On Unlocking Creativity, Ideas as Viruses: Robin Young Interviews Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

The way that I’ve always thought about creativity is that ideas are these disembodied life forms, they don’t have a form but they have a will, and all they want is to be made manifest and they circle the world looking for human collaborators to work with.

I’m feeling poorly today due to Celiac Disease and my brain fog is keeping me from stringing ideas together. Instead, I’d like to share this interview by Robin Young with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity, inspiration and a kiss shared with Ann Patchett. It’s magical! Click the link below and look for the audio file at the top of the article.

On Unlocking Creativity, Ideas as Viruses

We live in a society that fetishizes passion, that talks a lot about vocation. These are very intimidating ideas that, I think, leave people out and I think if you can just sort of forget about passion and forget about vocation and focus on the tiny friendly impulse of curiosity which is within all of us, that is the way.

Dream of Water: Tears Become… Streams Become… at the Park Avenue Armory

Darkness falls as an acclaimed pianist begins a recital devoted to music about water. Slowly the hall becomes a lake.


It might sound like a dream, or maybe just the wild imagination of humans high on music, but this week the Park Avenue Armory will make this image a reality. Tears Become… Streams Become… is a collaboration between pianist Hélène Grimaud and conceptual artist Douglas Gordon opening Tuesday, December 9th and running through December 21st. The installation is open until January 4th. If I were in New York City I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The installation itself is quite a feat, as the entire floor of the Armory had to be leveled and covered in Viroc, particle board bonded with cement so that it wouldn’t float up or bow as 122,000 gallons of water are poured over it. Having experienced a flood in my own home I can attest to the destructive power of water upon floors. This is far from the only difficulty, of course. You can read about the construction project and the performance in this wonderful write up from the New York Times.

I have a particular fondness for the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, having performed there last July in Weinberg’s The Passenger as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. You can read about the wonderful historic building here and about our production of The Passenger here.

Civilization: Beyond Earth and the ultra cool technologies of tomorrow from Polygon

Technology has often been spawned from ideas created by science fiction. Will strategy games play their part in the future?

© The Fayj with CCLicense

© The Fayj with CCLicense

I grew up playing Riskthat wonderful board game where you became a colonial power, spreading your chosen color over the globe until you were made victorious through a combination of strategy and the luck of the dice. The game is still my favorite, but I have come to wonder why there are no local uprisings, and why all of the winners are colonizers rather than indigenous peoples. There are no natural disasters like weather or disease to contend with either.

I ran across this fascinating article by Colin Campbell and thought it was a very interesting take on where humanity might be headed as foretold by one of our modern strategy games. Would any of these technologies be beneficial or would they be insanely powerful to the point of disaster? Everything has its pros and cons.

Read the full text of the article by clicking here.

The title of Firaxis’ game is Civilization: Beyond Earth, which implies a growing consciousness that the actual Earth is nearing the end of its usefulness to humanity. Like children playing office, the human race is getting ready for something that will require us to grow up. The nature of being human will change radically if Earth is no longer our home, supposing that we can survive at all without her. This game is the Risk of a new era, wise enough to see that merely winning wars and subjugating others isn’t enough, but not yet ready to abandon the colonization mindset. As we play, so we are.

Village of Life-Sized Dolls in Nagoro, Japan, via The Herald Sun

Image © Toursgallery used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

Image © Toursgallery used in accordance with Fair Use Policy

When a village or a city dies, nature takes over. One woman in Japan is attempting to memorialize her village and slow that process. The remote town of Nagoro only has 51 living human inhabitants, but there are over 150 life-sized dolls that call the village home. Mizuki Ayona makes the dolls in the form of residents that have died or moved away. They wait at the bus stop and in front of houses, even at the local school. It’s an eerie scene. You can read about it here.

Prussian Blue and Early Photography: Following Synchronicity From Diesbach to Anna Atkins

Scientific discovery and artistic innovation often occur together in unpredictable ways. How is this relationship shaped by accident and synchronicity?

During the early 1700s, the color maker Diesbach was attempting to produce a red pigment from iron sulfate and potash in his laboratory in Berlin. He decided to be frugal and use some contaminated potash which his friend, the alchemist, theologian, and physician Johann Konrad Dippel, widely purported to be the model for Dr. Frankenstein, was about to throw out. As a result, he first obtained a very pale and unsatisfactory red. He decided to concentrate it, but it turned purple instead of a deeper red. At this point he concentrated it one last time and it became deep blue. Diesbach had accidentally created the first synthetic blue paint.

Prussian blue thinned with turpentine

Prussian blue thinned with turpentine

At that time the best and most reliable blue pigments came from ground lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, and they were extremely expensive. This alternative, easy to make, inexpensive, intense and non-toxic, would become incredibly popular and was known as Prussian or Berlin blue. It would later be used to color the uniforms of Prussian soldiers. In an ironic twist, painters also sometimes refer to it as Parisian blue, since the first painter to make it famous, although not the first to use it, was Antoine Watteau, who passed it on to his students. It has been used by artists all over the world, including Asian painters such as Katsushika Hokusai, who imported it from Europe. The color appeared in the crayon box in 1949 and has been known as Midnight Blue since 1958.

Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

Prussian blue is made from a powder of tiny crystals. These crystals are not water soluble and differences in their size result in variations in shade. The color owes its intensity to the transfer of electrons between iron compounds. Unfortunately for us, Prussian blue cannot be accurately reproduced on a computer display.

In 1842, the scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel, seeking a means to reproduce notes and diagrams, would use a solution of Prussian blue on treated paper. This was called a cyanotype, although we are more familiar with the term blueprint. He shared his invention with friends, including the botanist Anna Atkins. One of his first experiments was a rather eerie copy of an engraving of a lady playing the harp, seen below.

Lady with a Harp, Sir John Herschel, 1842

Lady with a Harp,
Sir John Herschel, 1842

Anna, born in 1799, was the daughter of another famous scientist, John George Children, a mineralogist, zoologist and chemist. Her mother, Hester Anna, died from complications after Anna was born. As Children’s only child, she was very well educated and grew into a an accomplished scientist herself. Her father used her engravings to illustrate his translation of Lamarck’s Genera of Shells, published in 1823. After her marriage to John Pelly Atkins in 1825, she devoted herself to collecting plant specimens.

When Herschel exhibited the cyanotype as a way to copy manmade items, Atkins was intrigued and saw potential to render the images of natural subjects. She began making contact printed images of algae by placing them on cyanotype paper and exposing them to light, creating the photogram or camera-less photo.


Dictyota dichotoma,
Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843)
Anna Atkins

“The difficulty of making accurate drawings of objects as minute as many of the Algae and Confera, has induced me to avail myself of Sir John Herschel’s beautiful process of Cyanotype, to obtain impressions of the plants themselves.”

                                         –Anna Atkins


Cystoseira granulata,
Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843)
Anna Atkins

In 1843 she published Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first book ever published containing photographs. She published a number of such books as well as non-photographic literary works, including her father’s memoirs, before she died at the age of seventy-two. 


Ceylon Fern
Anna Atkins
© SFMOMA with CCLicense

Like to read about women scientists and pioneers? You might enjoy Synkroniciti’s post on Maria Sibylla Merian, which you can read here.


Festuca grass,
British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns,1854
Anna Atkins

there are mermaids

This is a beautiful, poetic reblog from my friend Tony at t h i n g s + f l e s h. It really captures for me the essence of what it means to immerse yourself in any art form. That which lies beneath the expression is even more wonderful than the expression itself. I hope this resonates with you. Enjoy!

Saying Goodbye to a Legend: Richard Matheson’s Obituary in the Guardian

artwork and image © Kieran Guckian with CCLicense

artwork and image © Kieran Guckian with CCLicense

American author Richard Matheson passed away on June 23rd at the age of 87. He was famous for many novels, including I am Legend, The Shrinking Man, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, and A Stir of Echoes, all of which were made into films, some more than once, as well as many film and television scripts, such as Steven Spielberg’s Duel, Nightstalker, and the famous Nightmare at 20,OOO Feet episode of the Twilight Zone series, starring William Shatner. Inspired by Dracula to write I am Legend, his meaty and fascinating works have in turn inspired many writers, including Stephen King. This obituary from The Guardian includes a wonderful video of Matheson accepting the award of Vampire Novel of the Century for I am Legend. Synkroniciti is  excited to feature the last final paragraphs of that novel as our Quote for Today. Matheson will be missed, but never forgotten, a prolific and talented writer whose works have been adapted for the screen time after time. 

Thoughts on A Foggy Day in Jersey City

© David Iliff with CCLicense

© David Iliff with CCLicense

This article from nj.com stirs up an interesting issue. A work of art called Release is causing some alarm in Jersey City. Created by Roger Sayre and Charlotte Becket, professors at Pace University, this art installation, described as an “urban catastrophe image”, consists of a shipping container which belches forth water vapor every day at noon and at 8pm. This fog can take up to forty-five minutes to disperse.

The last time Release was up and running, a passer-by called 911 to report a fire, resulting in the arrival of six fire trucks, legally required to respond to what they knew was a wild goose chase. The Fire Department shut down the installation, but Release is getting a second chance after the artists have placed signage at the site to warn people that there is no fire, only art.

There is some beauty in the dancing water vapor and the conversations and awareness sparked are certainly lively. Release represents an honest attempt to explore and deal with images that frighten us. Do you think this kind of art is worthwhile or is it a needless and insensitive disruption that threatens public safety and the city budget?

Outsider Art Challenges Convention: BBC Culture

Outsider Art Challenges Convention: BBC Culture

Giardini della Biennale, Venice © moonik with CCLicense

Giardini della Biennale, Venice
© moonik with CCLicense

This is an interesting piece by Alistair Sooke about the Venice Biennale which has chosen outsider art for a theme this year. The exhibition, which decries the commercialism rife in modern art, is about celebrating the authentic and the individual. It is the kind of thing that Synkroniciti embraces with enthusiasm. This is a great introduction to the world of the insider, which I will be writing about this week in a series of articles. Enjoy!

Remembering Jean Stapleton: Rebel in a Housedress from Emancipation Conversation

467px-Jean_Stapleton_Carroll_O'Connor_All_In_the_FamilyJean Stapleton may be remembered as the dingy but long-suffering Edith Bunker, possessing a voice that could scratch glass in the rendition of Those Were the Days that opened the Archie Bunker Show. She embodied the character so perfectly that she became Edith in our minds, but she was much more. A brilliant woman who had her day in musical theater, she was good enough to fool all of us and stay true to herself. This is a very special tribute from Ninjanurse at Emancipation Conversation which deals not only with loss of Jean Stapleton, but the loss of Edith Bunker so many years ago. It makes me smile.