“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Eugenia Cheng Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”
Cheng spoke about mathematics and how it’s silly that we only tell people to do it because it is useful. Useful like finances and like waking up early.
She was great and probably the only reason I liked my first talk at Chicago Ideas Week.
My first Chicago Ideas Week event was “Unlock Your Creativity in 90 Minutes or Less” on Monday, October 12, 2015 at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership (610 S. Michigan Ave.).
The session promised to help attendees understand the creative process and learn secrets behind it.
It’s hard to do that. Let’s be honest. The talk felt more like writing a paper and then getting the link to the edited piece. You don’t see all of the red ink with all of the corrections. You just see the polished piece. Even though this talk aimed to show us the red ink, I still didn’t see the corrections. I didn’t understand how we make great music or great poems.
Comic and Radio Host, Brian Babylon led the discussion as each of the six creative professionals took the stage in different segments of the evening. Babylon spoke for all of us in the audience. He was a nice, comic relief and added liveliness.
- Eugenia Cheng, Scientist-in-Residence, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
- Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan, Producer & Songwriter
- Tal Peleg, Visual Artist
- Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor
- Christopher Marcinkoski, CIW Artist-in-Residence, Director, PORT Urbanism
- Andrew Moddrell, CIW Artist-in-Residence, Director, PORT Urbanism
Visual Artist Uses Eyelid as a Canvas:
When I walked in, Babylon was interviewing Tal Peleg, a Visual Artist from Israel who uses her eyelid as a canvas. She draws ornate images on her eyelid.
“I paint on my own eye,” Peleg tells Babylon.
I am thinking, how can she really see if her eye is closed when she is painting? How does she do it.
Babylon heard me and asked Peleg, “When you do this, are you super still or can you go and eat a sandwich and come back?”
We started laughing.
She tells Babylon that she only takes short breaks. When she’s done, she photographs her work, but doesn’t go out wearing her art.
“It’s not something to walk around in because it looks more like a black eye.”
Though, she said it will make people curious, “It’s a good way to get people to come closer to you.”
During the session, as other speakers came up, Peleg worked on a model to paint the Chicago skyscraper.
She informs, “You can’t make a mistake.”
“It’s like diffusing a bomb,” Babylon clarifies.
Three Parts to a Good Story:
Lemon Anderson, Poet and Actor, took the stage and he recited a poem. The one part of the poem I caught was, “Watch me take my lemons and make the best god damn lemonade.”
After his poem, he told us that the secret to telling a good story is three parts—geography, history, and economy.
And just like that, he left the stage.
He Produced for Common:
Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan was up next.
The audience was really excited for him to speak.
“You produced for Common “Can I Borrow a Dollar?” Those that made Common on the Mount Rushmore of hip hop,” Babylon welcomed him.
We listened to a few songs as Khan tried to explain his creative process.
I learned two things.
The first is that things take time.
How long do you have to listen to it (the song)?,” asked Babylon.
“It’s not fast food. It’s slow cooking. I listen for days, if not weeks. I don’t want it to be contrived. I want to feel it.”
The second thing I learned is that Khan likes to listen to music really loud. He kept on insisting, “louder”. I loved him for that.
But, I still don’t understand how he produces.
Architects Talk Goose Island:
The architects were my favorite part of the night. They came to the stage.
“This is the grad school talk. We’re sorry. It’s just going to happen,” they said after following Khan’s music.
Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell are the creatives behind the sculpture at Pioneer Court.
They informed that the sculpture uses a spectacle to create conversation.
To begin the talk, they pulled up a picture of legos.
They asked the audience to raise their hands if they are architects.
“Be nice to these people. They don’t have many friends. They work really hard,” they shared.
“Less than 5 percent of all building around the world are designed by architects,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell shared.
They showed us project ideas that they had such as dramatizing and amplifying the given. Things that blow your mind like a heated pool surrounded by an ice skating rink in Helsinki Harbor.
They showed us a park in Denver that created a half mile loop so that people would be more active in between the play areas.
Then, they brought ideas to Chicago. They showed us Goose Island. Currently, they informed us that there is an either or conversation happening around Goose Island.
“Keep it a planned manufacturing district or focus on opening up the island to market rate development,” Marcinkoski and Moddrell informed.
Math is More Creative Than You Think:
The liveliest speaker of the evening was actually talking about math.
Yes, we were getting excited about math.
Eugenia Cheng took the stage in a bright red dress and opened with how math is like cooking.
She told me things I would never know about math.
- Math is the logical study of how logical things work.
- Nothing is logical.
- You have to ignore the details.
This was so exciting for me. I compared math to coding, where if you make one mistake it can ruin everything. I thought it was all about the details.
“When did we ever do anything because it was useful?,” Cheng asks. “If I told you I really want you to meet this friend of mine, he’s really useful—would you want to meet him?”
She illustrated the creative aspects of math in two ways.
She played us Bach and said that it was a very complicated piece because it uses four lines of music at the same time. In order to understand it, she needed to draw it out using math.
She then compared math to cooking.
If you put sugar and egg yolk together and then milk, you get custard. If you put milk and sugar together first and then add egg yolk, you don’t get custard. She frowned.
The same is true for formulas.