conduit for that expression. Davis calls this the “small c” creativity camp. On the other end are those who advocate the canon over personal expression, whom Davis refers to as “big C” creativity camp. While both may have a sense of the universal and historical, the latter focuses more on making a contribution to the traditional medium.

Davis sums up the challenge for the amateur. “The Artist, in the conventional sense, ultimately seeks inclusion within a very exclusive set of conventions, organizations, and institutions, which approve, rate, and fund the Artist. Or not. You’re either chosen and brought in and funded, or not. You either get ‘sold’ to your medium’s respective institution, or you remain a bohemian juggler.” Simply put, it’s more difficult for the amateur to win the opportunity to make a living producing creative work.

In response to this cold fact, Davis puts forth what he describes as a “bridge” option, one in which the amateur can develop a creative professional orientation. I would refer to this as a plan for hitting middle C, or a professional but non-academic approach to a creative career. Davis’s tips:

  1. Take advantage of digital media, but do not rely solely upon them.
  2. Seek out “apprenticeship” opportunities to adopt a deeper understanding of your chosen medium.
  3. Infuse sound business strategy into your art form to create a flexible and profitable creative practice.

This article resonates with me and my work with creative professionals of all backgrounds. I would even argue that whether one is a self-taught filmmaker or film school grad, a first film festival experience can be similar. More than ever before, the economy demands more self-assessment, differentiation and promotion of filmmakers and other creatives. On the bright side, while there’s less public funding available for independent artists, there’s unprecedented access to the means by which we can reach our audience and tell our own story. By taking time to learn and ultimately elevate ourselves from amateur to practicing artist, we truly win the right to broadcast our story and accomplishments, and ask our audience for support.

Photo: Courtesy of Elliott Billings via Creative Commons.


Prune to Grow: How writing in a second language can promote development

There’s no better way to feel fresh and awakened than to shed what’s old and familiar. For this reason, some writers take on writing–and publishing–in a second language. In her piece “Writing in a New Language, Writing Anew” for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lucy Ferriss discusses several writers who follow this ambitious path.

Our native tongue leads us to common ideas. Do we favor styling of affect over creating meaning? Do we become lethargic about achieving what we intend to convey? Ferriss paraphrases several writers who describe writing in a second language as going “without style”. In a new language, we are stripped bare of the comfortable spaces we can hide–among idioms and other devices that might obscure clarity and originality.

Ferriss says of the collected quotes from writers in a second language “What these comments share is an appreciation for what’s left out of the writing when composing in a second language: style, or description, or sophistication — all

things we tend to strive for when we try to write eloquently in our native tongue. I do think we tend to lose sight, in a language that has shaped our world since we were born, of language’s central task: to make meaning. We take for

Jhumpa Lahiri

Author Jhumpa Lahiri has turned to writing in Italian. Photo: Courtesy of Random House.

granted the multiple choices we have; we ramp up the prose; we lose sight of the roots of the words we’re making flowers with.”

It is as if this pruning of the familiar language encourages new vitality, much like a flowering shrub benefits from pruning back its old growth. Ferriss describes author Jhumpa Lahiri’s decision to write in Italian: “Using the metaphor of Daphne from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, she adds, ‘I am, in Italian, a tougher, freer writer, who, taking root again, grows in a different way.'”

As a lover of literature and a student of French and Italian, I have been humbled by the experience of trying to understand–and be understood–in a foreign tongue. It’s ambitious but rewarding for one to practice her craft assembling the childlike blocks of comprehension gathered in a nonnative language, and seeing what she can build.

What Defines an Artist? Should Architects Be Included?

UK Turner Prize Awarded to Architecture Collective Assemble

The Turner award, a major UK art price, has been awarded to Assemble, a collective known for its architecture and community improvement projects. The news has swept the art world, with critics taking notice of the first time an architecture collective has won in the 31-year history of the prize. It begs the question: What Defines an Artist?


Assembly, 2014. Photo courtesy of Assembly.

For many of us, “Who is an artist” simply isn’t a question we face in our everyday lives. Even as we interact with architecture in the world around us, we might not acknowledge the creators’ intentions behind those spaces. According to Mark Brown in his piece “Urban regenerators Assemble become first ‘non-artists’ to win Turner prize” for Guardian, the collective itself does not claim to be comprised of artists. One Assemble collective member, Anthony Engi-Meacock, said: “It’s just not a conversation we have. I mean what is an artist? There is no answer to it.”

Looking at these events in the media I sense the media engaged in changing attitudes toward the arts. To satisfy my own curiosity about what the award says about the existence of margins between architecture and “art”, I conducted my own survey of the Assemble website. It’s apparent the collective offers much more than traditional building projects. Their CV includes play spaces, performance spaces, and several other interactive (again, play being key) installations. In these examples, Assemble elevates “space” in a thoughtful, meaningful way.

Assemble create spaces that make people think and bring people together, and thoughtfully employ many clever ways of encouraging new behavior in those spaces. Transformation on some level–in thought, in action–is to me the optimal outcome of interacting with any work we may deem as art. In this way, architecture by Assemble proves to be somewhat more accessible, though no less persuasive, than many of the traditionally “prize worthy” art forms.

Congratulations, Assemble, on the work and the award!


 Top Image copyright and courtesy of Sophia Evans.

Filmmakers: Get Ready for Film Festivals

On December 9, 2015, I did a seminar for the filmmakers whose movies have been accepted to Slamdance 2016. This seminar will be useful for all filmmakers getting ready for film festivals anywhere and hoping to take maximum advantage of the opportunity.

Adam Leipzig

Adam Leipzig talks with Slamdance filmmakers. Photo by Peter Baxter

Slamdance founder Peter Baxter joined us (you’ll hear his voice in the intro). We did the seminar in the CreativeFuture offices where I serve as COO.

In this 75-minute seminar, you will learn the answers to these questions:

  • Do I need marketing materials, and if so, what would they be?
  • Should I hire a publicist?
  • How do I pick the right sales agent?
  • How to pick a sales agent?
  • Should I stay for the whole festival?
  • What kind of deals are being make for independent films?
  • What can I do with my short film?
  • How do I answer the question I will be asked most often?
  • What about other film festivals?
  • How can the festival leverage my career?

Congratulations to all the filmmakers, and I hope you find this useful.

We did an audio recording of the seminar. Listen or download here:

Top photo: Adam Leipzig (l) and Slamdance founder Peter Baxter discuss indie film strategies in a film noir-ish parking lot. Photo by Deron Williams.

Food for Thought: E.A.T. and Today’s Tech-Art

Recently Amy Keyishian (@madfoot) wrote “Art and Tech Have a Really Cool Baby at a San Francisco Museum” for re/code. In it, she covers a recent digital media exhibit in San Francisco, and makes a compelling claim–that collaborations between engineers and artists, such as the historic E.A.T. project, are no longer necessary, because artists have direct access to technologies they can leverage in their work.

Known as E.A.T. for Experiments in Art and Technology, this long-term project was initiated in 1966 by a pair of Bell Labs scientists and a pair of prominent artists– Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman (respectively). They instigated technology-oriented artwork by organizing as a nonprofit that planned several exhibitions and introduced new scientist-artist pairs open to creative collaboration. As Raschenberg famously stated (as quoted in Frank Rose’s “The Big Bang of Art and Tech in New York” for The New York Times) the combination of technology and art crystalized immediately. “If you don’t accept technology, you better go to another place, because no place here is safe. Nobody wants to paint rotten oranges any more.”

Today artists certainly do have access to powerful technologies at their disposal, and technology is even integrated into many art programs. An artist might use any one of many new languages and frameworks that make it easier than ever to develop software, inexpensive devices to power projects, such as mini computers (think Raspberry Pi) and 3D printers, as well as warehouses of specialized data available via APIs. So is there still an opportunity for curated collaboration to bring art and technology to what Keyishian calls the “bleeding edge”?

I do think opportunities remain for engineers and scientists to meld minds in a valuable way. While end-user technologies are readily available, direct collaboration can bring out rich points. As a member of the über-collaborative film industry, I am a firm believer that when it comes to brilliant minds at work, more is better. Artwork created by artists and scientists with the deepest understanding of the latest of all aspects of culture (including technology) deliver new layers of meaning, commentary–and even beauty.