Wednesday, November 30, 2011 11:59 AM
Were you one of those students who made schoolwork look easy, earning a galaxy of gold stars and an alphabet of A’s between your first morning of kindergarten and your graduation day? Did everyone gush over how smart you were?
If so, you might know the curse of the gifted child. An overload of affirmations can hamper the future success of bright kids, reports Heidi Grant Halvorson for Harvard Business Review. Students who receive praise for intellect rather than effort, she says, develop a belief that their abilities are innate and unchangeable. As adults, they lose confidence in trying to develop new, difficult skills. They get stuck. Halvorson writes:
People with above-average aptitudes—the ones we recognize as being especially clever, creative, insightful, or otherwise accomplished—often judge their abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than others do (particularly in Western cultures). Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.
In a study conducted by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller of Columbia University, fifth graders were evaluated to determine how different kinds of praise affected their performances. The students were given three sets of problems—the first relatively easy, the second nearly impossible, and the third simple. Dweck and Mueller found that offering the praise “You did really well. You must be really smart!” to one group resulted in a 25 percent drop in performance on the third set of problems, after they had failed the second set. Conversely, the group that received praise that focused on their effort (“You did really well. You must have worked really hard!”) improved their performance by 25 percent. The “smart” group became stymied, doubting their abilities, while the “hard-working” group persisted, feeling that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed.
When gifted children who were praised for their brainpower grow up, they often feel shackled by self-doubt, avoiding challenges and sticking to easy goals. Halvorson posits, however, that it’s possible to get unstuck by realizing that capabilities are wonderfully elastic:
No matter the ability—whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism—studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a bright kid, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by ultrakickgirl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 18, 2011 4:02 PM
What would you do to improve on the Mona Lisa? Our friends at Booooooom!, the Vancouver-based art blog, are asking photographers to flex their creative muscles by remaking classic works of art. A sampling of the amazing results from the Remake project—modernizing paintings by Rembrandt, Ingres, van Gogh, Lichtenstein, and others—follows.
Above: Grande Odalisque remake, by Craig White
Above: Grande Odalisque, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Above: Ohhh…Alright… remake, by Emily Kiel
Above: Ohhh…Alright…, by Roy Lichtenstein
Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp remake, by Bruna Pelissari
Above: The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt
Above: Self Portrait 1889 remake, by Seth Johnson
Above: Self Portrait 1889, by Vincent van Gogh
Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs remake, by Emile Barret
Above: Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, by unkown artist
Check out the Remake project website for more iconic works, redefined.
Images courtesy of Booooooom!
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 2:55 PM
When we caught up with Steve Earle, he was hanging out in New Orleans on the set of HBO’s Treme, waiting to shoot a scene for season two. It’s the second time Earle has gotten into character for the show’s co-creator, David Simon. In Simon’s critically acclaimed The Wire, he played a bit part as a former junkie turned 12-step guru. In Treme, he plays an insightful street musician named Harley. In both cases, he has drawn on personal experience. “The Wire really required no acting,” he says wryly. “The role called for a redneck recovering addict. I could do that.”
Earle—a Townes Van Zandt disciple and self-described hillbilly—is a storyteller who’s drawn on personal experience and keen observation to create more than a dozen studio recordings, including three Grammy Award winners, and a collection of short fiction. This month, his newest recording, I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, hits the streets. Next month, his debut novel of the same name will be published by Houghton Mifflin.
In the midst of the most prolific period of his career, the down-to-earth but steadfastly irreverent Earle talked about his move to New York, the craft of writing, and the art of politics.
Let’s talk about the new record. What will we hear when we hit play?
In a lot of ways, it’s the most country record I’ve made in a long time. There’s fiddle on it, pedal steel, and some things I haven’t used in a while. It features the same rhythm section that [the record’s producer] T-Bone Burnett worked with on the Alison Kraus/Robert Plant record [Raising Sand]. Dennis Kraus, who also plays in my bluegrass band, is the bass player. The guitar player is Jackson Smith, Patti’s son. Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek is playing fiddle. There’s a duet with [wife] Allison [Moorer]. And it also includes “This City,” which we recorded in New Orleans for Treme. T-Bone came to town to record that song, and Allen Toussaint wrote the horn charts. The rest of it was recorded in like five days in November.
What does a producer like T-Bone Burnett bring to the table?
When I produce I’m an arranger. I’m a cheerleader. T-Bone is all of that. Over the years he’s assembled a group of players that I’ve heard him and others compare to the Stax house band. But there’s a difference: The Stax group, the Wrecking Crew, and all these other sections were put together to make hit records. This group of people was put together to make art—and to make it appear effortless. It was hard to get us all together because of schedules and other stuff, but once we got in the studio it was the easiest record I’ve ever made.
Death is reoccurring theme on the new record. What accounts for that emphasis?
What happened in the last three years is that my dad died, and he was really sick before he died. My family, which is very close, still hasn’t recovered from it. It got me thinking about my experiences with mortality and spirituality. I’m a hippie basically. I grew up in a pretty wide-open spiritual atmosphere. And it’s one of the things that saved my life. I think that when I finally decided that I didn’t want to die and I could get clean, I had no problem with the spiritual element of it. I never questioned whether there was a God or not. I’m not a Christian or anything close to one, but I definitely believed there was a power greater than myself. That helped a lot. That was half the battle. My spiritual system is 12-step programs.
So you still go to meetings regularly?
Trust me, when I stop going to meetings you’ll read about me somewhere else.
In May, your new novel, also titled I’ll Never Get Out of this World Alive, will be in bookstores. It seems you’re really stretching out as a writer.
This is the first full-length novel. I published a collection of short fiction about nine years ago. I’ve written one play. That’s why I moved to New York, because of theater. I’m working on a play now. And while I swore that I’d never write another novel toward the end of this last project, I already have an idea for another one. I just like to write. It was kind of recovery thing. I started writing poetry and prose after I got clean. I also think all the other creative things I do make my home-base craft stronger. I think that’s borne out by the songs on the new record.
As a writer, what is your daily discipline? And where do you get your ideas?
I write what I’m going to write the first few hours of the day before the phone starts ringing. I write with a computer. I don’t use a pencil anymore. I wake up early, like 6 or 6:30, and write most of what I’m going to write by the middle of the day. It’s funny: I don’t understand people who wander around New York City with ear buds in, because you’re just listening to the same shit over and over again, and you’re missing all the music, and you’re missing all the lines, and you’re missing all of that stuff. Writing is not that original. It doesn’t spring full grown from a person. It’s coming from without.
So has relocating to New York affected you creatively?
I moved to New York to breathe the same air as Tony Kushner. I don’t think I could have continued to create anything if I would have continued living in Tennessee. And that’s nothing against Tennessee. It just became more and more of a hostile environment. Not in the sense that people were hostile to me, but I just felt a little stimulus-starved. I was really in danger of becoming an old fart there, just stagnating.
You’re known for your work against the death penalty, and from the stage you can be very outspoken. Does politics fuel your work?
I’m not a political writer. I know people have a hard time believing that. There’s political stuff on my records, but the songs have always been about the way politics affects human beings. But I still write more songs about girls than I do anything. I write and I make things up. And I’m outspokenly political because I think I would be a pussy if I wasn’t. To have realized as much from doing something that I love to do and to not use that position to talk about things that I think are wrong would be irresponsible. If I irritate other people, it doesn’t cost anyone any money but me—and I’m OK with that. I’m just trying to keep from going to hell.
How are you feeling about the current political environment?
I’m pissed off. I’m angry. It’s tough for me. But I try not to be negative, and I’m dedicated to being part of the political process. I’m having a hard time. I’ve always thought that Obama was a little bit too Clintonesque for me to be comfortable with. He wants to make everyone happy so desperately. It does count that he’s black, though. It does count that we elected a black president. We are a better nation for that.
So, a new record, a new book, a play in the works, a new season of Treme—you’re in the midst of one helluva year.
The record comes out in April, and I’m going to do a record store and radio station tour. In May I’m doing a book tour. And then the band starts touring in June. It will be good. If I stay really, really busy, make music, and talk to my sponsor, I should be OK.
Thursday, February 18, 2010 2:28 PM
Stop surfing YouTube. Stop staring at your computer, pulling out your hair, and waiting for inspiration. The blog ISO50 cobbled together 25 ingenious strategies from designers and artists for overcoming creative block. The ideas can also apply to any kind of creative work.
Some are totally unexpected, including this recipe for creativity from British graphic designer Michael C. Place (aka Build):
Slice and chop 2 medium onions into small pieces.
Put a medium sized pan on a medium heat with a few glugs of Olive oil.
Add the onions to the pan, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Chop finely three varieties of fresh chilli (Birds Eye, Scotch Bonnet & Green/Red).
Add the chilli’s to the pan, stir together and cook for eight minutes.
Add about 500g of extra lean Beef mince to the pan.
Stir in so that the Beef is coated and lightly browned (should take approx. 2 minutes).
Add salt and pepper.
Add Red Kidney Beans and tinned chopped Tomatoes.
Add a pinch of Cinnamon.
Cook on a low heat for approximately 20 mins.
Measure a cup and a half of Basmati Rice into a medium pan.
Add two and a quarter cups (the same cup you measured the Rice in) of cold water to the pan with the Rice.
Boil on a high heat until the lid rattles.
Turn down the heat to about half way and cook for eight minutes.
After eight minutes turn the heat off the rice, leave for four minutes (with the lid on).
Plate up the Rice (on the side), add the chilli.
Large glass of Red wine (preferably Australian or New Zealand).
Now the important problem solving part–
Take the plates & pans to the sink.
Run a mixture of hot and cold (not too hot) water.
Add a smidgeon of washing up liquid (preferably for sensitive skin).
Start washing up, the mundane kicks in.
The mind clears and new thoughts and ideas appear.
Enjoy a second glass of wine to savour the moment.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:40 AM
Travel is a pain. Few people would say that packing, schlepping to the airport, stripping down in front of strangers for security, and wedging yourself into a miniscule and uncomfortable airplane seat for hours is exactly the paragon of relaxation. Every day, though, people spend valuable vacation hours traveling.
It might not be fun, but travel contains “the secret tonic of creativity,” according to Jonah Lehrer in The San Francisco Panorama, the newest print journalistic experiment by McSweeney’s (and reprinted on Lehrer’s blog). The distance provided by travel, and the cultural differences that people are forced to encounter, have tangible cognitive benefits. Travelers are often more creative, and putting some distance between you and your problems makes them easier to solve. The research Lehrer cites gives credence to what Thomas Jefferson wrote more than 200 years ago: “Traveling makes men wiser, but less happy.”
Source: The San Francisco Panorama (via Science Blogs)
Image by DMahendra, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 16, 2009 5:38 PM
The wisdom of crowds has become a modern motif, a “cultural mantra” adopted with zeal across party and discipline lines, Jonathan V. Last observes for In Character. Conservatives clicked with its endorsement of the free market; liberals connected with its egalitarian appeal. “And nearly everyone associated with the Internet glommed on because they understood that it was, in large part, an exaltation of the new medium that placed the World Wide Web near the center of an entire world view,” he writes.
However many good things have come from crowd-sourcing, though, Last cautions that we devalue the wisdom of individuals at our own peril. Sometimes, for example, crowds are fooled: Enron’s stock was valued at over $40/share just months before the company declared bankruptcy, he notes, proffering the parallel tale of six Cornell business school students who, studying Enron for a research project in 1998, “concluded that the company was a house of cards.”
What appears to be crowd consensus can also be skewed by a handful of vociferous or aggressive members. Those rating systems on sites like Amazon.com? “New research confirms what some may already suspect: Those ratings can easily be swayed by a small group of highly active users,” Kristina Grifantini reports for Technology Review.
For Last, the real loss is creativity: “Even if crowds can reach wise decisions, they don’t create,” he writes. “Genius and inspiration are the province of individuals.”
Sources: In Character, Technology Review
Friday, September 04, 2009 4:02 PM
Thinking about love makes people better at creative problem solving, while sex is more shortsighted. That's according to research highlighted by Miller-McCune. The idea is that love “is dreamy, and dreams are linked to creativity. Sex, on the other hand, is about achieving an immediate goal.”
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009 7:29 PM
Creativity is not a trait that people either have or they don’t. It’s surprisingly orderly, it can be learned. Robert Epstein told the Scientific American, “I think that the fact that creativity is orderly is good news, because it means we can all tap into this rich potential we all have.”
One way to boost creativity is by thinking about problems as abstract. Studies cited by the Scientific American found that picturing problems as more distant in time or space can lead to more creative solutions. In one study, researchers asked people to devise transportation solutions for different cities. The participants who were asked about distant cities came up with more creative solutions than the people who were asked about cities that were close to them.
The Scientific American reports: “Although the geographical origin of the various tasks was completely irrelevant – it shouldn’t have mattered where the questions came from – simply telling subjects that they came from somewhere far away led to more creative thoughts.”
This research suggests that problems may be solved simply by thinking about them as further away. It also suggests, according to the article, “traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality” would likely make people more creative.
Image by estoril, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 26, 2009 9:20 AM
It seems unfair: Why can some of the greatest creative minds produce masterpieces while under the influence, while others simply end up with drivel? Apparently it’s genetic. The British magazine Prospect reports on a 2004 study that found “around 15 percent of Caucasians have a genetic variant, known as the G-variant, that makes ethanol behave more like an opioid drug, such as morphine, with a stronger than normal effect on mood and behavior.” This allows some “to remain healthy and brilliant despite consumption that would kill others.” But if you happen so be so fortunate, don’t get too carried away—as with any alcohol consumption, there is a fine line between optimum creativity and exceeding your limits.
Image by preater, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 29, 2009 12:18 PM
When you write do you need to sit at a desk? Or, are you a lie-on-the-bed, laptop-on-your-chest kind of writer? George Pendle writes for Cabinet that when Gustave Flaubert declared “One cannot think and write except when seated”, it so inflamed Friedrich Nietzsche that he attacked Flaubert in his book Twilight of the Idols: “There I have caught you nihilist! The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit. Only thoughts reached by walking have value.”
Nietzsche’s rant against what he perceived as cultural decadence sparked a debate about the ideal physical mode for inspiration that has spilled into our modern ideas about work. Hemingway proclaimed that “writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up.” He was joined by Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll in his Nietzschean preference for active creativity. But Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, and Truman Capote liked to write while lying down. Indeed, Capote called himself a “completely horizontal writer.”
In 1968 designer Bob Probst unwittingly echoed Nietzsche when he bemoaned the grid-like layout of American office spaces, which “blocks talent, frustrates accomplishment. It is the daily scene of unfulfilled intentions and failed effort.” So, he designed the Action Office System, whose moveable partitions were intended to inspire workers to stand and move around. When it came to the link between creativity and physical engagement, it seemed, Nietzsche was right.
However, the ideas behind the Action Office System were quickly co-opted into a means for cramming as many workers as possible into one space. The dream of active work turned into the dreaded cubicle. Sedentary inspiration, it seems, has prevailed.
Sources: Cabinet, The Rumpus (reprinted original article, which is otherwise not available online)
Monday, December 22, 2008 9:58 AM
Synesthesia is the source of near-endless fascination for neuroscientists. It’s “probably the sexiest neurological phenomenon around,” Michael Mays observed on Studio 360 last February. Synesthetic people tend to reflexively blend their senses together, seeing colors in response to music, for example, or link shapes with specific tastes.
A new study, highlighted by the New Scientist, documents the first known cases of an unusual form of synesthesia where textures blend with emotions. For these synesthetes, corduroy may produce confusion, while dry leaves might trigger disgust.
For the study, neuroscientists V.S. Ramachandran and David Brang tested their subjects twice over the span of eight months to confirm that they felt textures in emotionally specific ways. Their associations stayed the same throughout the tests: One woman described the sensation of sandpaper as “telling a white lie” in the first round of tests, and said she felt “guilty” after touching it the second time, “but not a bad guilt.”
The study follows only two subjects, so this particular form of synesthesia is likely rare, but it’s more than a curiosity. Neurologist Richard Cytowic estimates that 1 in 23 people experience some kind of synesthesia.
Ramachandran theorizes that synesthesia may be an evolutionary adaptation that helps people think creatively and metaphorically. He describes synesthetic experience as a spectrum, where nearly everyone has the ability to make some form of synesthetic connections. For example, he sees traces of tactile-emotional synesthetic thought in the widespread use of phrases like “sharp criticism” or a “rough night.” In fact, Ramachandran thinks that studying synesthesia could help explain some key milestones in human evolution, like the development of language.
Image courtesy of Djenan Kozic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 11:02 AM
In a commencement address at Harvard this spring, excerpted in Greater Good, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling spoke about the unique power of human imagination to change the world. Rowling said that when she worked for the human rights organization Amnesty International in her early 20s, she shared office space with former political prisoners and read the testimonies of torture victims. The experience made her realize that imagination is what allows us to empathize with people who have suffered horribly and to act on their behalf. The danger of inaction, Rowlings said, comes from people who “prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all”:
They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages. They can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally.
Rowling urged the Harvard graduates to “retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages.” To change the world, she said, all that we need is “the power to imagine better.”
To read more about the need for imagination, see the creativity package in the July/August issue of Utne Reader.
Thursday, July 03, 2008 4:15 PM
More important than long division and the Great Gatsby, an education is meant to teach children how to think. Unfortunately, teachers today are “educating people out of their creativity,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at the TED conference (video available below). Rather than teaching children how to think, feel, and move, students are taught, “progressively from the waist up,” neglecting dance, arts, and other subjects that encourage creativity.
That loss of creativity threatens to undermine the current generation of young people in America. In an article reprinted from the Rake in the latest issue of Utne Reader, Jeannine Ouellette wrote that “it’s questionable whether tomorrow adults are learning to use the tools they’ll need to succeed.” Over-booking children’s schedules without leaving room for unstructured play time is threatening American innovation, and—possibly most importantly—it’s just no fun.
Thursday, June 26, 2008 1:53 PM
Inspired by the elaborate competitions between color-coded teams at summer camps, Color Wars is a diverting repository of ingenious games and artistic challenges created by web developers Ze Frank and Erik Kastner. “It’s just like summer camp,” the site’s banner reads, “but not really.”
Either way, Color Wars appeals to the playful, creative preadolescent we hope isn’t buried too far inside all of us. Among other curiosities, there’s an audio library documenting a nerd rap battle, the results of a 600-person bingo game played “live inside of Twitter,” and a reverse-caption contest where contributors stage photos to accompany a predetermined caption.
The site closed the first round of games in May, but its wild success (nearly three million page views) all but ensures another round soon. My personal favorite category is Young Me Now Me, where contributors recreate childhood photos of themselves:
Even though the competition is over, this is such a good rainy-day activity that I might still do a Young Me Now Me of my own the next time I’m bored and want to indulge my inner summer camper.
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