Welcome to Beginner’s Mind, issue 41. Special thanks to all new subscribers and everybody that continues to stick around. I missed last week’s issue because of travel, work, and school, so my apologies. I don’t like going off schedule, but sometimes it happens.
I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. I am drinking jasmine tea. I’m not much of a coffee drinker. Maybe once a week if it’s available, but I prefer tea. So, I always feel slightly odd visiting coffee shops and not getting coffee.
In September, I started teaching graphic design at my alma mater here in Chicago, and it’s been a humbling and joyful experience — sharing and discussing design with the next generation. A lot has changed since I was a student. For one, the design industry appears to be much more socially aware of the role creativity and design play in the world. And the arena in which design is activated continues to change rapidly. As a collective and as individuals, there is a promise land awaiting, and it is up to us to define the kind of world we want to inhabit and leave behind for future generations.
This month, I flew to Los Angeles to attend a creative conference hosted by Adobe. Since the 1980s, Adobe has been responsible for developing design technology software. They enable people to design books, movies, posters, websites, music — the list goes on. As a teenager, my gateway into graphic design was a pirated version of Adobe Photoshop. With this software, I began to design posters and digital collages and experiment creatively. When it was time to go to college, I felt somewhat at an advantage because graphic design had already been something I had a few years of experience with.
And as you can imagine, this conference was massive. It included dozens of speakers, sponsors, activities, workshops, and celebrity appearances (comedian Kevin Hart and DJ Steve Aoki). This year’s theme was: creativity for all. But despite its altruistic vision, it felt like a giant sales pitch nudging us to adopt their dogma that they own creativity — that creativity is something that can be trademarked.
So as I sat through lectures followed by concerts and influencer rooms (designed for people to Instagram photos of themselves atop fluorescent slides, confetti, balloon animals, patterned walls, and inflatable shapes), I felt a tinge of concern for how creativity was served; as simply being a tool that cements the status quo — as a practice in service of capital and consumption, and not much more. A status quo that perpetuates sameness and leads to lackluster ideas that are shortsighted.
As I see it, creativity and creative technology can play a role in homelessness, world hunger, trauma, poverty, climate change, and much more. And although these issues have deep systemic roots, the creative industry is quite capable of collaborating and utilizing its resources to create a genuinely positive impact. And don’t get me wrong, some visionaries are doing good, but the loudest and flashiest voices overshadow their contributions.
One of the lectures I attended was by Jalaj Hora, currently Nike’s “Vice President of Product Innovation and Consumer Creation.” And as he was introduced to the stage, his accolades were mentioned as if they were medals of honor (leadership positions at Target and Burberry). His lecture was about the “innovative” work that Nike is doing with their shoe design. Okay, I get it, but really, is innovation ever more than just consumer products?
The conference occurred in Downtown Los Angeles, and homeless people begged for money at night as I headed to my hotel. Here I was, a designer, leaving a creative conference hosted by a global creative industry leader. Naturally, as I waited for my Uber to pick me up, I felt a sense of guilt and turmoil as a homeless woman fed leftovers to her skinny dog while talking to herself. I had just finished hearing about Nike and their new expensive shoe — now I was in my hotel room thinking about the woman on the corner with bruised arms.
The artist and theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) wrote, “Every work of art is the child of its time; often, it is the mother of our emotions.” which raises the question: what defines this time and what are our emotions trying to tell us? How can we better listen? It is hard to listen through all the noise, but if we stop to reflect, it becomes apparent that society’s priorities are often skewed.
Creativity, as I see it goes beyond the functions of business, digital transformations, and contemporary culture — it also extends to healing, self-actualization, experimentation, expression, activism, reflection, awe, belonging, etcetera.
And as I’ve mentioned in previous issues — when creativity is reduced to a mere product that caters to algorithms, trends, business, and corporate titans, we undermine our humanity and trip over ourselves chasing some imaginary goalpost that fails to address the world in its entirety. Creativity becomes a means to evoke desire in the world rather than a method to respond to catastrophes and needs.
So, I suggest we spend more time asking questions and less time seeking quick answers. Creativity does not belong to any industry, nor can it be trademarked by technology. And it ought not to submit to rules, styles, or jargon but perhaps instead defined by intuition, inner necessity, and heart and soul. Creativity ought to reflect our innermost truths — it can be a tool of liberation, not just for some but for all, but this can only be made possible when we free it from the grips of greed. When we pause, reflect, and use it as an agent for radical change, that can disrupt the status quo and refuse to be a slave to profit and soulless, materialistic nonsense.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
This newsletter has a playlist that accompanies each issue. If you follow the playlist on Spotify, it will regularly update with the latest tracks.
Music Is Math Boards of Canada
Were You There When They Crucified My Lord Charlie Haden, Hank Jones
From Whale Roh Young Sim
Blue Moon Revisited (Song for Elvis) Cowboy Junkies
Thank for your reflections of yours during your trip to California. The disconnect you felt between corporate "creativity' and the real world outside sounded familiar. Does anything change?
It is pointless to point out this "disconnect" to fellow visitor to this conference, I suspect.
Found the article very interesting as well, 'creativity' being in my opinion within the domain of the individual and not a corporate trophy. I am putting my thoughts together on a blog about creativity versus culture (culture here in the sense as an archive mainly, libraries, art galleries, museums etc.) and the tension this distinction can cause...will send over when finished....regards....M