Category Archives: Thoughts

Scrabble — Kickin' it when it comes to advertising

Mattel has gone all out on their new commercials for Scrabble. It seems they’ve made a departure from the layman’s opinion of Scrabble being an outdated, esoteric board-game for middle-aged frumps, to be played post America’s Funniest Home Videos. Considering I’m such a sucker for good advertising (my wife makes fun of me for having a tendency to buy gas from stations with the best logo), I must admit, that, in the facing years of resistance to word games, . . . these adverts make we want to buckle down and do some lexicographic damage to prove how hip and modern I am. Good job, Mattel.

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

My brother, Dan Richards, sent me a link to an article recently published by Scientific American entitled “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” by Carol S. Dweck. The site’s summary of the article is a pretty good indication of its content. It reads as follows:

      Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
       Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
       Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

This is essentially the premise of “The Art of Learning,” a book by Josh Waitzkin (the famous chess prodigy depicted in the film “Searching for Bobby Fischer”). If you consider your interests, skills, and abilities to be static and fixed, then when you fail, you will assume it is because your talents are inferior, . . . end of story. If you consider yourself an individual that is not fixed, but rather, can choose, and can persist, and obtain new skills through hard work, you end up not only being prolific, but also emotionally healthy. Who doesn’t want that?!
 

By Dan J. Richards
By Dan J. Richards

This attitude reminds me of J.S. Bach’s, now widely considered one of the greatest composers in the western tradition, who said “I have worked hard” he said, “anyone who works just as hard will go just as far.” I remember first finding this attitude laughable. Inspiring, but laughable. I now am a thorough subscriber to this concept. Excellence can be achieved through dedication and hard work, regardless of innate ability.

 

 Naysayers will here jump in and say “Yeah, but in the end it all comes down to those who possess great talent.” Phooey. I stubbornly maintain that talent is nothing more than a proclivity for work. I maintain this position not because I believe it to be objectively true, but as an artist who has struggled with this issue in the past, I find this position to be the most pragmatic. I find no advantage in imagining myself as a fixed individual, determined by genes and environmental context. The seemingly objective truth regarding this matter is irrelevant. It turns out the old adage you were taught in kindergarten was correct (despite that it used to make my skin crawl every time my third grade teacher would recite it): “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

It is most helpful to imagine yourself as a being that can make decisions, and as one who can achieve great things if you set out to accomplish them and persist through difficulty. There is great wisdom in knowing when to imagine yourself as a being who is acted upon and when to imagine yourself as a being who acts.

As someone who has spent a good deal of my creative life convinced that my abilities are fixed and that the world acts upon me, I can, with confidence, now say that things are better the other way around. I decided to make the change. It wasn’t easy, in fact it was extremely difficult, and emotionally and mentally painful, but I persisted, and I’m pleased with myself considering how far I have come. That self-confidence is potent, and I intend to inject it into everyone that I can . . . including my own kids.

parallaxis—fEARnoMUSIC—collaboration

 

by Dan J. Richards
by Dan J. Richards

 

I visited Portland this weekend to see a show by the new music ensemble fEARnoMUSIC. The show was titled parallaxis, and was a concert of modern chamber music, each work being combined and presented simultaneously with the work of a collaborative video artist. Great concert. Featured on the program were a smattering of movements from Ligeti’s 2nd string quartet, and a chamber work by one of my previous teachers, Steve Ricks.

I walked away with the profound and reassuring feeling that collaborative art is extremely powerful. While the romantic notion of the  independent artist is certainly still valued, art created and presented collaboratively strengthens one’s sense of community. It may sound somewhat trite, but when working with others, you don’t feel so alone 🙂 While solitude has its virtues, despite what many may claim, the sociality of art is what gives it power. Art is relatively useless in a vacuum, decontextualized and stripped of all the social and aesthetic connotations that make it meaningful in the first place. It might be made to selfishly sooth the artists own soul, but the best things in life are always shared.

Another related practical matter concerning the artists well-being, is that working with others makes you feel needed. It makes you feel valued, an emotionally comforting phenomenon that is welcome to an artist who (like so many often do) is wondering what their own place in the world is, or questioning their own function or use as a creator. I felt this comfort quite deeply as I walked away from a UORDC concert last night where two of my works were performed in conjunction with choreography. Gratitude.

A suggestion: if you are feeling lonely, trapped into an aesthetic dead-end, or emotionally distraught, . . . seek another artist to work with. You’ll make each other feel a lot better about what you do.

Trees. Always trees. . .

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I find that every time I sit down to write a piece of music my initial tendency is to think about . . . trees. That’s right, trees. I sit down with some manuscript paper in front of me, and all I can think of are trees. Big behemoths, leviathans of the land. Sprawling creatures that wisely know just how fast to grow, and just how slow to move so that we don’t notice them. But I have a talent for catching them in the act.  I just can’t help myself.

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To me trees are not still or static, they breathe. They, like the stars to the heavens, are the gatekeepers to the earth, often outliving us quaint people-creatures and thriving through our madness to tell their progeny about it. They are constantly in motion, creeping about, and not just because the wind blows them to and fro. Indeed, they are monumental creatures, mostly mammoths, with wise arms reaching out towards us. They have seen more than we ever will.

I’ve indulged myself explicitly only a few times, like in The Nautilus Tree. But I am now realizing that implicit suggestions are everywhere . . . my blossoms, or the fruits . . .

 

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Some trees that occur to me are phantasmagoric fictions, like visitors from an illusory universe where trees are the rulers of worlds. Other visions are of actual trees: elegant masterpieces of maples outside of my office window, aching azaleas in the midst of the mountain ash, or gargantuan baobabs capable of splitting a small prince’s planet into pieces.

I’m not sure what the exact appeal is, but I am most certain that the fact that trees speak to me has something to do with it. They must . . . I don’t suppose I would dream and daydream about them if they didn’t. I am lucky enough to be told some of their secrets, some of their treasures. Sometimes they make me weep, and I know them well enough to feel that they weep with me.

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OpenProcessing.org

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I’m thrilled about the recent development @ OpenProcessing.

For the uninitiated, Processing is an “open-source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions.” You can download it for free at www.processing.org.

Seen the new iTunes visualizer? That was initially made in processing by flight404. The flocking birds in this promo for FOXMovies were also made in Processing.

Great things about Processing:

  1. Free
  2. OpenSource
  3. The potential to create vivid and beautiful visuals

What more could you possibly want?

After you downloaded it you can head over to OpenProcessing.org, get some example code that others have posted, plug it in, and start generating some beauty. Try clicking in the frame below and begin to draw 🙂 Right-click to erase everything and start over.