Joseph Nathan Cohen

Department of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, New York, NY

Creativity (Hannah Wohl)

This livestream was produced as part of the QPL Learning Series project.

Original Video Description

A seminar on creativity with Professor Hannah Wohl from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prof. Wohl is author of Bound by Creativity: How Contemporary Art Is Created and Judged (University of Chicago Press), a sociological study of art. We will discuss the concept of creativity and how creators harness it.

Transcription (Auto-Generated)

all right it looks like it is about time to start let me just make sure everything’s going fine on this stream hi everybody uh my name is joseph cohen i’m from the sociology department here at queen’s college and co-director of the queen’s podcast lab and today i am very very happy to be inviting a great guest an expert on creativity and the arts hannah woolf from the university of california santa barbara hannah is the author of bound by creativity how contemporary art is created and judged and what well you know what rather than uh me explain maybe i’ll get hannah to give an introduction but very quickly she’s a sociologist who delved into the world of art to look at you know what what separates the creative genius of the art world from your regular old artists how are these reputations created how does the creative process work and i’m hoping to mine some of the insights that she gleaned in the field and see what we can learn about content creation so hannah thank you very much for joining us today thank you so much for having me you know before we start off can you just tell us a little bit about your research just so we know where you’re coming from yes so i was really interested in this question of how do artists make decisions make creative decisions about how to make their work we can also think of this as aesthetic judgments how do they make aesthetic judgments in the absence of clear criteria for what makes good art and so the contemporary art world was a really interesting place for me to study this this is a question you could ask across creative industries i know a lot of you are content producers but i think the contemporary art world really epitomized this because there is such a lack of consensus in this world about what makes good art it’s a world where really anything goes in terms of art so um i collected about two years of um ethnographic field work as well as interviews with artists dealers curators art advisors and collectors in the new york city contemporary art world to look at this question and i ended up focusing on this idea of creative visions looking at how artists make what they view as a distinctive creative vision sometimes we use the term signature style but that’s that can be used pejoratively in the art world so i talk about this in terms of creative visions as well as how do other people recognize and and evaluate these creative visions and and how do the ways that other people evaluate these creative visions shape what artists feel that they can successfully make that’s amazing so from what i gather in your book there like there are lots of talented artists out there but there are only a few that become like the toast of the town right they’re real creative visionaries uh what what separates that you know technically competent artist from like the real the ones whose creativity is praised so that’s a great question um i’ll say first of all technical competence is actually not required uh so in the art world it’s not about at least in the contemporary art world and this is actually what makes contemporary art distinctive from other forms of art it’s not about making something beautiful or even something that requires technical skill but something that uh captures an idea with a form so if the idea um requires technical skill then you should have it but if it doesn’t um then you know it could be a banana taped to a wall it can be a pile of rubble it can be a clothes line of socks it can be in the case of one artist that i interviewed uh frozen cat food so technical skill not a requirement for being a very successful artist so to now move to your question of like what separates these artists from everyone else so first of all i interviewed not the super super superstars like i didn’t interview jeff coons for example um i interviewed people moving from pretty emerging so like the people that shortly had recently graduated from mfa programs were all everyone i interviewed was trying to be a professional in the art world but or was a professional in the art world so you know at the one end it was people that had just you know maybe a few group shows and that was one end of the poll the other end was pretty established artists had major retrospective exhibitions had a lot of museum exhibitions had been um successfully showing their work for several decades and generally made their money off of uh selling their artwork so that was sort of the range i was looking at and i think to everyone’s disappointment i won’t be able to solve the the um the secret of like what makes you successful there’s not one thing i can give you that’s a sort of a magic um if you do this thing you’ll be wildly rich and famous and successful in the art world and i think that’s in part because of the the instability around aesthetic judgment um i think what i can say is the artists who were successful were those who were judged to have distinctive creative visions that balanced this um variation on the one hand and consistency on the other hand so there were distinctive things that people could look at that person’s body work and say either that’s a b words or at least i can see how that usually fits within his body of work um so so in the trick i guess the really difficulty of it was maintaining that over the course of your career not being a one-hit wonder but making that thing that was distinctive and then changing it but in a way that people still saw as distinctively you and that was something that artists really struggled with so so trying to maintain this balance of consistency and variation and the reason why i can’t give you like the secret to success is because that’s not an objective threshold like there’s not that was the sort of whether or not there was enough consistency or variation was um something that people sort of lacked consensus over as well and i think you know the other thing that separates uh the successful people from the unsuccessful people um and this is maybe sort of more obvious but i think needs to be said is in the art world status is really really important and so and because status is important because there’s no objective criteria for evaluating aesthetic judgment uh for evaluating an art as good or bad so you need to be um associated with high status actors so um and we call that you know like status like having like positive status signals in the art world so um so uh can i can i just i just want to clarify so what i gather from what you’re saying is that success in the art world isn’t necessarily that like you can paint realistically or do i don’t know what because i have no aesthetic sense so i can’t even come up with examples but it’s like it’s reputational and to ask in the art world what makes somebody you know one of the great artists it’s equivalent to asking what makes you popular at school or what makes you loved by other people it’s like is that it it’s hard to predict because it’s the defining characteristic of being successful in this field is other people’s reaction to you like their love of you or their is that is that what you’re getting at so so yeah that’s sort of part of what i’m getting at now is that um the reason why reputation matters so much in the art world is because there is nothing um objective that we can say is like okay we can objectively evaluate this and sort of put it on a scale so um i won’t get too down into the rabbit hole of sociology here but there’s a sociologist uh patrick aspers who calls you know calls creative market status markets and compares these to other kinds of markets that he calls standard markets and so standard market is like the market for oil like there’s no question when you’re driving your car about where you’re gonna like stop for gas you’re just trying to find the cheapest gas and like there’s a reason sociologists don’t study where people stop for gas because it just would not be interesting there’s no uncertainty around it in the art world there’s this extreme uncertainty around value and so to stabilize that uncertainty we have to rest on status and so to do that we then that’s why you know in the art world who your what gallery represents you really matters and the status of that gallery what what museums are going to show your work and museums are really high status in general some museums are higher status than others what collectors are buying your work who the other artists in the group show are and their statuses your status is only as good as the status of everyone you’re linked to and you can see how you know status can be contaminating in both a negative and positive way so dealers will give up money sometimes to not sell to a collector that has a contaminated reputation and so like for example flippers are people that um that turn around and resell work quickly which can damage the artist’s career in terms of like creating a boom and bust price point for their work um and is seen as like too economically oriented so if you sell to a flipper that can that contaminates the gallery status it’s seen as like not a good gallery contaminates the artists uh everyone gets contaminated by association with this low status figure and so protecting status is really important in the art world but but i would also say it’s not i don’t want to boil this whole thing down to status because i think i i’m someone who who thinks that um experimentation and materiality is important as well and so i do think there is something even though it’s really hard to talk about this in a sociological way i think there is something about distinctiveness and the creative vision uh so for example like i talk in my book about this artist who made these webs of of pipe cleaners and they were really visually distinctive and there’s something physical about that like there’s something that sticks in your mind because it’s really visually distinctive and to see this massive web of colored pipe cleaners sort of scroll like sprawling across a wall and and hanging from the ceilings like it’s it’s not something you forget there is really something material there and it also created a challenge for him because it was so visually distinctive that people couldn’t forget it when he tried to make other things and so i do think there’s an important material aspect of this as well and i think sociologists tend to ascribe everything to status so i try to say yes status is important but so is experimentation and materials in your book you talk about creative vision like creative vision is sort of the identity of the scholar like what does it mean concretely like can you give us the details what is involved in an artist’s creative vision and like can you can you maybe apply it how would that work for a youtuber for example or uh oh interesting yeah yeah that’s that’s an interesting question i like thinking about it across creative industries because i do think the concept is really generalizable so i define creative visions as a cluster of consistencies that are poor and enduring within a body within an artist’s body of work and so um these and i look at this as not an objective thing so i when i talk about creative visions i always talk about people’s perceptions of creative visions like i can look at this and think this piece of art is about uh the feeling of melancholy and you can look at it and think it’s about genocide um and we’ll both have different perceptions of that person’s creative vision so i see this as subjective but intersubjective in that people sort of communicate over it and try to reach a consensus about what this work means so in terms of what this looks like in contemporary art you have both formal and conceptual elements like a formal element might be pipe cleaners as this medium that people associate with your body of work a conceptual element might be the concept of domesticity these two are connected because the formal so the form is supposed to represent the idea in contemporary art so if people don’t see pipe cleaners as representing domesticity then that’s a problem they have to see these things as linked so you know they need to be somewhat enduring and be seen as central to a body of work um like i need to think that pipe cleaners are really part part of what makes this artist work distinctive and it’s it’s important they’re committed to it um but you know these also change over time so the speed of vision isn’t supposed to be stagnant you’re not supposed to be a one-trick pony so you can sort of add in elements expand the boundaries of the creative vision try to renegotiate those boundaries over time and so you can think of this in other creative industries i think like um you can think of like signature dishes in a restaurant and how those um become representative of someone’s creative vision and in the art world we often talk about like iconic works uh certain works contain more of the central features of a creative vision and are seen to better epitomize that creative vision um and so in so yeah i’m trying to think about how this would translate to youtube uh because i also don’t watch a ton of youtube videos so i’m trying to think about this but um i think there are different elements that would matter so um one would be maybe like the style of like the tone of the video the tone of the videos maybe um and i’m talking about this as someone with much less experience about it um the content i think is definitely really important uh but i think something that that differentiates creative visions from things like from like other from concepts like genre is that it’s not it’s much more fine-grained than a genre so you know uh this artist is it’s it really is important that this artist is not merely a sculptor um he specifically does work with pipe cleaners because a sculptor you know sculptor that that gives you actually a lot more freedom than you’re the pipe cleaner guy um and so i think those distinctive elements within a genre is what really matters so um like for example could it could it be like so for example within the true crime subgenre of let’s say a podcast there are some people who are like gritty and grisly and they and they’re known for using like old news clips whereas someone else might be i don’t know more analytical and so it’s like is it is it like features of audience experience that they keep on coming back for and that they come to associate the brand with is that sort of yeah i think that’s a good way to describe it and i think what’s one thing that’s important is that it’s not just one feature but it’s a cluster of features and it’s the cluster that um that that coalesces together in a distinctive form and so like okay so true crime podcast for example uh so you have like grittiness so maybe there’s multiple gritty true crime podcasts but only one person who’s gritty plus x plus y and does it in a particular way and together that makes them have a distinctive style and then i think um you know the one con one idea that’s really important is that it’s not just like we’re not just judging discrete artworks or our creative objects so um you know if you listen to one podcast episode you might get a sense from that one thing of but you’re really judging that one object and it’s really in listening to multiple podcast episodes and then maybe if the creator actually makes a different podcast and you start listening to their second podcast after you listen to this whole series that’s when you gain a sense not just of their this one discrete object but of this person as having a body of work and that body of work having certain enduring consistency and you start to get have expectations that you um that you think should be fulfilled so if someone moves from true prime to makeup tutorials that might be too jarring of a change um and you want to see like it you want to see that there’s certain enduring traits but also that they continue to grow that’s it so i just want to stop for a moment and say for those of you joining us on zoom or youtube if you have questions or comments for hannah you can put them in the box or those of you on zoom you can just raise your hand uh let’s pivot for a second and talk about the creative process of successful artists how do you succeed at being creative yeah i think that’s that’s a question i often ask myself as a academic and someone who writes and so i think continued efforts at experimentation is is the important thing um so one thing i look at is how artists experiment in their studios what their actual processes of experimentation are and the way i did this because it would have been really um i think not helpful and really uh time consuming and unprofitable for me to just sit in an artist’s studio like and stare at them while they drew for like six months um so i visited different artists studios and i asked them about artworks at different stages of production so okay like how did you make this um why did you choose to make this sketch into a full scale work or why did you put this work in storage or why did you not finish this um or you know what and then i would often visit their studios multiple times like every few months i would come back and see how things had changed so i was trying to sort of look at the creative process at different stages of development and underst and understand how it worked and so i looked at um so so artists do a lot of low stakes experimentation uh that’s that’s sort of my phrase for it and by this i mean sort of fast tests that are sort of efficiently um uh uh ex so efficiently using time and resources so like sketches or models are a good example of this um and this allows them to test out new variables while also you know conserving their limited resources and so and and i found that emotion was really important in this process so when artists feel excited about things they tend to repeat that element and test it in different ways and and so artists actually um we often think of like art and science as really diametrically opposite but artists actually use what scientists would think of as like a simple experiment they would maintain one variable and then change other variables and this allowed them to see how the element would react to changes so for example like one artist i studied was um was making these like leather slabs that she would burn and she would pour cement over um and so she was she took leather and used leather of different thicknesses and poured cement over it and to see how the leather would react at different thicknesses to uh cement being poured over it so this was like a simple experiment as she tested out in different ways she understands how the leather is going to react and then she can make full scale works without worrying about um okay this is going to take me like two days to make and if it messes up then i’ve wasted like the time and money here and so artists allow for heightened uncertainty earlier in the process and then as they understand the material results through these simple experiments they reduce the uncertainty and through that process they build what i call creative competencies and this is basically heightened understandings of of the results of their work and so you know i started by talking about how technical skill is not needed but this is the kind of skill that artists build up and so sometimes it is technical skills sometimes it is more conceptual like i worked with this in so many different ways and i understood how these concepts sort of uh were associated through this repeated process um and so so i think emotions were really important like when they got bored they tended to stop doing things and move to a different element um when they felt ambivalence they would sort of leave it hanging on the wall while they worked on things um and then you know one thing i thought sort of last thing i wanted to bring up about this is that consistencies naturally arose through this process and so you know through the act of doing this simple experiment maintaining one element while repeating other other or by maintaining one element while burying other elements to see how it reacts you are actually creating like several works with this consistent element and so that is how a series would emerge and artists in a solo show typically show a series so they experiment in experimenting they produce this series which has this consistent element when they produce this consistent element they look back on it and say oh that must be this enduring element in this work this must be something that’s important to my creative vision and then they incorporate that conceptually and mentally into their view of their creative vision and also communicate it to other people and so the creative vision isn’t something that artists conceive of in their mind and then simply execute through experimentation it actually emerges through the process of experimentation in ways that are really unpredictable to artists often and so you know i think we can get really annoyed with artists as sociologists when they talk about like oh it’s all intuitive or like i can’t tell you why how i make what i make it just it’s created like like and we can be cynical about that but i think it’s like there is some truth to that um like yes that’s the myth of what it means to be a creative but it’s also the experience of working in a studio or um you know maybe youtubing or anything where you are aren’t actually predicting it fully in advance and it does feel like it kind of emerges through the process i have a question about that reaction or that experimentation because it sounds a lot like a b testing in marketing or what they do in marketing research when they’re fielding a product and it’s sort of what we encourage our students to undergo that type of test marketing logic as well how much of the artist’s own energy did you perceive was a product of other people’s reception of the work versus like some type of internal satisfaction because when you imagine an artist i’m sure the the image they project is that all that matters is that you know my vision my unique uh you know weird vision is fulfilled but like how much of the energy that you saw was rooted in a reaction where someone’s like man this is testing really well i might be able to make money on this yeah i think that’s not something you can separate out um i don’t think you can say this is like the true me and this is the me that’s responding to other people and one of the sort of interventions i wanted to make in the book was to say okay when we study creativity as sociologists when we look at the creative process in almost every study i can think of we’re looking at something that’s interactive and we’re studying how collaboration shapes that process so okay like how does a trio of jazz musicians collaborate in the process for example or how does do people in a kitchen um collaborate to make a restaurant dish and this is because we’re deeply rooted in this idea that this is that there is no that we’re trying to debunk this creative genius myth and we’re trying to say um no there’s no solitary creative genius here and so in the art world while a lot of more successful artists will have studio assistants who are sort of helping with different stages of the process most of the time artists aren’t in their studios alone and what i wanted to say was even in these moments of solitude these are still social moments of judgment and so i i think you can’t separate out the sort of true artist intrinsic motivation from the extrinsic because i don’t think artists can even sort of peel that apart in their brains because artists are constantly in communication with other people in the art world they’re going to different exhibitions they’re um you know having exhibitions they’re talking to their dealer they’re having peers visit their studio and so they’re constantly getting this these various inputs um and then i think you know they don’t they don’t even know in their mind the extent to which like the response is fundamentally social like their perceptions of their creative visions are um fundamentally produced not only in their studio but through the communication process of them communicating to others what their creative vision is and and seeing other people respond to it and i think there are some points where you see that as clearly sort of um an economic trade-off um in some points where um it it’s it doesn’t seem like there’s the same sort of trade-off and i don’t and artists are only i think sort of aware of the difference when it feels like it’s sort of chafing against what they want to do so sometimes so one point where i saw that really clearly was when artists became really known for something distinctive like the pipe cleaners and then became bored and faced pressure to continue to produce that element and so it was this like feeling of being pigeonholed that showed that sort of constraint from the social world but a lot of times they saw that um as like a you know a productive thing to be in conversation with other people and i think you know there is this tendency to think of the creative vision as as purely this like artist responding to this economic imperative by other people to like fit what other people think of them as and want them to be but i also think the ideas of create the creative vision are also something that artists are almost like authentically committed to so artists buy into this idea that you should be truly like committed to certain elements um that certain elements should be enduring because you have this enduring fascination with them and artists also buy into the idea that you should continue to push yourself and experiment so they think of being a good artist as having this balance of variation and consistency and that that’s not just about being a successful artist but also being a good artist and there’s moments where it can chafe but but it’s also part of their narrative of creativity a couple uh comments uh just from the chat boxes that i’ll pass along uh jason tugar writes that his nephew worked for a gallery and nailed that banana to the wall at art box very cool so yeah that was um a scandal recently in the art world where um uh yeah yeah um where somewhat there was a banana duct tape to a wall that someone then came by and ate in the middle of the fair in it yeah they’re sort of these annual scandals that that are always playing at the same thing which is the sort of um incredulousness people have that people that other people will pay like insane amounts of money for um like quote-unquote things your four-year-old could do yeah i mean it was pretty it was a pretty funny one but it this was this this year well i think last year’s uh version of that oh i see justin oh sorry no you go ahead what’d you say oh ryan sorry go ahead ryan oh great thanks um i think that this uh art market is so strange the contemporary art market like compared to other things in terms of success and who gets ahead i wonder if you could talk a little bit about like the gatekeepers in this art market because i think if you write a really good book although there’s there’s gatekeepers everywhere but if you write a good book or a movie eventually like the audience takes over and you become successful in spite of the the barriers although there’s structures everywhere but in the contemporary art market it just seems so driven by your agent by your exposure and the agent especially has so much power in that who they select to show in the gallery who they select to to to shop to the really high-end buyers and things like that and for them for the ordinary people that i like i like contemporary art but when i go there i’m going to the museum that’s already been curated right um you know we just kind of accept what’s already given you know because we don’t know that much about it uh so what is the role the gatekeepers and is it very different than other uh art worlds yeah that’s a great question so i would say one huge gatekeeper the first gatekeeper is mfa programs um and so and there’s a really important class dynamic to this so mfa programs are extremely expensive um and uh you know similarly to phds there’s there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a job there’s no job to get when you get out like there’s no salary job to get but there’s no guarantee of money at the end of that that path and unlike the phd um you have to pay a lot of money for it so it’s something that’s like pretty economically risky where you have to have either family money or go into a lot of debt um but that is the place where you um learn to start articulating your your creative vision um and where you also gain the beginnings of a professional network that’s going to then follow you when you enter when you enter the art world um and gary fine has a really wonderful book on mfa programs called talking art if you’re interested in that um and then once you’re in the art world there’s several kinds of gatekeepers there’s there’s curators who are either freelance or working for museums um and then there are dealers who are um who have galleries and so the way that works is and there’s galleries of different statuses so there’s galleries for emerging artists and for established artists and first you’ll uh the goal is to be represented by a good gallery and the gallery once it represents you will take 50 of your sales um they’ll have a solo show for you um like every couple years they’ll put you in group shows and they’ll sort of tap you into their network of of collectors and the way you get represented is by having first like they’ll do they’ll put you in a couple group shows then you might get your your first solo show and after one or two solo shows um your work is selling then then they’ll usually offer representation so so dealers are a really important gatekeeper and the status of the dealer really matters in terms of that and dealers are finding artists either from lower status dealers that’s a really big problem in the art world is like poaching um where sort of emerging galleries feel like we built up the career of this artist and then just because we did it well because we were successful and really like committed to this artist the artist became successful and then instead of getting to cash out on that the second the artist was successful the artist was plucked by a higher status gallery and of course it’s in the artist’s interest to go with the higher status gallery because status is what really matters in the art world and so that’s been a really big struggle i think often we think of producers as precarious workers but like over 90 of galleries close within the first couple years and i think uh galleries face a lot of precarity as well in the art world um and so you know um that’s you know it so at the higher status levels galleries are plucking um artists at the lower status levels for emerging dealers they rely a lot actually on networks of artists because they see artists as having this sort of on the ground knowledge of what’s going on in the art world and so that’s kind of why it’s important to go to mfa programs and when you exit mfa programs a lot of artists find contingent labor in the art world like being assistants from more established artists and that can be also a really important it’s not just like about like getting that hourly pay but that’s actually really important for mobility also um and then one last thing i’ll say about galleries is that you know a lot of people focus on their role as like selectors as gatekeepers which ones do they select i also think what’s really important about galleries which has been or gatekeeping in general and this has been discussed a lot less is how they guide the meaning of artwork um or creative products more broadly so they’re not just selecting the artists they’re then once they’re representing them they’re guiding how audiences are perceiving the meaning of the work and so they do this by what i call style scripts or scripts about the meaning of the creative vision and so um they’ll talk to to collectors informally when they come in about you know this is what this artist does this is their body of work this is how this current exhibition represents the body of work they produce books and catalogs where they are able to trace that creative trajectory um and they also work with the artist to write artist statements um or and press releases for each exhibition that explains the meaning so the these her written and verbal statements go hand in hand with the objects themselves let’s talk about let’s talk about biography for a second uh one thing that was interesting is how you talked about how uh dealers uh and the artists themselves would almost generate backstories that would be uh par basically part of the it seems like it’s part of the package uh of the art when you’re buying the art you’re buying like a piece of a story that’s been uh constructed and that part resonated because i think with podcasting in youtube often people are communing with the host and it’s not just about the show the host makes but it’s like who the host is and what they represent could you talk to us a little bit about how artists like the the job of creating an identity and managing an identity and creating a biography like how do they do it how do they create a persona like they do yeah that’s a really great question so i think there’s um sort of a lot to unpack there uh one is that you know artists perceptions of their own identity absolutely matter for how they create their creative vision because they think that you need to be authentically committed to an idea or a theme for it to be in your creative vision so you know i i don’t it’s no accident that more of the female artists i interviewed felt that like feminism and gender and domesticity were important themes in their work because this was resonating with their lived experience and their perception of their identity so i think these like sort of social categories were important in um sort of how artists drew from source material to to experiment with in the creative process and in terms of artists sort of interfacing with their audiences um how because other people also connected this idea of you have to have this like in authentic connection to your creative vision and this enduring commitment to it they were also associating the artist’s creative vision with the artist’s identity and so because of that they not only i mean that was kind of what they felt they were buying when they bought the art they were buying the creative vision and the creative vision was attached to the artist and so they really wanted often to know the artist and to at least at least get to meet the artist to they felt like that allowed them to better understand their creative vision and so collectors like doing studio visits in part because they felt like meeting the artists and seeing the environment in the studio helped them understand this creative vision and i think artists beyond this idea of social categories um artists tried to enact this persona of what it meant to have a true creative vision and so there was this enacting of ideas of um you know willingness to experiment and aesthetic commitment in the personality of the artist so for example artists sort of tried to show dealers that they had this aesthetic obsession that they had these sort of obsessive traits they they tried to show collectors that they did not care about money that it was they were really truly only committed to their art um and they often sort of highlighted their uniqueness and their distinctiveness by um by being really unconventional and eccentric in front of artists so by sort of acting out in certain ways and so you know for example um you know artists would would would often dress really unconf unconventionally even showing up in unconventional clothing to their own um their own gallery exhibitions um they would um you know i had one artist who was a professor and um you know despite being a professor sort of enacted this starving artist persona where we would pick up like he would ask for expired foods at bodegas and that was sort of what he was uh sort of very um publicly trying to live off of um and there was a um you know article in the new yorker about how he um you know forced he forced his students to like um sleep in cold buildings and shower with hoses to like prepare themselves for the life of the artist and so they were really there were some limits to that they were saying you know i’m not actually trying to be starving like i would like to make money but like they really tried to show people that they put aesthetics above money that they were these eccentric creative people um that you know they were obsessed with the things that they they made you know it’s i i really enjoyed uh that part of your book and part of it was you know i remember back in graduate school a lot of a lot of young people think that like eccentricity is a byproduct of genius and they sort of embrace the eccentric behavior as a means of you know fully embracing the role of a genius and to hear this what you’re telling me is like a lot of these artists they put on the eccentricity because of the social like the social expectations of how a creative person would be like you can’t have khakis in a polo shirt yeah and i would say you know while it’s they’re somewhat conscious of it um i think so uh to bring in sociology a bit more uh there’s this um sociologist irving goffman who looks at self-impression management so how do we present ourselves in ways that will be viewed acceptable um to others and not only acceptable but like good to others um and so one of his insights that i find and so he talks about you know we’re always performing a self there’s nothing other than performance of self there’s no core enduring self behind the performance it’s only a mask and one of the things i really like about his insight is that we don’t just perform for other people we perform for ourselves so even when we’re alone we’re still doing a performance of self and so i think it’s the same with the artists where they want other people to see themselves them as authentic artists but they want to see themselves as authentic artists as well and so they buy into this persona as much as anyone else all right we’re running out of time hannah’s got a busy schedule just one more thing before we go first of all thank you so much i’ve loved talking with you today oh thank you for somebody who is an aspiring creative in any medium who wants to know you know what do i have to do to succeed to you know to be creative like what should i do dr walt what do you what what can you give him any advice any just simple tips to set them in the right direction um so you know one thing we talked about was um and it sort of pains me to recommend this because i i think there’s a lot of issues with this but um we were talking about mfa programs and i do think professional networking is really really important um and it pains me because i think there’s a lot of class issues there um and sort of a lot of like elitism baked in with that but if i’m being honest um you know i think we see this in our own field of academia that our professional network is really important um you know i’m on this podcast right now and um and i think uh that is important in any art world and just really heightened in art worlds more than other professions because of this idea that there’s no objective you know criteria that we can point to so all we have is status to rely on um so that would be i think the first thing i would also say you know going back to this idea of creative visions um that it really taught me about this balance of distinctiveness and variation and so you know a distinctiveness is really important especially at the early career stage when you’re trying to get your foot in the door to do something that’s distinctive is the only way to get recognized but it also um doing this project taught me about the dis the dangers of distinctiveness and i talked to a lot of artists later in their careers who really regretted choices that they had made earlier on in their careers that they felt had boxed them in and so there’s a very difficult trade-off there because you have to be distinctive to get in the door but then your distinctiveness can become like a cage basically if if you become too known for something in the art world especially if it was a narrow formal um formal element like um like pipe cleaners that can be something that is becomes almost too distinctive becomes so baked in people’s minds that they can’t associate you with other things and so i think being aware of that pretty early on and trying to um build more um build more elements that people come to see as distinctive and elements that you feel like you can continue to explore without becoming bored in those elements and so artists who i think were the most sort of creatively satisfied that were established artists um were the ones who became known for like pretty broad conceptual themes that they could explore across media media and techniques but that’s a really hard thing to do because it’s less visually recognizable so i just think it’s i don’t have like i think that’s such a tough thing to do to um i think you you need to do something pretty distinctive early on that’s maybe widely recognizable but then iterate from that and change your work pretty quickly after that um to try to avoid this this issue of pigeon holding and effectively communicate to your audience how what your how those new things that look pretty different are connected to those things that you became known um known for so yeah a really hard task ahead professor hannah wool author of bound by creativity how contemporary art is created and judged by the university of chicago press she’s in the sociology department at the university of california santa barbara thank you so much for joining us today thank you so much for having me all right before i close off just a uh a couple final words uh one is join us uh next friday we’re gonna have steve von d’oran from vandoren to talk about the basics of liability and intellectual property law uh and some big issues uh to think about when you are creating content um one here a couple more things hold on uh if you uh like this programming uh uh remember that it is brought to you by the state and city of new york these are your tax dollars at work if you’d like to support what we’re doing at the queen’s podcast lab visit our website and click donate and you can make a tax deductible donation through the department of sociology at the city university of new york to help our project not only does it help do things like purchase resources to make non-commercial educational products and give aspiring young people internships and learning opportunities but it also communicates to our superiors here at the college that people value this type of work uh thank you very much for joining us for those of you on the zoom stand by i’m going to end the live stream so goodbye to everybody on the live stream and we will see you next week okay