Creativity in the Midst of Horror

A photo is worth a thousand words . . . so I’ll dispense with the thousand words.

 

Sand Sculpture in Ukraine.
Courtesy of Flipboard, curated by the Photo Desk


Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.



Live Long and Prosper, Ukraine!

Nature’s Creativity

You should try it, I did. It’s good for the soul, and your mind. It’s also good for your health. I need to do more of it since I’m staying inside way too much. You may be, too.

Nature has its own way of displaying creativity. In a park it’s all around us, blossoming, gurgling, flying, looking back at you, sleeping (don’t disturb the ‘gators). It’s well worth your trip but one we rarely take.

Here are a few photos I took on a recent trip to a park near me.

Just remember, one visit to a park doesn’t cut it. Plan on multiple visits. Your body, mind and soul will thank you. Mine did. I even relived it the next day while I was reveiwing the photos I took and then producing a musical slide show of my excursion. Indeed, during those events, creativity was flourishing.

I don’t know about you but I have to experience some aspect of creativity every day. The park helps. So did putting together the slide show. Get a dose of nature every chance you get. You’ll be better off for it.

 

Live Long and Prosper, Ukraine!

Snoopy in Concrete

Creativity knows no bounds. Nor, it seems, does an artist’s or cartoonist’s palette. Take, for instance, a recent, uh, exhibit at the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA.

Talk about a lasting impression! If you’ve ever put your hands or feet into wet cement, you know what I’m talking about. When I came upon this photo entry by Jean Schulz, yes, that Schulz, I had to share it via my own creativity blog. All of us can relate to having impressions in concrete. Then, again, if you’re a world-famous beagle, your impressions are as varied as your moods.

In her latest blog post, “Leaving a Lasting Impression,” Jean Schulz shares the simple joy of leaving your mark in wet cement.

 

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for a different kind of playground for creativity, innovation and inspiring stuff.

Live Long and Prosper, Ukraine!

Ever Been on a Creative Hot Streak? A New Study Finds That It Involves These Two Habits

At one time or another, we’ve all been on a creative hot streak even if we didn’t realize it. The words flowed freely, the design snapped into place magically making for very impactful creative. But how did that happen? How does one get on a “hot steak” of creativity? A new study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University may have a road map.

The secret involves experimenting with a wide range of subjects, styles, and techniques before perfecting a specific area of one’s craft—what the authors describe as a mix of exploration and exploitation.

“Although exploration is considered a risk because it might not lead anywhere, it increases the likelihood of stumbling upon a great idea,” the study’s lead author, Dashun Wang, said in a statement. “By contrast, exploitation is typically viewed as a conservative strategy. If you exploit the same type of work over and over for a long period of time, it might stifle creativity. But, interestingly, exploration followed by exploitation appears to show consistent associations with the onset of hot streaks.”

Wang’s findings, published in the journal Nature, sought to identify periods of intense creativity in the work of visual artists, as well as film directors and scientists. The team used image recognition algorithms to analyze data from 800,000 artworks from 2,128 artists, including Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo, and Vincent van Gogh. The rest of the study was based on Internet Movie Database (IMDb) data sets for 4,337 directors, and publications and citations on the Web of Science and Google Scholar for 20,040 scientists.

Creative trajectories and hot-streak dynamics: three exemplary careers. Data analyzing the work of Jackson Pollock, Peter Jackson, and John Fenn.

Creative trajectories and hot-streak dynamics: three exemplary careers. Data analyzing the work of Jackson Pollock, Peter Jackson, and John Fenn.

Pollock, who achieved widespread popular and critical success with his groundbreaking drip paintings from 1946 to 1950, is one of three creators singled out as examples in the paper.

Director Peter Jackson, who famously made the “The Lord of the Rings” epic fantasy trilogy after experimenting in genres such as horror-comedy and biography is another.

John Fenn, who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work with electrospray ionization, having previously studied numerous other topics is another.

The paper identified patterns in the creators’ work over time—changes in brushstrokes, plot points or casting decisions, or research topics. It noted the diversity both in the period leading up to a hot streak, which typically lasts about five years, and at other times in the subject’s career. Five years?!

I found this to be surprising in that most hot streaks I’ve personally encountered have been anywhere from a few hours to several months. I’ve never thought of them in terms of years. Anywhoo . . .

In all three fields, the trend tended toward a more diverse body of work in the period before a hot streak than at other points in time. Then, during the hot streak, the creators tended to continue to work in the same vein, suggesting “that individuals become substantially more focused on what they work on, reflecting an exploitation strategy during hot streak.”

So when is your next hot streak coming up and will you know it when it hits you?

This post is based upon the article by Sarah Cascone of Art Net News.

https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2015/12/Jackson-Pollock-1950_L2011001166.jpg
Jackson Pollock at work in 1950. Photo: ©1991 Hans Namuth Estate Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, the University of Arizona.

Creativity Tip #24: Trying to satisfy everybody never got anybody anywhere. Focus on what’s important, then do it.

Hopefully making a ruckus, one blog post at a time!

Be sure to check out my other blog, Joe’s Journey, for personal insights on life and its detours.

A Little Silliness Amidst the Gloom and Doom

Amidst all our gloom and doom these days, I ran across these photos and got a chuckle out of them. That is to say a chuckle, especially after I added a spur-of-the-moment caption to each. So, I thought I’d share . . .

Multiple Kitties

Okay, guys, she’s almost out the door. Soon, the house will be ours!

KittyinToilet

Damn it, Waldo, can’t I get a little privacy around here?! You just wait; you only thought my claws were sharp before!

Dog in Jail

Yeah, I’m in solitary, so what! I was only trying out a few new bathroom tactics around the house and he gets pissed.

Crisis Coping for Creative Pros – Part 3 of 3

Over the past two blog posts about crisis coping, we’ve listened in on a conversation between the author, Ellyn Kail, and photographer Danny Ghitis about various methods to cope for creatives who have been entangled in the Coronavirus pandemic.

In this, the third and last post of the series, they explore what it’s like finding a sense of community during these very scary times.

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In the last two weeks, I have received more than two dozen emails about the temporary closures of galleries and studio spaces amid the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve received several more about canceled exhibitions. This is a period of uncertainty for the photography community as a whole, but in this time, we’ve also witnessed people coming together.

In between those letters about closures and cancelations, there have also been emails from artists who are hosting camera giveaways, publishers who are discounting their books, and non-profit organizations who are offering free talks and photog resources.

Globally, photographers are sharing information about how we can donate supplies to local hospitals and encouraging us all to practice social distancing for the safety and well-being of the community.

Over the past week, we’ve spoken to the photographer and professional development coach Danny Ghitis about how creatives can cope during this time and continue to create meaningful work in unprecedented circumstances.

Photography, like any art form, can be a solitary pursuit, but it’s also full of communities and resources. With all the recent gallery closures and exhibition cancellations, how can photographers stay connected and engaged with one another?

“This is so crucial. One of the main causes of my own burnout was a feeling of isolation as a photographer, and that was way before all this coronavirus mayhem. We are wired to need other people. That lone wolf photographer icon can be really damaging because it makes asking for help look like a weakness when, in reality, it’s a superpower.

“In a way, this moment offers a unique opportunity. Everyone is struggling with the same overarching challenge. Everyone needs help, and we have the technology to easily stay in touch. We’re not as spread thin as usual with a thousand networking events, galleries, meetings, etc. So reach out, offer support, provide feedback, invite conversation, have a virtual coffee, host a roundtable discussion.”

Has the creative community faced any upheavals like this one in recent years, if not on the same scale? If so, what can we learn from that time, and how can we apply those lessons to the here and now?

“I graduated from college with a photojournalism degree in 2006, the year before the iPhone hit the market and changed everything. The newspaper bureau where I interned closed a couple months after I arrived (not my fault, I swear!). I started my freelance career at the same time as the 2008 financial meltdown.

“Somehow, I made it work and grew as a human and professional. And guess what, I’m not that special. Human beings are resilient by evolutionary design. We’ve outlasted and overpowered nearly every other living organism and are capable of incredible adaptation. If you’re reading this and you’re human, you already have the tools you need inside your body.”

What are some ways you see the creative community coming together right now to support and help one another? Any moments that have given you hope?

“All of a sudden we’re in it together. We have a common struggle and purpose. We’re thinking collectively like a tribe like in the good old prehistoric days. Of course, we don’t wish sickness and suffering upon anyone and hope this goes away soon, but it does offer a unique opportunity to see the big picture.

“I keep getting emails and social media posts about virtual gatherings and support groups, and I am getting more messages than usual from friends checking in. I just started an online meetup group, and there are lots of others out there if you’re willing to search. It’s all about taking initiative and reaching out.”

How would you advise photographers and other creatives who suddenly have a lot of free time on their hands?

“This can be viewed as a great opportunity because we’re being forced to evaluate how to spend our time wisely. First, the mindset work. If you’re not in a good state of mind, it’s very hard to be focused and productive. If you want business results, practice self-care. Remember how flight attendants demonstrate putting on your oxygen mask first? Same deal. Take care of yourself to take care of others.

“Ask yourself, ‘How can I serve?’ It’s easy to get caught up in self-centered problem solving during a crisis, while orienting toward service can be more effective in creating action and will make you feel better. What do others need, and what skills do you have that can help them?”

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We are truly living in unprecedented times. Deadly times. History has recorded plagues, wars, and various catastrophes yet we’ve managed to survive. Granted, the planet has lost life in measurable means before but we’ve never faced a global pandemic like this before. I guess, in a sense, this could be compared to chemical warfare on a global scale from an invisible enemy.

Yet, we will live on. We will create and innovate. We have to do that now to find a vaccine to nullify the virus so we may begin to get used to a new normal. Things won’t be the same since we won’t be the same, those of us who will survive. But we will. We have to. Together. Smarter. Stronger. More persistent. Less partisan.

Wait, what’s that? It’s creativity knocking at the door. Let’s welcome her in, shall we!

 

This is part three of three of our interview with Danny Ghitis. Here are parts one and two.

 

Crisis Coping for Creative Pros – Part 2 of 3

In this second of three part series by , they speak of various tools to utilize for staying creative, especially when stressed. Letting your creative juices flow during times like these does reduce anxiety and can give you a sense of accomplishment. Creativity is a happy, constructive tool that, when applied, can take you to a place normally abandoned during a crisis.

I speak from personal experience. Take my two blogs, for instance. I’m still trying to write them every week and during this Coronavirus outbreak, it’s like a medicine for me. It’s also important to me to provide my take and share with others that information pertinent to this crisis. Speaking of which, here’s part 2.

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Creativity doesn’t just improve our wellbeing; it can also reduce our stress levels. Recent studies tell us that creative tasks can unlock our imaginations, distract us from our feelings of stress and anxiety, and even prompt our brains to secrete feel-good chemicals.

That’s something we could all use right now. Still, it can be challenging to find that creative spark when we’re experiencing anxiety and stress. Amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, finding space for creative exploration and experimentation can feel overwhelming.

In the first part of our interview with the photographer and professional development coach Danny Ghitis, we asked him to share some tools for coping during this difficult period. This time, we wanted to pick his brain and get some of his best tips staying creative and motivated.

You might be stuck indoors, but there are still ways to engage your brain and get the ideas flowing. Read on for his advice.

Habits and routines can be especially important when we’re facing uncertainty and upheaval. What are your favorite creative habits?

“I don’t believe in a prescribed habit routine, and there are so many people out there modeling specific approaches. The important thing is to figure out what works for you through trial and error.

“People have a lot of ‘shoulds,’ like ‘I should get up at 6:00 AM and meditate’ or ‘I should chunk my day into rigid blocks.’ Hey, if that works for you then, totally go for it. But there’s a ton of anxiety around being someone other than yourself, and habits are much less likely to stick if they’re not intrinsically motivated.

“Give yourself a break! Take the time to reflect on what does make sense for you, given the circumstances. Ask yourself more proactive questions. What habits will support your goals at this point? What trusted person can help you be accountable for building that habit?”

Do you think stress can ever be channeled creatively?

“It depends on how you define creativity and stress. There’s a broad range of experience there. There’s a difference between the inspired creativity of discovering a new project idea and the focused creativity of cranking out five pitch emails on deadline.

“If creativity is about innovative ideas and broad perspectives, then anxiety and stress are not the best. When your body is in a stressed state, your thinking narrows and focuses on the perceived threat. So, if your goal is to think expansively, you should focus on calming your stress response and getting into a broader state of mind. It’s why people have epiphanies in the shower.

“On the other hand, if you define creativity as, say, a detail-oriented craft, then you can leverage stress in your favor by color-correcting images in Photoshop or keywording your image archive, etc.”

Do you have any skills for calming that “stress response” and getting back to thinking expansively? 

“Your body’s ‘rest and digest’ mode takes much longer to activate than your ‘fight-flight-freeze’ mode. Stress is meant to keep you safe, but chronic stress defeats the purpose and can seriously hurt your immune system.

“To regulate this, get into the habit of conscious breathing as often as possible. Your breath gives you a direct line to your autonomic nervous system, which is the otherwise unconscious way your body knows how to regulate itself.

“There’s a common misconception that taking a ‘deep breath’ will calm you down. In fact, it’s the out-breath that triggers a calming response. Try this: breathe in slowly for four counts, hold for two counts, breathe out slowly for six counts, hold for two counts. Repeat.

“Ultimately, managing stress is a huge topic, and there’s no one-size-fits-all technique. It’s important to understand what triggers your stress and address it using what works for you.”

What are some of your favorite (productive and creative) things photographers can do with the time they spend stuck indoors? Do you have any books or resources you’d recommend?

“This is a hard question for me to answer because I tend to look at an individual’s specific needs before discussing a course of action. It’s easy to get caught in a social comparison trap, wanting to succeed the way others do because it looks sexy.

“It’s normal to be influenced by other artists, but you have to show up for yourself, especially when it feels hard. This is a great moment to explore, research, plan, and reassess.

“To get your creative juices flowing, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield are always solid staples. For more insight about how you best show up in the world, I suggest taking the VIA Institute’s free character strengths assessment and reading their materials.”

Some of us are using this time to recalibrate and refocus, whether that’s in business or the creative sphere. What are your insights on setting realistic goals, both in the long and short term? 

“My favorite method of self-sabotage is perfectionism. I set the bar too high, making it impossible to succeed, and it’s a terrific excuse for getting nothing done. If you never get things done, you also avoid failure and create a false sense of comfort. You’re not failing, but you’re also not succeeding.

“This is super common in creative fields rife with rejection. Aim for scoring a B instead of an A with your projects. Set iteration goals without expecting a specific final outcome. You’ll actually increase your chances of achieving an outcome you’re happy with.”

Any more tips for photographers working from home right now?

“If you want to be shooting while you’re in quarantine, my suggestion is to be proactive about it. Keep your camera with you as often as possible and think of it like a sketchbook.

“Your thoughts and behaviors influence each other, so the more you take pictures, the more you’ll think about taking pictures and feel like someone who can take pictures in the moment.

“Because of cognitive bias, your brain filters what it thinks will be useful for you. If you keep ‘telling’ it to look for interesting compositions through repetition, the more you’ll automatically start finding them.

“This also applies to your mindset about business during these strange times. If you read panicky headlines all day, you’ll believe the sky is falling and hide under your bed, but if you look for opportunity, you will find it!”

This is part two of three of our interview with Danny Ghitis. Here’s Part one. For more in-depth and tailored coaching, Ghitis offers free 30-minute consultations.

 

Crisis Coping for Creative Pros – Part 1 of 3

During this time of uncertainty and distress, many factors are at odds with our coping mechanisms. Everyday stressors are one thing but having additional ones attack us during a health crisis is quite another.

I ran across a timely series of articles by Ellen Kail for Feature Shoot when they were publicized in Communication Arts. My immediate thought was that I really need to share these. So share, we will, with some input from yours truly.

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The experts agree: amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, public anxiety is mounting. The World Health Organization recently released a list of mental health considerations to keep in mind during the outbreak. This is a challenging moment for people around the globe, whether we’re coping with the stress spurred by the latest news headlines or the boredom and uncertainty of self-quarantine.

For photographers, and other creatives as well, the COVID-19 outbreak can also mean canceled exhibitions, fewer clients, and financial uncertainty. If your assignments require traveling and commuting, it means you might face the possibility of radically changing the way you work, at least for the time being.

Those factors don’t help ease the anxiety we’re experiencing right now, but there are ways to cope and navigate through this difficult period. We asked the photographer and professional development coach Danny Ghitis to tell us about some of his best skills for staying balanced and productive during times of uncertainty.

During these uncertain times, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing creatives, and what is your number one piece of advice for photographers who are navigating this challenge?  

“While these circumstances are new, the fundamental feeling of uncertainty is not. Creatives tend to be well-acquainted with that primal fear, given the nature of their work. This particular fear convinces you that there’s doom lurking around the corner and locks you into survival mode.

“Since we’re more exposed than ever to a constant stream of freak-outs, it’s easy to get stuck in this belief. Especially if you’re creative and envision apocalyptic dramas and spend hours ruminating on the world’s end.

“The key is to remember you have a choice about how to respond. That doesn’t mean you can choose/control everything–a lot of stress comes from resisting and trying to control the inevitable. The choice comes from examining your feelings and thoughts and understanding how they impact your behavior.

“Your beliefs create your experience of reality. Try this: recall an instance where you felt uncertain and navigated your circumstances successfully. What thoughts did you have at the time? How did they make you behave, and what results did you get from that behavior?”

What are some short-term coping strategies you’d recommend to photographers? Let’s say you read a terrifying headline or tweet, get overwhelmed, and have trouble coping. How do you not let the news consume your day? 

“The thing about the news is that it’s not there to help you cope or feel good. It’s there to report the news. When people freak out, the news reports it, and then people read the news and freak out more, and so on. Don’t go to the news if you’re looking for relief. It’s like sticking your head in the oven to cool down.

“The challenge is making the effort to remove the temptations all around us. Know that you have a negativity bias and that your brain will jump at any opportunity to ‘protect’ you. Being informed is good, but most of us are well enough informed just by living in society that we don’t need to read new headlines multiple times per day.

“Unless you have a specific and clear reason to be on the news or social media, consider staying away from it, especially now. Spend time outside, call someone on Facetime, reset.”

What advice do you have for photographers who are experiencing a lot of anxiety right now? How do you keep fear and worry at bay?

“First of all, it’s okay. It’s normal. It’s expected. If your income sources have suddenly vanished, you have permission to be upset. Write yourself a permission slip. Don’t pretend that it doesn’t suck if you feel like it does. There’s no such thing as bottling up emotions–they will come out in one way or another, so it’s better to deal with them directly instead of letting them skew your results indirectly.

“Of course, there are the staples: exercise, meditate, eat healthy, sleep well. They sound like cliches, but if you prioritize them, you’ll feel a lot better. If you’re not, then get help from other people.

“And try this: write down all the potential ways this moment could be an opportunity. If you’re feeling guilty because you ‘shouldn’t’ see this as an opportunity, well, let that sh*t go. Consciously helping yourself doesn’t mean exploiting other people. It’s quite the opposite.”

How would you advise photographers and other creatives who suddenly have a lot of free, unstructured time on their hands? 

“The busier you keep yourself, the more you’ll get done. This is a perfect opportunity to level up skills that you normally don’t have time to focus on. Create an exciting challenge for yourself, or do it with a group of people (online) for accountability.

“Immerse yourself in an indoor or nature-oriented project, practice lighting setups; take a marketing course; plan out a series of promo campaigns; challenge yourself to read five business books; research the hell out of your next project.

“When else will you have such an opportunity to deep dive? Take advantage and remove physical and mental distractions that will sap your energy. Focus on people who want to see you succeed, and brainstorm about how to help.”

This interview is part of a three-part series with Ghitis on coping, staying creative, and finding community during this time.

This is one Whopper we pray will never find its way onto BK’s menu.

WARNING: If you’re squeamish, prepare yourself and, please, don’t throw up on your computer monitor!

burger-king-moldy-whopper-2020

        Burger King highlights “the beauty of no artificial preservatives” in its Moldy Whopper campaign.
Burger King

In a word, BLEAHHHHH!!!

Last week, according to Adweek, Burger King unveiled a global ad campaign  highlighting its commitment to dropping all artificial preservatives. Such campaigns, while laudable, come and go somewhat often without generating much more than passing interest.

This one is truly bizarre. It tests just how far Burger King can virtually thrust its product down its customers’ throats before they gag.

The Moldy Whopper campaign, created through a partnership between three agencies, features intriguingly high-resolution photography and video of a Whopper being consumed not by humans, but rather by the horribly incredible passage of time itself. In other words, we get to see a Whopper rotting. Lovely!

Adweek reports that each ad shows a Whopper whose ingredients are being engulfed in mold, alongside a date stamp letting you know how long the burger has been exposed to the elements (too long, but typically about a month). The tagline, are you ready for this, describes the images as “the beauty of no artificial preservatives.”

Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder?

The work promotes the brand’s pledge to drop all artificial preservatives, which it has accomplished across much of Europe and 400 locations in the United States. By the end of the year, Burger King says it will have removed artificial preservatives from Whoppers in all U.S. locations. That’s nice and laudable.

I’m still feeling nauseous.

“At Burger King, we believe that real food tastes better,” (no kidding) said Fernando Machado, CMO for Burger King parent company Restaurant Brands International. “That’s why we are working hard to remove preservatives, colors and flavors from artificial sources from the food we serve in all countries around the world.”

burger-king-moldy-whopper-outdoor-1-2020

Burger King

I’m sorry but this just looks gross! It’s certainly not appealing at all. I get what they’re trying to convey but I wonder if BK ever considered giving out Tums, Alka Seltzer or nausea tablets with their meals.

In addressing reality, Adweek posits that the mold campaign might be challenging to common sense, but it was also a difficult one to accomplish in terms of craft and required months to achieve.

“We are very proud of crafting this idea,” said Björn Ståhl, executive creative director for Ingo, one of three agencies involved. “Mold grows in a very inconsistent way. We had to work for several months, with different samples, to be able to showcase the beauty of something which is usually considered undesirable.”

” . . . the beauty of something undesirable.” Really? Sort of sounds like a contradiction in terms. I’m still feeling nauseous.

burger-king-moldy-whopper-outdoor-2-2020

Burger King

So how will it go over? According to Adweek’s reporting, in the short term, the likely answer is: not great. Head-scratching advertising tends to generate quite a bit of short-term negative publicity, usually thanks to morning talk shows and late-night monologues.

And some within advertising will call the work “awards bait,” knowing that juries at Cannes Lions and other awards festivals tend to swoon over concepts that challenge every seemingly obvious but unwritten rule of advertising, such as “Don’t make your food look like it will literally kill people.”

But in the process of sparking debate and consternation, the campaign is also likely to resonate across the industry and encourage other brands to take similar moves, knowing that the ideas will be easier to sell when something so “off the wall” (that’s one way to put it) has already been sold to a major global corporation.

burger-king-moldy-whopper-vertical-1-2020

Burger King

This campaign will indeed show something else:  How strong are BK’s customers’ stomachs? This is revolting no matter how “beautiful” the photography. Just because a global corporation has gone along with this hideous idea doesn’t make it one to copy. After all, how many global CEO’s have signed off on something that should never have come out of committee?

What will definitely be interesting to see will be the types of “toned down” ideas and executions coming forth that are based on the Moldy Whopper campaign.

In the meantime, BK needs to supply their restaurants with plenty of Tums and barf bags, just in case.

 

PS . . . Thanks to David Griner (@griner), creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek’s podcast, “Yeah, That’s Probably an Ad” for source material for this blog.