Life Lessons, Well Worth Reading

Anthony Bourdain’s Life Advice

What’s the best way to motivate other people?
Make them feel special. Create an esprit de corp, and a feeling that you are an elite, that even if you have the shittiest jobs within a large organization, you should feel proud of the fact that you’re part of something. Recognize excellence. Celebrate weirdness, and innovation. Oddballs should be cherished, if they can do something other people can’t do.
_ _

6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person

The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You
So here is my terrible truth about the adult world: You are the confused guy with the pocket knife. All of society is the bleeding gunshot victim.

Everything is designed.


An unauthorized look inside the way a large advertising agency works

Tropes: Tree to Toothpick from Thomas Sherman on Vimeo.

Research Based Insights on Creative Ideation

Most of what you know about “brainstorming is wrong”.

Leigh Thompson: Creative Conspiracy.


The Truth About Creative Teams
HBR Ideacast [Soundcloud Link]

“NASA Crazy”

“When people look at it… it looks crazy. That’s a very natural thing. Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy. It is the result of reasoned, engineering thought. But it still looks crazy.”

–Adam Steltzner, NASA engineer

“Take Me” (I’m Yours)
The Jewish Museum

“Take Me” (I’m Yours)
The Jewish Museum
“Take Me” (I’m Yours)
The Jewish Museum
“Take Me” (I’m Yours)
The Jewish Museum

Waterfall Mansion and Gallery

Processed with Snapseed.

Processed with Snapseed.



Stop Looking at Me


Form Follows Fiction

We take functionality (for granted)
We fake functionality (for effect)

Is the Internet Being Ruined? (Freakonomics)

Are we only seeing what we want to see on the internet?
Is the Internet Being Ruined?

Journal 7.18.16

Walking through a park on my lunch break. A swarm of dragonflies criss cross overhead. It’s fun to think of what it would be like for dragonflies to have air traffic controllers, but I think I prefer the elaborate randomness of a system that I can simply bare witness to without understanding.

Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It

The reslts, published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making,” found that 45 minutes of creative activity significantly lessens stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent.

“It was surprising, and it also wasn’t,” Kaimal explained to Drexel Now. “It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

The study, co-authored by Kendra Ray, a doctoral student under Kaimal, and Juan Muniz, an assistant teaching professor in the department of nutrition sciences, invited 39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, to participate. Markers, paper, clay and collage materials were amongst the tools offered up to the participants, who were instructed to create whatever they so pleased over the course of 45 minutes, with no further directives. An art therapist was on site in case the participants had any questions or concerns.
The results, published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making,” found that 45 minutes of creative activity significantly lessens stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent.

“It was surprising, and it also wasn’t,” Kaimal explained to Drexel Now. “It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

The study, co-authored by Kendra Ray, a doctoral student under Kaimal, and Juan Muniz, an assistant teaching professor in the department of nutrition sciences, invited 39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, to participate. Markers, paper, clay and collage materials were amongst the tools offered up to the participants, who were instructed to create whatever they so pleased over the course of 45 minutes, with no further directives. An art therapist was on site in case the participants had any questions or concerns.

Article Link
Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress, Even If You Kind Of Suck At It

Being Creative is a Job

“Crime is a job.
Sex is a job.
Growing up is a job.
School is a job.
Going to parties is a job.
Religion is a job.
Being creative is a job.”

– David Byrne

Dave Trott on Predatory Thinking

A Video Visualization of the Creative Process

Fry the Sushi

Fry the Sushi

Reading Pictures : Bush’s Book Cover

Was the cropping of his portrait a conscious, deliberate choice to give him a lobotomy?

Bush cover

Moon Rover

I don’t believe this was produced as a piece of print marketing for Jeep. It should have been. No copy, no logo in the corner, just an amazing image that radiates a believable imaginativeness and rich visual narrative.


Visual Journal : July 1 2015

I thought I had reached a point in life where I know longer needed to go into self-serve laundromats. Ironically it’s my expensive clothing that has using them again. My most delicate and expensive pieces of clothing — as well as t-shirts that came with very silly price tags — I carefully hand wash and dry at home. When near dry I take them to a laundromat to fluff, remove wrinkles and help them keep their shape. A fine example of the things you own, owning you.

Below are 2 postcard-shaped pieces of paper taped to the front glass door. The other sides were blank.

Back side of door: Reminds me of David Carson’s style and compositional sensibility.

VJ 160701_01

Front side of door: Reminds me of my fascination with mold patterns on white bread.

VJ 160701_01

Simplicity in Product Offerings

A lot simpler that Apple’s iPad lineup, but not as simple as Apple’s product line used to be. Discipline people, discipline.


On Violence

If our culture of violence continues will our increasing number of national moments of silence become one long, never-ending moment of zen-like serenity and peace?


I try to meditate almost every morning. I usually wake up before 6am, without an alarm clock, and enjoy taking the time to get my buddha on before I let the world or other people’s shit into or near my head. I like the breakfast nook area in the back of our apt. It’s relatively quiet and dark. The apartment next to ours was renovated and no one has lived there in quite some time.

Last week I get up, go to my spot and meditate for about forty minutes. I finish a with a sense of clam serenity and slowly open my eyes to see, directly in front of me, through the well-lit sliver of a New York City bathroom window… some dude’s junk.
My meditation spot has lost the private sanctity it once had. I now approach my spot apprehensively, timing my meditation around this guy’s schlong. This morning as I went to the kitchen to feed the cats I could hear music. It was my neighbor. This morning it was just his ass, shaking away to the sound of The Carpenters.

Dumbfounded : “Safe”

DUMBFOUNDEAD – SAFE from Jonathan Park on Vimeo.

Lagerfeld on Charlie Rose 2/10/2006

Working from Boulder, CO


Working from La Jolla 12.31.15

LaJolla Compound

This bill has been paid

An ad for CCTV company


Weapinized Tshirt

#weaponized #t-shirt

Your jobless future at work.

Jobless Future

#cvc #thankscvs #fuckcvs

Morbidity in Health Care Logos

These two logos have always made me uncomfortable. The Mount Siani logo’s mountain peaks begin with blue upward ascending lines but resolve in descending red lines. Sloan Kettering’s symbol looks like a dead fish.



Your Toxic, Junk-Filled Semantic Environment

A fine example of the way information in the social media age is neutralizing and negating. Think of the deluge of contradictory, meaningless and insipid advice that pours through Linkedin’s feed. For years I’ve walked through bookstores increasingly convinced that peak-literacy and the easy with which books are produced is counter productive. In the same way that the easy production of surplus calories (high fructose syrup, junk food) has resulted in obesity and physical detriment, the easy production of content has produced a toxic, junk-filled semantic environment.


“All sins are attempts to fill voids.”

– Simone Weil

Typography’s Poverty of Terms

Hoefler and Jones on Typography’s poverty of terms and subjective, qualitative metaphor. My favorite scene from the film “Helvetica”.

Typography’s Poverty of Terms from Thomas Sherman on Vimeo.

Tropes: Tree to Toothpick

Tropes: Tree to Toothpick from Thomas Sherman on Vimeo.

“The world is not made of atoms, but of stories.”

—Muriel Rukeyser.

Cities, Large and Small

I don’t find the book reviewed here very interesting but the opening raises some interesting points about artistic (and other) innovation in America’s cities. The paradox that rubs is : 1. It’s too expensive to fail (experiment, do basic research or literally fail) in NYC or LA and 2. Smaller cities don’t have the population for the exchange of ideas or economic base necessary to achieve scale. This is one of Detroit’s biggest problems. It’s a tiny city at this point and their are too many people who want to take the stage and not enough audience.

But I invested in you!: How to be and asshole. by Sheila Heti
London Review of Books

But I invested in you!: How to be and asshole. by Sheila Heti

“There was a time when artists and writers flocked to inexpensive cities to allow themselves the trials of making art over the trials of making a living. In North America today, the main site of literary activity or literary business – which more and more amount to the same thing – is Brooklyn. Yet it’s probably one of the toughest places for a writer to live cheaply and noodle about, wearing rags. What happens when artists gravitate to places where they can make art only with great financial effort; where writers have to be journalists, adjunct professors, or work in cafés to pay the rent, leaving little time to write their novel, while learning every few months that one of their herd has secured a six-figure advance for their first book? What do their relationships and values look like, and how do their love stories unfold? This is the world of Adelle Waldman’s first book.”

You are projecting…


“If a shadow is a two-dimensional projection of the three-dimensional world, then the three-dimensional world as we know it is the projection of the four-dimensional Universe. ”
― Marcel Duchamp

Of Clouds and Clocks

A great essay I think about often. By karl Popper.

The spectrum of systems from the disorderly, irregular, dynamic and non-linear to the mechanistic, orderly and highly predictable and the dysfunction that arises when one approaches either as the other.

“…established by the Newtonian revolution was the following staggering proposition: All clouds are clocks-even the most cloudy of clouds.”

Of Coulds and Clocks

Pamplemousse NYC

Our new studio space.
aka Weaponized Creativity, aka The Sherman Foundation


Click to see a larger image

Anthropologie of Doom

The design “theater” of this Anthropologie shop had a a real “Temple of doom” vibe. Something is about to crush me, at any minute now, I can feel it.

Anthopologie of Doom2

An Editorial from Google Image Search

Interesting results returned from #Google #imagesearch. #terrorism = #corporateamerica


Sprite shower installations, along the Dead Sea.

People should construct more gigantic things. It’s just fun.


Arnulf Rainer : Rainer Dying

Olia Pishchanska : Dreamcatcher

What’s on Your Meme?

The Sherman Foundation, after carefully monitoring the success of the ice bucket challenge has high hopes for the serialization and “how many organs can we remove from you and sell on the black market challenge”. We’re anticipating queues like magnolia bakery, circa 2001.

Value in the Digital Era

To put a value in the digital world only by tallying the money that changes hands is a little like trying to place a value on sex by simply measuring the amount spent on prostitution.

— Rory Sutherland
“The Wiki Man”

Urban Park Design

New York is home to some of the finest examples of urban park design from the Planet of the Apes school of civic architecture.

Plantet of the Apes civic architecture

Vanity Fair’s Gorgeous Tableaus and the Contemptuous “Bitch Face” of Advertising

Historically, Vanity Fair has done an amazing job of collaborating with photographers and stylists to create gorgeous photographic spreads with narrative depth and a rich, almost painterly qualities. (The typography has been disappointing of late but perhaps that will be addressed in a future post.)



In the issues that arrived today I was dismayed to see these two spreads — Prada and Burberry — presenting large groups of models forming unified confronting human walls of “bitch Face”.



Contempt has always been the theater and template for cosmetics and fashion photography. A method to degrade and humiliate consumers into purchasing products in an attempt to win over the approval of all those dismissive glares that come bundled with every issue.

These spreads actually combine the contemptuous assuault with the non-verbal narrative you see so often on the covers of rap and rock CDs: “the ambush”.


An insidious two prong attack.

“The mark of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in its mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Huffington Post’s Treachery of Images

The homepage and section homepages of the Huffington post have an interesting format for a digital publication. It’s closer to that of a print newspaper’s front page: a bold headline over a large attention grabbing photo. What’s different and intriguing is that many of them lack any sort of lead-in or explanatory text. Just bold juxtapositions of word and image that are sometimes quite oblique. A recent favorite.


Even the NYPost’s digital edition, arguably the paper that owns “front pages” from a cultural conversation perspective doesn’t go as far. They have a cascading heirarchy of images with headline overlays. One primary and two secondary stories share the prime real estate followed by four tertiary stories that flow into smaller groupings of articles down the page.

There is something very modernist and non-digtal about The Huffington Post format. The big type image combo feels like paste-up, collages, or like old print ads.

The mechanics at work on The Huffington Post’s front pages are actually similar to those behind the classic VW ads created by Doyle Dane Bernbach in the 60s. The genius behind those ads was that they presented the viewer with a headline and an image that were at odds with one another, that didn’t quite fit together, that created a tension that could only be resolved by the participation of the readers mind.


Decades ago, newspapers quite literally brought the news to people’s doorsteps. We now live in an age where the news streams in at a constant flow of bits a packets. We have a level of familiarity and context with most stories before we arrive at any news site. That’s what makes The Huffington Post word/image constructs so interesting and revealing of their function. Unlike the DDB ads that drove its readers to a clever, persuasive point, The Huffington Post covers act as emotional sounding boards, eliciting an emotional response and stirring all the preconceptions and biases you have about the hinted material. You are emotionally engaged and telling yourself your own story about the news even before you have a chance to click and read a single word of the text.


It was René Magritte that most famously pitted word against image in his work “The Treachery of Images”. The painting, of a pipe, included the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (“This is not a pipe”). The painting’s paradox, like the juxtapositions in the ads of Doyle Dane Bernbach and the home pages of The Huffington Post shift the point of meaning creation and reconciliation for the page (or canvas) to the viewers mind.

Margritti this is not a pipe

Our collective dysmorphia: Barbie’s fake and real and the thigh gap obsession.

Created by artist NICKOLAY LAMM

Article on CafeMom: Artist Creates Barbie With Average-Size Body & We Wish Our Daughters Could Get One


Graduate School Barbie comes in two forms: Delusional Master’s Barbie (TM) and Ph.D. Masochist Barbie (TM).



Model whose excessive plastic surgery made her a living Barbie shows off doll-like proportions in high fashion shoot.

real barbie

A piece in Vice about Thigh Gap


Chubby Fast Food logos


via fastcoexist

Brand Volatility

This chart would be so much more insightful if it showed a much longer timeline, and included a few more brands, like Kodak maybe. (Instead is a colorful graphic with popular brand names). Brands are the connection between business and culture. The real story isn’t about rising and falling fortunes, it’s about rapidly increasing cycles of volatility and disruption. Brand thinking is having more trouble than business strategy when it comes to keeping pace. No one’s written the “innovator’s dilemma” for the brand side yet. There need to be more “protean” models for brands, or better fake outs and quicker costume changes.

The Rise and Fall of the World’s 10 Most Valuable Brands


CVS self-service checkout
Sound and Experience design

There’s a CVS near my office that I pop into occasionally to buy an energy drink, or whatever. The checkout stations are all self-service with computerized voices to guide you through the checkout process. The problem is that they haven’t gotten the volume or the acoustic targeting quite right so the effect is an aural wash of the same computerized voice talking over one another, giving similar sounding and often contradictory commands: “please take the unscanned item out of the bag”, “please place the scanned item into the bag”, “please select your language”, “please select your payment type”. The result is something right out of the film Brazil, somewhat comical, dystopian and exhausting.

Sound in experience design still doesn’t get enough attention. Jamba Juice shops are incredibly loud. They didn’t design for that at all.

On Computer Wallpaper Metaphors: Power, Death and the Subconscious

Since the beginning, Apple and almost all computer manufacturers have relied heavily on images of outer space (or abstractions of space) as the default for wallpaper backgrounds: Pictures of “the universe” served as a metaphor for the mind expanding potential of the computer.

After upgrading to iOS7 my iPhone displayed a picture of a rippling body of water. A symbol of the unconscious. Appropriate given the inward looking emotional self involvement of mobile social media.

Expansive bodies of water are also visual metaphors for death. If you analyze from an art therapy perspective it prompts the question “is Apple, as an organization feeling a sense of loss?” Maybe they are, on several levels. These things express themselves in the most subtle and subconscious ways, even on an organizational level.


Maintaining a Connections (Manhattan’s disappearing clotheslines)


A great image (taken out the rear window of his east village apartment) and a wonderful insight on the clotheslines that are disappearing from Manhattan by my dear friend Robert Rosswag. (Quote and image pulled from his Facebok page.)

“One of the things that fascinates me about the whole wash line idea is that it requires cooperation between strangers living in two different buildings. You connect with them – literally – based upon a shared need. There’s poetry in that!”

The Scarecrow

I’ve always maintained that great advertising reconciles the paradoxical problems produced by the products it promotes. (a lot of pee in that first sentence). AT&T’s “reach out and touch someone” campaign is a classic case in point. The invention of the telephone encouraged people to “leave home”, live live’s of geographic dispersion and long for intimate, personal connections. Connections that could be reestablished… with a phone call.

A beautifully crafted piece, but there’s that uncomfortable, uneasy feeling I get when a brand connects on an empathetic point and makes a cultural commentary on an issue that they are, in reality, a contributor to not a solution for.

Still. Beautifully done.

Sunday School at The Sherman Foundation


The sound of ice cubes striking a rocks glass, the closest thing the modern secular world has to church bells. —Sherman

Labor Day’s “Devil’s Night”

Manhattan is so very “28 Days Later” on Labor Day weekend (eerily quite save for a few freaks who haven’t gotten out). I see a perfect opportunity to start a new national holiday, an annual festival, zombie apocalypse theme night of underground partying on the (Sunday) night before Labor Day. A perfect way to lament the increasing loss of jobs at the hands of technological efficiency and globalization. Labor Day’s “Devil’s Night”.

Short notice but we start tonight!



Bergdorf Goodman Typography

I’ve never noticed, but really like, the additional space around the interlocking Os on the Bergdorf Goodman typography on the building’s facade. Too bad the kerning is sloppy everywhere not to mention inconsistent faces and spacing executions.


Brian Eno. New York. May 2013

Lecture: Brian Eno (New York, 2013) from Red Bull Music Academy on Vimeo.

Brian Eno & Ben Frost. WNYC Soundcheck

Reading Pictures
Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham

An interesting layering of visual metaphors and devices. First, the use of a pastoral farm setting to reframe the processed food product as nature’s bounty and it’s origins as being “from nature”. This has become a common device to present process foods, like Lays Potato Chips, as wholesome and natural.

In terms of overall structure, there is a definite narrative timeline that begins with creation (farm, farm animals) and ends with the final product being delivered to the viewer of this ad.

Second, Ben & Jerry’s packaging as cornucopia (“Horn of Plenty”), a deep and boundless gift.

Last and most interesting are the use of the trojan cow and catapult. These elements, at first, seem to undermine the narrative setup. If it’s a story about where the ice cream comes from, why does it end in duplicity and siege? The catapult, ready to fire, is aimed directly at the viewer of the ad. Is it a way of taunting the boundary between print page and reality?

We start with real cows in the background and end with an artificial wooden cow in the foreground. Is the trojan cow a confession? that your gift of bounty is not what it appears to be? That what is inside is not quite what you were led to believe? Or is it just a clever way of teasing you, inciting you, building a primal anticipation for the thing you are so bloodthirsty for (Blueberry Vanilla Graham Frozen Yogurt) and letting you know it is on its way?

Ben - Jerrys  Blueberry Vanilla Graham

Reading Pictures: Scrubbed Jeans

Advertising of Male Scrubbed Jeans, 1965 (1)

Advertising of Male Scrubbed Jeans, 1965 (2)

via: vintage everyday

Runners Point

Runner Point Print ad

Reading (Over-sexualized) Pictures

Club holiday 1

Club holiday 3

Club holiday 2

Playboy Netherlands ad2

Lacome-bar-code ad

Parmalot hot ketchup ad

Sunday School at the Sherman Foundation: MAN

Tim O’Reilly: Birth of the Global Mind

Tim O’Reilly: Birth of the Global Mind from The Long Now Foundation on

…I ended up in my own thinking tying that into the poetry of Wallace Stevens who had this notion that truth is actually a fiction that we persuade each other of and it’s ultimately aesthetics that is the future of human cognition, its not this engineering mindset we find in “object truth”, its actually this notion that that “reality is an exercise of the most august imagination”.

…people would say “why does Plato describe this with this fantastic mystical imagery, he must have been influence by the pythagoreans” and I say “nonsense!” I know exactly why Plato describes things like justice with this incredible flowery language, because when he was first thinking about it thats exactly what it was, it was a new idea! it was powerful! it was numinous! it was full of juice! of course you describe it that way… it was like wow! the experience was WOW! and now we rehearse it and we go “yea I got it, I read it in a book”… you guys know that the first time you experience something it has power, and later on… you know… its boring.

Rudimental – “Not Giving In” ft. John Newman & Alex Clare

This video is the best short film I’ve seen in some time.

Failing Well

Friend and former colleague, Jabe Bloom.

Failing Well from Jabe Bloom on Vimeo.

“Fish did not discover water.” —Marshall McLuhan

In fact, because they are completely immersed in it, they live unaware of its existence. Similarly, when a conduct is normalized by a dominant cultural environment, it becomes invisible.

In Defense of Food. Michael Pollan

Flickermood 2.0 by Sebastian Lange

Flickermood 2.0 from Sebastian Lange on Vimeo.

Big Data, Urban Prototyping and Sentient Cities

I had the pleasure of attending a talk by and meeting Peter Hirshberg of the Re:Imagine Group last week. The talk focused on their work and trends in the use of “big data” in bottom-up, civic innovation by collaborations of artists, designers, technologists and activists. He covered a massive amount of interesting territory: city as platform, internet of things, sentient cities, urban prototyping, creative currency, collaborative consumption, tactical urbanism…

Some of what he covered is contained in this video. Well worth a watch.

Other things referenced in his talk:

The Bay Lights from Words Pictures Ideas on Vimeo.

Great story about a team in San Francisco that developed a municipal app, over a weekend, to collect data and help busses run on time.
“The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has every intention of spending a few years and untold dollars creating its own, more robust version of the tool. But the team hacked together the basic parameters of the SMART Muni app in a 48-hour stretch in late July, fueled by pizza and beer.
They coupled a GPS data feed showing the location of Muni buses with a user interface that could allow MTA managers to more easily spot and fix problems. It will also allow riders to glimpse delays they want to avoid, or communicate issues throughout the system.”

Gray Area Foundation for the Arts
Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (@GAFFTA) brings together the best creative coders, data artists, designers, and makers to create experiments that build social consciousness through digital culture.

Peter Hirshberg’s Blog

The Red Bulletin Launch Party – 10.12.12

The Red Bulletin Launch Party – 10.12.12
The Red Bulletin, a beyond the ordinary magazine. The Red Bull House of Art artist and Eastern Market will be featured in the November issue.

Very few people truly have the stomach and the balls to be creative.

The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas (research study)

An interesting research study on why people overtly claim to value and champion creativity behave and make choices which are risk-averse. People will unconsciously work to diminish uncertainty and make choices that are least likely to negatively impact them on a personal level.

“People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty.”

“research documents that teachers dislike students who exhibit curiosity and creative thinking even though teachers acknowledge creativity as an important educational goal (Dawson, D’Andrea, Affinito, & Westby, 1999; Runco, 1989; Westby & Dawson, 1995)”

On Process: Kershner’s Notes

Director Irvin Kershner’s notes and revisions (based on conversations with Lucas) Aug 24 1979

Brian Eno on Artistic Conspiracy

Reading Pictures:
What is She Holding?

What is the model on the cover of this 1970 issue of Playboy magazine holding?

Answer: a baby.
An example of “Visual Proxy” from the classic book Subliminal Seduction by Wilson Bryan Key.

May 4, 2012

Superhero movie franchises are have become the new durable goods. In the past you could count on an renewing stream of newly married couples purchasing dishwashers, washers and dryers. Not the predictable reliable consumer model it once was. What is proving durable is the recasting and reintroduction of Ironman, Spiderman and even The Avengers to old and new generations alike.

Every generation gets the Batman they deserve.

The Photokeratic Age

I’m going to engage in a bit of futurist speculation: Now this may seem counterintuitive (as well as dystopian and pessimistic) but is it possible that what follows the information age is a new kind of dark age, one marked not by a loss of knowledge but a kind of photokeratitis (snow blindness) caused by the explosion of communication and overexposure to media manipulation, spin, junk science, distracting spectacles, contradictory research studies, lies, a crisis of credibility, uncertainty, the collapse of master narratives (see Lyotard), proliferating conspiracy theories (“alternate explanations of what the fuck is really going on”) and the resultant tribalism, subjectivism and regression to infantilistic ego (and sexual) gratification? Is this the “photokeratic age”?


Innovations in Autocorrect

Idea of the day: a virus that infects the iPhone iOS, detects whether someone is speaking on the phone in a public place (geolocate+ambient sound) an has Siri interrupt the conversation, “excuse me, but you’re being an asshole”. Forget spelling, we need auto correct for manners and social graces”.


Technology: glamorous future promise vs the dismal reality.

Stripes on Display

Window displays in neighboring mall stores. December 2011.

Design Brief: “Get it wet and feed it after midnight”.

April 17, 2012

The most brilliant about coloring books?. The name, “coloring book”. Loosely defined non-enforced intended purpose. If you called then “color application assessment journals” they would be about as popular with kids as spelling and bedtime.

Reading Pictures: Completing the Circuit

J&B Christmas print ad.

Tiffany Blue and Shoes with Red Soles (Paternalistic Pampering & Infringement Litigation)

I’ve spotted many recent instances of what looks like “Tiffany Blue” in fashion/luxury/refinement contexts. The most egregious of which is its use by Jessica Simpson branded products: handbags, shoes and very noticeably, the shoe boxes. This is surprising given how frequently you see mention of the fact that “Tiffany Blue” is a trademarked color, especially formulated by Pantone but unavailable in their library. I’m not aware of Tiffany ever suing anyone for infringing on this trademark but recently the company did weigh in on Christian Louboutin’s lawsuit against YSL for copying the way they color the bottom of their shoe’s soles red. (Tiffany’s filed a legal brief in support of Louboutin’s position.)

(Link: Tiffany & Co. Takes Christian Louboutin’s Side in Red Sole Lawsuit)

Whether or not these are instances of infringement is debatable. It was the sighting of a “robins egg blue” Jessica Simpson shoebox that first caught my attention and sensitivity to subsequent sightings of the color. Certainly, any designer working in fashion or luxury would be aware of the strong association of this hue and the Tiffany brand. Any “box” in that hue is treading firmly in Tiffany territory.

Part of what makes the color so distinctive is that it is a surprising, unlikely choice for a luxury brand. I wouldn’t describe it as a romantic tone but there is a strong “nuptial” association that extends toward the romantic. (Tiffany’s began as a stationary store).

If it isn’t obviously about luxury, what does “Tiffany Blue” mean?

My theory is that the color says “pampering”, the kind of delicate care connoted by baby blues and pinks without evoking nursery (at least in a direct, obvious way). In particular, it conveys a paternalistic pampering that says, “daddy’s gonna take care of you”.


Shoes and the color red have a fascinating history that go back way before Christian Louboutin. The following is an excerpt from a fascinating post on The Fashion Historian Blog: Red Heels:

A perfect example of this system of monitoring the aristocracy is red heels on shoes. Louis XIV declared that only those in the royal favor were allowed the privilege of having red heels on their shoes, allowing everyone to show off when they were in favor. Red heels was like sitting at the popular kids table in school, only the very coolest kids could wear them.

Suddenly, if you fell out of the royal favor, everyone would know. It’s bad enough to be out of the royal favor, it’s even worse when you have to advertise it to the world. It was the perfect method for controlling a once unruly upper class. Aristocrats behaved themselves and they didn’t have to face the shame of not having red heels on their shoes.

Participation = Destruction
(1 Billion Internet Users, The Tyranny of the Masses and the Death of Digital Culture)

This week the internet surpassed 1 billion users worldwide. The passing of that milestone is a good place to mark something that has been on my mind. We can no longer think about digital culture as being something outside and apart from the mainstream. It has ceased to be an alternate to mainstream modes. Worse, it’s culture is no longer defined by the quirky personalities of entrepreneurs, early adopters, geeks and tech enthusiasts. Even a year ago, it was still somewhat useful to think of people that lived a digital lifestyle. People that, through technology absorbed content differently and connected with others in different ways. The content and the conversations there were also very different. With smart mobile devices, laptops and connectivity becoming widespread and commonplace parts of our daily live those differences have dissolved.

Traditional media channels, mainstream brands and popular culture are now eagerly embracing digital technology and social media. Some, like the NYTimes have done a great job of integrating it with their traditional offering (although they continue to bleed cash) while CNN’s obnoxious and clumsy use and references to iReporters, Twitter and blogging add to the combative opinion sharing that has come to replace reporting and journalism.

With the masses come many things. Foremost is a shift in tone, character and content from that of a niche subculture to one dominated and defined by the personalities, tastes interests of the collective mainstream. For people who have not yet participated in social media their point of introduction is very likely to be a traditional channel or brand like CNN, Ashton Kushner or Oprah. An emergent property of mass participation is the gravitational shift towards populist interests, values and preoccupations. Social media is turning out to be a channel ideally suited for the further ubiquitous spread of celebrity and tabloid culture. The ultimate direction and social function of these technologies is now out of the hands of a small community and is being driven by the unconscious motives and behavior of the masses.

The greatest impact will continue to be the failure of old models of media and communication that become increasingly less profitable and viable. The ones that do not fail outright are forced to become more sensationalistic to maintain audiences and stray from what it is that they are supposed to be doing in the first place. Television programming is a good example of this. Particularly news. Unfortunately the new technology and interaction modes aren’t offering up very many viable new models, they’re just destroying the old ones with more and more efficacy.

Historically, technology has come with utopian promises of change that it has failed to deliver in the hoped for or predicted way. Industrialization and automation were supposed to create abundance and leisure but today some of our greatest social challenges involve scarcity. Our personal lives are marked by over-work, “time famine” and sleep deprivation. In America, many people working full-time or multiple jobs are unable to provide for their family’s basic needs.

The common championed belief is that digital tools and technology will democratize creativity, give voice and presence to individuals and enable the formation of communities around niche interests and points of view. The only indisputable observation one can make is how powerfully destructive these new technologies have been to traditional industries and social structures. Any claim to their ability to construct new and better alternatives would be premature. I am being to question, particularly as populist participation grows, whether modes of digital and virtual interaction tend toward a spirit of sharing and cooperation or are better suiting to pursuing self-interest and a tendency to devolve into squabble and antagonism. The biggest problems with comment threads is that they quickly stray off topic and devolve in precisely this manner.

Social media is stuck in a mode who’s primary function is trying to manage the communications chaos that these news technologies have created and as a way to stage protest for disgruntled consumers who are now empowered to shoot back.

When it comes to the creation of new business models that support and sustain physical society we are failing. The ubiquity of communications and information technologies only seems to make this worse. The more powerful technology becomes, the less and fewer people are needed. The world’s growing population is increasing the need for new roles of participation. Participation via communication doesn’t count.

The interest in and embracing of digital and social media continues to be strong, which makes sense, who doesn’t want to be on the side of inevitable change as we barrel towards and uncertain future. Whether or not change is on anyone’s side can’t be assured. What the preoccupation with popularity, status and influence — mass media and mainstream values — demonstrates to me is that there is a naive belief that it may be possible to attain the kind of glory that was once bestowed by traditional media and culture using the tools that are bringing about the destruction of the machinery that made that kind of glory possible in the first place.

I can’t help but think of the sacking of Rome by barbarians. As violent as Rome’s rule was, it provided structure and order. It organized the agricultural production and shipping lanes that feed much of the world. When Rome fell that order was destroyed and much of civilization fell into chaos, starvation and disease.

The invention of the printing press created disruptions that lasted well into the 1600s. Don’t expect the chaos created from the changes happening in communications technology to stabilize anytime soon.

The deafening roar of the masses coming online might as well be the horns of Jericho bring down the walls. Right here, right now: Participation = Destruction.

Tears of a Crocodile Clown.
Early Ambitions: Science vs Art

My father’s parents had a very powerful impact on the shaping of my personality. My grandfather, an aeronautical engineer instilled in me a scientific, intellectual curiosity. My grandmother gave me a love for the arts and taught me to paint.

My earliest recollected ambition was to become an inventor, like Thomas Edison. His Menlo Park laboratory is on display at the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village in Michigan. I visited it many times as a child on school field trips. I remember talks with my grandfather in the car during the long drives to our cottage in Northern Michigan about Edison and his many inventions. Sitting in the back seat I would focus my mind on trying to come up with an invention, waiting for something to come to me in one of those fabled “eureka!” moments. And they would, but they were things like “tape recorder”… “camera”… “flashlight”. All things that had already been invented. This was a very frustrating process for a six year old but I did zero in on what what was the fundamental challenge. From the backseat I asked my grandfather as he drove “how do you think of things no one has ever thought of before?”

The unique character of my mind is really the result of a lack receptivity to the process by which other people are socialized and develop their understanding of “they way things are”. I was a very daft child. I remember being very very confused about basic, fundamental things that other people seemed to know or didn’t seem to be bothered by. I had to ask very basic questions in order to figure things out for myself and as a result have developed very personal viewpoints and at times, odd perspectives.

There was a dirty little corner store a few miles from our cottage in Northern Michigan. As a six year old boy this was a magical, magical place. It had all of my favorite things; smoke bombs, BBs for my BB gun, candy, flashlights and Lucky Charms. I was enchanted by that little store in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to own that store. And this is where I stumbled upon a confusing question that nagged at me for years. I knew that when I wanted Lucky Charms we went to the store to get them, but if I owned the store where would I get them. Where did the Lucky Charms really come from? I’m not exaggerating, this question plagued and confused me for years. I would ask employees when I was in the store “where do the Lucky Charms come from?” I remember getting the “who’s retard is this that’s bothering me?” look from people, often.

Unable to answer the questions “how do you think of things that no one has ever thought of?” and “where do the Lucky Charms come from?” I refocused my scientific ambitions on the goal of becoming a doctor. At about 8 or 9 I began doing anatomy drawings from pictures in my mothers old nursing textbooks and our family’s World Book encyclopedias. I would fill notebook after notebook with carefully labeled drawings and facts about the humany body. I memorized the names of all the bones in the human body, which to this day, I still remember.

My scientific ambitions were interrupted only once during my childhood, by the “sweet science” of boxing. Someone had given me a pair of “Muhammad Ali” boxing gloves. Red, inexpensive, toy gloves with the champ’s signature printed on the back of the hand. I remember, at 9, staying up late to watch Muhammad Ali suffer a disappointing loss Leon Spinks. A few day after the fight my father gave me a large-format, limited edition magazine that featured a history of the Heavy Weight championship. I was flipping through the magazine looking at the pictures of the men that had held the title when I came upon something that confused me. At one point (the 50s or 60s) all the portraits went from being pictures of white guys to pictures of black guys. All white to all black, I just didn’t get it. One evening, after dinner, my father was at the sink washing dishes when I walked up to him and gave him a poke. “Dad” I said, “when was the last time there was a white heavy weight champion?” He smirked a bit and told me the answer. I nodded my head thoughtfully then said “OK. I’m going out to do some roadwork”. (My father enjoyed retelling that story for many years.)

I returned to my scientific ambitions when I discovered the television show “Quincy” staring Jack Klugman. Quincy was about a nosy medical examiner who was always butting in and solving the mystery. (I now realize that “Quincy” and “Murder She Wrote” are the same show except Quincy was a playboy, M.E. that lived on a houseboat and the “Murder She Wrote” lady is a menopausal, pulp novelist with a library card.) From that point on I began to tell people that I wanted to become a forensic pathologist when I grew up. I set up my geology and chemistry sets in a corner of the basement on a folding card table. I referred to this as “my laboratory”.

One day I was hunting frogs and crayfish in the creek behind a friends house and we caught a MASSIVE bullfrog, by far the largest I had ever seen. I was overwhelmed by how big, how alive it was. My friend cried out “that thing is a monster”. I instantly thought of Dr Frankenstein and decided to do the only logical thing, kill it and try to bring it back to life again.

I took the monster back to my basement laboratory and using one of my mothers canning jars and my fathers Listerine mouthwash, I “gassed” the giant frog.

I needed to find something that could be used to deliver a jolt of electricity to the inanimate beast in order to bring him back to life. I pillaged the storage boxes in the basement until I found what I was looking for, the electric transformer unit that powered my old Lionel train set. I was in luck, the 2 wires that connected to transformer heads to the tracks were still attached. I pulled the transformer from the box below the basement stairs and went to work on the frog. I tried in vain for an hour to electrocute the thing back to life, but it was useless and my little Frankenfrog lay lifeless and dead.

I refused to let the day go down as a failure. Drawing upon what I had learned watching Quincy I proceeded to perform an autopsy. I went to work dissecting the dead amphibian and swiftly determined the cause of death. It was, of course, asphyxiation.

Years later, although still marvelling at the memory of myself as a quirky, young scientist I knew in my heart that that day was a turning point. Deep down I knew that my mind was not ideally suited for a life of science, a life of applying the scientific method. On some level, I had come full circle and embraced my original ambition, to be an inventor, but the path would not be science. The path would be born from a boundless, wild sense of imagination, a lust for making things up. That day I turned from a life of science to the life of the mind and a life of art.

Other excerpts from Tears of a Crocodile Clown: Sick Days (early bouts with megalomania)

Tears of a Crocodile Clown: Sick Days (Early Bouts with Megalomania)

When I was about 7 years old my grandfather gave me what I believed was a burgundy smoking jacket. In retrospect I have no idea what it really was. It could have been a maroon bathrobe… or maybe even a dog blanket. My imagination at the time had no bounds.

During those elementary school years, when I was home sick from school, I had a very specific routine. On the small black and white television set in the bedroom that I shared with my younger brother I would tune into “Bill Kennedy at the Movies”. Bill Kennedy was a former actor that in his later years would host an afternoon show that featured vintage movies. At commercial breaks, Bill would take calls from fans and throw out bits of trivia about the actors and film.

I would sit, perched on the top bunk of our bunk bed, wearing my burgundy smoking jacket at watching Bill Kennedy at the movies. I would have my mother prepare and bring up to me tea, with milk and sugar and toast, buttered and cut into 4 aristocratic triangles.

Spread out before me on the bunk would be National Geographic magazines. While I sipped my tea and watched “Bill Kennedy” I would peruse through the magazines imagining they were “reports” from all corners of the world about the people that I’d conquered.

My ambitions have been growing ever since.

The Outsider’s Advantage: Why Blacks and Gays are Funnier and Brits Make Great Rock ‘N Roll

When I first moved to New York (millions of years ago) I worked out at a neighborhood gym and got to know a lot of the guys that worked out there. Two of the guys I got to know quite well were very gay and very funny. They had a way of phrasing things that always cracked me up. One day they were talking about another guy, a very beefy, very straight guy, that used to work out there but switched to another gym in the neighborhood. The gym he switched to was called AMERICAN FITNESS. However, what came out of one of the guys’s mouths was “oh, she switched to Miss America Fitness”. I laughed for all the obvious reasons but something else went through my head at that moment.

I’ve had many gay friends through the years so I’m accustomed to the “creative” use of pronouns, coded language and the funny shit that comes out of their mouths (Jose’s superpower: “I know what people are going to wear next”), but it was that moment that I realized a larger process that was happening with their use of language. They were actively re-describing the world in terms and language that fit their experience and cultural perspective.

Cultural outsiders, of any type, are constantly exposed to stereotypes and frames of reference that are alien to them. Television, even today, is largely composed of programming that revolves around the lives of straight, white, family-oriented people. It’s not as homogeneous as it used to be but it’s still whitey-white. (Even when it’s not “whitey-white” it is still an incredibly theatricized version of reality. Compared to say, HBO’s use of language, or reality.) For the outsider there is, at the very least on the low end of the spectrum a level of translation necessary to allow for empathetic participation or viewing. At the strongest level, like the “Miss America Fitness” example, it is a recasting into a form that is “owned”. In either case it requires a more active participation than that of someone who is experiencing something that reflects their cultural fluency.

What is important about the outsiders process is that they are more aware of the mechanics of a genre and the nuances of style and codified cultural signals. The articulated re-descriptions of an outsider defamiliarize the culture at large. Hearing “Miss America Fitness” defamiliarized the name “American Fitness” and made me realize how cheap and hokey it was (by playing off of references to patriotic masculinity).

They aren’t stereotypes when they belong to someone else, they are over communicating lumps of caricature. They are the stylistic features we grab on to ape when, say imitating an accent or dialect.

We see things more clearly when they aren’t us, when they break our patterns of experience.

An important framework for understanding human need fulfillment and personality is the spectrum of certainty/variety. Some people need and value stability and regularity over variety. Others need change, sometimes constantly to the point of chaos. Artists tend to be people that are positioned more heavily in the on the side of variety. They tend to seek out experience beyond themselves. Picasso is famous for saying that as a child could paint like Raphael and spent the rest of his life trying to learn to draw like a child. He spent his life trying to get outside his training and himself.

The Beatles were poor kids from Liverpool that presented themselves as rich, clean-cut kids in suits. The Rolling Stones were affluent Brits that for all intensive purposes became poor, black kids from the American south.

This is the first verse of Brown Sugar.
Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields,
Sold in a market down in new orleans.
Scarred old slaver know hes doin alright.
Hear him whip the women just around midnight.
Ah brown sugar how come you taste so good
(a-ha) brown sugar, just like a young girl should

Jagger, channeling the African-American spirit and who know what else worldly or otherwise but nothing about this is British.

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made great Rock ‘N Roll because Rock ‘N Roll isn’t British, it’s American, it’s not even America, its African. (Even today the inflection of Rock is American.) They had the advantages of it not really being a part of their cultural DNA and thus being able to see and feel it so much more powerfully, from the outside.

There is also a “rub” that comes when one has to assimilate from the outside that reactivates the core and a magic that happens when an outsider brings in their outsider “junk”. (There is also a charm and an allure of the outsider/underdog. Think: Tiger Woods and Eminem.)

Culture, Cruelty & Contradiction

A story on NPR today covered a controversial, proposed ban on the slaughter of horses for food.

As a creative, I embrace the idea that humans are emotional and irrational decision makers. Many people would like to believe that humans are rational and logical, but this simply isn’t true. It’s just another example of our constantly playing “pretend”. This is true, of course, to varying degrees from individual to individual.

I’ve always believed that the most interesting part of being human is all the things we can’t control, the things that control us, the dark recesses, the emotional underbelly. Hunger, pain, the things we desire, lust after, fear and humiliate us, put us on a trajectory in life that we ride atop, pretending all the while that we’re steering. These are the truths I hold to be self-evident.

To hear our legislative leaders say things like horses “are cherished companions, they are sporting animals, they are not food”, is wacky entertainment. Despite the support of veterinarians and The American Quarter Horse Association in the method and humaneness of slaughtering, one congressman referred to it as “a brutal, shadowy, shameful, predatory practice that borders on the perverse”. (That old-fashioned brand of oratory bullshit is alive and well). Aren’t there larger legislative issues that need to be tended to?

The drivers of valuation, when it comes to animal life – among them cuteness (fur) and size (insects) – are completely irrational. This lack of reason continues when it comes to the way we appraise human life. Celebrity life seems to be more valuable than not. A child’s life seems to be more valuable than that of an adult. Proximity seems to diminish value. Hunger in Africa gets more attention than malnutrition and prenatal birthrates in Detroit, and we always hurt the ones we love. (Homicides are usually committed by someone who knew the victim.)

life and death may be the only irrefutable facts of human existence, the only issue with black and white resolve, yet our ability to assess its value is filled will confused, emotionally-driven thinking riddled with qualifiers and exceptions.

Recently, the city of Chicago outlawed foie gras. (You would think a city with such a violent past would have acquired the taste for blood and goose liver.) What this and the ban on the slaughter of horses for food (a delicacy in Europe and Asia) fail to recognize is that all culture is rooted in cruelty.

Culture is a luxury. In many instances it is the embellishment of all those icky issues we find at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. The embellishment of food is cuisine, the embellishment of shelter is architecture and the embellishment of safety “defense”. All of these things are possible only after the thorny matters of survival are solved and we can start to “get ahead”. Getting ahead usually means extra at the expense of others. Roman and Greek culture were both possible because of slavery. So were the Great Pyramids. America’s amazing standard of living and overzealous consumption of resources is not sustainable worldwide. For a long time everyone else has gotten less so that we can have more. The price of gas is a good case in point. Profit is, in a sense, fractional exploitation.

I’m not making condemnations, just trying on a few uncomfortable potential truth. Nobody wants to know how the sausage of culture is made and no one wants to have the blood on their hands. Framing the war in Iraq as being about oil as opposed to standard of living washes ones hands of any personal implication. Boiled down, It may really come to a question of “how bad do we really want all that stuff? Bad enough to kill? The answer, historically, has always been… yes.

Why don’t we just get a table, sit down and try some horse meat? We can always pretend it’s something else.