CIW Attendees Learn Secrets of Creativity

The 2013 CIW Artist in Resdidence Hebru Brantley (R) and Talk host Danny Forster (L) talk about Brantley’s Michigan Avenue art installation.

Ever got stuck writing a poem or solving a design problem? On Oct. 20, speakers ranging from chefs to award-winning playwrights to artists unlocked the secrets to artistic success at the Chicago Ideas Week (CIW) Creative Process: A Method to the Madness Talk before a full house at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Edliss Neeson Theater.
            That group of visionaries included celebrity chef Mario Batali, behavioral economist Dan Ariely, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Tony Award-winner Tracy Letts, Science Channel host Danny Forster, CIW Artist in Residence Hebru Brantley and Jenn Rogien, costume designer for the hit shows Girlsand Orange is the New Black – and the event was just one of about 24 Talks taking place across the city during CIW’s fall event from Oct. 14 – Oct. 20.
            “The exciting thing about the creative process … is that you don’t know where it’s going to end,” Forster said as he introduced the other speakers. 
            If anything their experiences prove that the Muses favor the meticulous planner as much as those who jump right in.
Celebrity chef Mario Batali shares how he built his culinary ventures.
In orange shorts and Crocs, Batali highlighted the strategic plans behind his acclaimed restaurants and markets, from the simplicity of names such as Eataly(“impossible to mispronounce”) to the quiet serving style and the changing volume of background music to cue guests when to talk and when to leave.
Batali said the detailed choreography serves one purpose: “How can we make just one little bite a little more perfect?”
Similar to Batali, Rogien also takes a plan-it-all approach when she creates characters with fabric, using stylish details as clues to their occupation, personality, social status and emotional state. A classic example is the gold plastic dress she made for the character Marnie in an episode of Girls. Rogien showed the audience eight designs she created for the episode, influenced by hundreds of images she studied during the process. The two-layer design of the actual dress inspired a moment of comedy in an episode when Marnie rode home wearing just the under layer.
“I’m hoping that next time you watch your favorite show … you’ll have a little more understanding of what happens in all of those costumes,” Rogien said. “They are very intentional. … Maybe they’ll inspire you to make some dress decisions of your own.”
Brantley, CIW’s 2013 Artist in Residence, said intuition drives his art.
Grace Choi, 25, chats with Talk host Danny Forster.
He started his artistic career in graffiti – and with often just a few hours to complete his work, he developed a visceral style that runs through his other projects, including his CIW installation on Michigan Avenue, The Watch.
“It’s very process-intensive. It’s very fast. It’s very emotional,” he said.
Like anyone on a creative endeavor, Brantley said he has days when he wrestles with artist’s block. To create the signature Fly Boys and Fly Girls who populate The Watch, he said he had to learn sculpture from scratch and start with prototypes that looked like they had two left shoes.
But when everything comes together and actually flies? 
“It’s better than sex,” he said.
Behavioral economist Ariely took the stage and explained the science behind how irrationality could breed creativity: It changes the very way we experience the world.
Ariely shared an experiment where his team fed two groups of participants placebos labeled as painkillers, leading one group to believe it was an expensive treatment and the other to believe it was cheap. The team then tested the participants’ ability to withstand pain with varying levels of electric shock. The group who thought they received a pricy pill performed much better on pain tolerance.
Award-winning actor and playwright Tracy Letts gives creativity tips.
Anticipation changes experience,” Ariely said. “When you anticipate something good to happen in the world, it will happen.”
Tony Award-winning actor and writer Letts proved creativity can also come from the counterintuitive.
The audience burst into laughter as Letts gave his 10 tips for living a creative life, which included lying, stealing ideas, doing nothing and tuning off from NPR – in short, giving your mind a relaxing space to wander around.
“Think whatever you want,” he said. “Think the most venal, vile, disgusting thought you possibly can. … They are part of who you are.”
Fred Howayeck, a 63-year-old Chicagoan who attended the Talk, said he enjoyed Letts’ presentation.
“He was really engaging and funny,” Howayeck said. “It’s definitely worth coming.”

*Check out in January to see full videos of  the Talks each of our dynamic speakers gave!*

Written by: Jia You
Photography by: Jia You

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