Mayer Spivack (1936 - 2011) is @MayerSpivack on Twitter. He was a consultant and advisor on organizational behavior, innovation, and learning, based near Boston, Massachusetts. He was also an artist working in a variety of media. All writing and artworks presented here are the original work and are the copyrighted property of Mayer Spivack. Nothing on this weblog is aggregated from other sources. Reasonable use involving copying with attribution, and limited sharing not for profit, are allowed. Your comments are invited. This blog is now maintained by his son, Nova Spivack. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your interest.
Nan–Nan! Please listen! You’re just my older sister, You’re not my mother. You could not have prevented any of it so try not to blame yourself. It all just happened, things happen. Sometimes they are just a chain of unconnected events. Think about all the good—no, the great—stuff you have done, the stuff you have done for us, for me, try to think about that for a minute. For example—if it weren’t for you, because of you, me and the sibs would not have learned to love the small animals that live near the stream back at the old house. But you know that already—it has been one of your gifts to us all. You have never harmed any of us.
But there has been a kind of family secret that we need to get out from under, and I guess that it’s partly out now. You know some of it, and that’s the part your worrying over, and the others know some, but there is a part that only I know anything about. It has a bit to do with animals.
Cancer is a time machine. The ‘C-Word’, once attached, clings like a burr, leaving sharp bits of itself everywhere. I cannot get rid of it. I heard the word pronounced by a creature whose eyes, dark with seriousness, were telling me the truth.
Waking up in the morning, or less fortunately in the middle of the night, I am innocent, having only to pee. Unaware, forgetting, that the definition of my life and that of my family has been twisted short and for the worse. In a few seconds I remember that I have cancer and we have been pitched steeply into an unknown. I am becoming the newest specimen in the La Brea Tar Pits and must watch us all slowly sink below the surface.
Sinking, I am surprised to notice that everything is not cast in horror-show imagery. I find that the sublime and the agape, what as an artist I have sought all my life, are right there— hidden in plain sight within the ordinary. The most sublime understanding lurks enticingly within the surface of ordinary experience.
I will embarrass myself by claiming, against all my self-training, that phrases and words like I send-my-love and heart, when seriously intended, are as buoyant for me as salt water. They float my boat, the boat in which I am now a castaway. One midnight my intestine folded over itself and blocked. Perhaps in an attempt to escape by air, I swelled, resembling an overinflated blimp. Instead, I rode a bucking ambulance to an emergency room 18 miles away and was placed on a hydration-only diet. And so my life was saved. For eight days my lifeboat was drawn down into a gyre through storms I cannot remember, with no food nor compass, but with ample bags of salt-water. There, truly disoriented in a mental black hole, time became elastic and distorted. Days confused with minutes, seconds now were equal to hours later, and sequences reversed. Much light and love were poured down that vortex into me. Very little came out in return. This is how I became conscious that I was a cancer patient in an immaculate white hospital suite.
I met nurses and doctors who did the most routine repetitive tasks without boredom and somehow made me comfortable in the slop at the bottom of my lifeboat.
That’s the love that is the foundation of compassion. The ‘C-word is changed into Compassion in a cancer-hospital where love begets love. I found that for every kindness given freely to me, I welled-up with gratitude and the wish to give something greater back. I spoke freely, feeling like an oracle, and said things to strangers that I would never have said previously to my intimates. I was also high on morphine.
The trivial became serious and vital. I pointed out that discovery frequently, giving life-lessons unasked. What did I know? Morphine pulls out inhibitions like teeth removed from under a carpet of Novocain. It also erases memory. I cannot remember faces or names from that time. I cannot remember what I said.
Finally free and on the way home in the car, my minds-ears rang with the sounds of the cancer battle in the hospital. My minds-eyes were coming open as never before. I had landed on Earth. Spaceman-me documented the amazing landscape of home with about seventy-five quick photos using on my iPhone. The photos are terrible, but no matter. They are mnemonics for ideas, for light and form, for far horizons and time, for the simple emergent from within the complex, for invention, for another chance…, for awareness and meaning–making. For being.
We now accept that voice activated computers have come of age. There are many applications of voice input that are used by people wishing to avoid using their keyboards. We read about direct brain control of the computer interface and have seen convincing demos of this in action as a prosthetic assist and as research effort. Soon that too will seem commonplace.
The profusion of technologies that offer novel ways for people to enter information into their computers will continue to amaze us. But will the keyboard ever disappear? I strongly doubt it.
Why would we not want to abandon a mechanical kluge, that is noisy, prone to repetitive stress injuries, ergonomically ridiculous in it’s qwerty modality, and slow? Even so, we writers will hang onto our keyboards with our aching fingers even as technical wizards and early adopters call us luddites.
We like our keyboards for the same reasons that we like musical instruments. They serve nearly identical purposes. Human language has deep roots. Early primate language was very likely a mixture of gesture and musical vocalizations. Imagine a lot of hand and finger waving with sounds that are part singing and part muttered intonations. Other species and evolutionary branches are much the same using body position, vibration, arching, puffing, color, and ritualized ‘dance’.
Penmanship and cursive writing served us well and fulfilled some of the same purposes for hundreds of years, just look at the fancy almost carved letter work in a handwritten document from the past several centuries. The visual text supported and illustrated the meaning of the text.
Almost every developed society has it’s own unique version of sign language for the deaf. These expressive languages are rich in meaning, art, and subtlety—and they are gesture languages. They are languages of the body, the arms, the hands and fingers, the face, eyes and mouth.
What does this collection of apparently unrelated examples tell us about keyboards? That they are a continuation of hand gestures and signing, they are in a way related to music and music making. When we type many of us ‘run’ a parallel soundtrack of the written language in our mind’s-ear as it appears on the screen. Nobody else can hear it, but it must sound right to us. This is an integral part of the creative process for writers like myself.
Is there much difference between my Mac Book Pro laptop keyboard and a pianist’s keyboard? My keyboard holds many aesthetic pleasures for me. It has a satisfying ‘feel’ that is rich in kinesthetic feedback to my fingers and hands. It is klicky and tub-thumpy. It makes satisfying sounds for my ears to use in judging if keys have been properly struck. It is warm to the touch and the keys are softly sculpted to cradle my fingertips. I usually don’t like other keyboards. Most importantly, when I use my keyboard in a writing project, I feel free. The freedom of expression that the keyboard offers to a trained touch-typist is a great pleasure. It is a freedom machine for the mind. There it is— what a good keyboard offers is pleasure in creating a musical and meaningful text. You can’t take that away from me.
I think of the word intuition and the word insight as far too-comfortable and simplistic euphemisms for complex
associative / syncretic /concilliative processes that operate in the brain all
the time, and that we are too lazy to examine. We use the words intuition
and insight to cover up the fact that we do not know how creativity
operates, or what it really is. I don’t trust many of the words in common use
that have to do with the mind and the brain, and with thought.
I never allow myself to deceive myself by using these words.
Words are like stage ‘magicians’ who are distract us from what is really
happening to the rabbit. Words like these, unexamined operational terms, have
the reflexive effect of make us incurious and complacent. In this case, we end
up remaining ignorant and believing in magic instead of science.
Intuition and insight are usually identified as the sources of ideas and
sudden insights. Not so. We and our accumulated experiences, and the amassed brain
associations among superficially dissimilar (but deeply similar) things are the
sources of our own creativity.
Because I need to understand how creativity works, I
reject the illusions of intuition and insight.
Please watch the video about
the work of the artist Esref Armagan at the end of this posting.
It presents a credible
record of the process of a Turkish artist, Esref Armagan, born blind, who
nonetheless draws and paints. Despite the ‘common sense’ impression one might
have that this is a trick, his is not a ‘supernatural’ ability or parlor trick in
which he attempts to convince us that the blind can see. The video demonstrates
quite solidly how he is able to conceive of and draw what he can only touch and
This calm and humble man has
the desire, as does any artist, to make images. What is unusual and provokes
our interest is that he cannot see because he was born blind. Yet, he makes
images of objects and places that he can only know by touching and moving
through and around them, and presumably by hearing sound reflected and
refracted from their surfaces. Listen closely outside to the echoes in a quiet public
square. You will hear this effect when the environment is relatively free of
motor noise. Go to Venice and learn that the whole city is an echoic symphony.
His memory of shape, form,
and space are apparently a combination of tactile, kinetic, and probably
acoustic (passive echo-location) sensory and cognitive abilities and skills.
I think that there are
important lessons here! Mr. Armagan is not a freak talent but in some ways is an
ordinary and true artist. For us who pour over images on websites, drawing and
painting have become a kind of faux litmus test of intelligence and creativity
in animals, and we have become accustomed to novel u-tube videos featuring elephants
and other animals that can paint. We know chimps can make images of sorts.
Those animals have been trained to draw by humans, and/or have found some
pleasure in moving colors around. Those videos should not be compared in any
way with this one. Blind people are not elephants.
This video documents a man
making art using the neurological equipment and talents he was born with, just
as do other artists, myself included, (sculpture).
Sculpture-making, at least for
me, is a process, similar to the kind of 'seeing' Mr. Armagan describes and
demonstrates. What he does is quite familiar. When I am working on a piece of
sculpture, images of form 'arrange themselves' in my mind's eye. There is no ‘muse’
in my mind. I am doing the arranging, and the eye I speak of here is truly in
my mind’s visual center, but it feels much as if I am watching a mind-controlled
computer-graphics display filling out an image. This envisioning may occur voluntarily
or involuntarily with my real eyes open or closed. I can do this any time I
need to imagine an object. In any case, I choose to do much of my most
successful decision-making and preparatory conceptualization work just as I am about
to sleep in order to take advantage of the leverage of hypnagogic imagery.
Most often, when I am
intensely creative and productive, I intentionally set aside some time before
sleep to consciously think about alternative ways of solving a formal or other
problem for the next day’s studio work, and am able to evolve and to ‘watch’
various alternative solutions develop on the screen of my mind. I have learned
though that I must consciously ‘tell myself’ that I will remember all these
images when I am awake and able to draw or write them to paper or computer. Occasionally,
if I am fortunate, this process continues while I dream. This sleep-work is a
great boost to my studio work.
These images, particularly
the ones that I choose as the better ones, then become multi-sensory and
sometimes synesthetic impressions.Nearly always they combine into visual ideas or visual thought having
qualities of tactility, form, space, time, place (location), material (wood,
steel, copper etc.), mass, weight, size, structure, balance, motion, color,
texture, , light absorption and reflectivity, shadow, highlight, (and myriads of other qualities).
Visual thought integrates
the relationships among all these parts, giving to my imagined sculpture a high
degree of apperceived realism. I can rotate the envisioned object, observe it
from various angles, inspect it internally and externally for contradictions
and mechanical interferences and failures in structural logic. Making the piece
the next day in the studio is then a matter of completing this previously envisioned
solution, and inventing changes to it as the work progresses.
The analogy that comes to
mind is as if my brain were able to compose, code, and send the output data (via
a buffer) to a printer (my hands), to ‘print’ by representing the original
visual thoughts in three dimensions, or more, (my work often involves movement
and time). This print-out of the whole pre-conceived artwork develops like film
in a darkroom tray as I work during the next days or weeks. Many of my pieces
go on like this for a year or more.
All this internal
envisioning and real-time studio work is a compelling experience that one does
better as one works.
Artists have practice in survival on minimal rations and
little income. Many make little or no income from art, but with pluck and luck
can make a side-job support their own work efforts. Peanut-butter and impasto paint
are both common artist’s materials. Peanuts in—paints out.
Some people must be paid to do a stitch of work, while
artists gladly pay for the privilege of working. That is the first paradox. The
second paradox is that what the larger economy values (not necessarily art),
has now become massively devalued and everyone else’s shirts are in tatters,
the hair shirts worn by artists are still as itchy, and covered with wet clay
While Christies and other Auction houses, and the
galleries report declining art sales, this does not much affect most living
artists whose art is rarely shown, and infrequently offered at high-end
Now, as the economic slump closes factories and stores, causing
bankruptcies and foreclosures, artists work right on into the night, their
studio lights burning brightly.
Many people who disliked their jobs have now lost them
along with their income and security. Artists still have their artwork and love
to do it. They are used to not having security and they don’t have it now. Yet,
we are not all in the same boat. Artists keep on working, creating the inherent
value of discovery and invention. They open our senses to what was previously
unnoticed, sometimes make ‘beautiful’ objects or images, and in the process
they re-create our ideas of the beautiful; and they remain busy.
They are working to create something of real value to themselves. How could art be “real value”? If I
replace the word ‘real’ with ‘long-enduring’ does that help? New breakthrough artworks become the great art
treasures of tomorrow and their value may last for generations, if not for
centuries. Notice the word ‘may last’—this is not risk-free investment. No
investment is risk-free, as today’s headlines demonstrate. It is up to the
collector/art buyer to perform their own due-diligence; to know the current art
world, and to go it one better based on their personal aesthetic choices, to
invest in the un-noticed or undervalued artists, find the significant, the
rare, and to buy and to exhibit these works, and thereby create a niche for
their growing collection.
Most of the time, the works of living artists are affordable,
because artists must meet a ‘price-point’ that smaller art collectors can bear.
Now during the economic slump these artworks are relative bargains, available
to the more prosperous collectors who have not lost their taste for art that
they still love, even though they no longer can afford the work of great
This is their time to pounce. Great art collections were acquired
this way, when relatively wealthy collectors, art patrons, galleries, and
private buyers have invested in art while others counted only their losses.
Their investments in art were often relatively so small in comparison with
their own larger economic losses (along with the losses of others), that the downside
risk was negligible while the upside possibilities were great.
Many of those investments appreciated wildly over decades
and are the reasons that we visit now museums. Museums, these days more so than
banks, continue to retain works of real value.
Now is the time for smart people to visit their local
artists, before the quick old foxes wake the lazy dogs.
Everyone who loves music should follow this link to a performance from Venezuela during the recent TED conference.
I think that this is an unbreathable performance. Now that I have inhaled, I cannot remember such energy in a conductor or orchestra integrated so well since Sergei Koussevitzky conducted The Boston Symphony Orchestra, way back. That is the highest praise, well deserved. Hope, alive in the world!
This posting is another in what I now realize will be a longer series on the life-cycle and utility of communication channels. The first, posted on December 14, 2003 is entitled: Six Stages In The Life Cycle Of Communication Channels.Six Stages In The Life Cycle Of Communcation Channels Now in this current paper I will consider the special case of information propagation and dissemination for original, disruptive, or counterintuitive intellectual content.
The peer-review process filters undesirable qualities from publications within scientific and academic communities. It is generally intolerant of innovations, disruptive observations, and contributors whose work is nearly entirely original (with the exception of mathematics), yet these qualities are essential to a healthy intellectual environment.
Original workers take great risks, often remain isolated from their peers, and are typically shunned and disrespected by potential employers. They are lonely thinkers that crave colleagues and dialogue.
The web-log, or blog, is now the most accessible as well as the most rapid route to publication for these original minds, and it does offer some dialogue. But the blogosphere is a generally a chaotic and unreliable marketplace for information. It is more often used for agglomerating news, publishing news and commentary or accessing news, either personal or news of interest to the greater community, than as a portal for serious intellectual publication.
Publishing original material on a blog is risky because the contribution is automatically branded unreliable because the writers become known by the company that they keep, and that company is far too often intellectually messy and unreliable.
What is this website and weblog Arts and Minds all about? in this blog I examine connections among art, mind, thought, technology and behavior.
When we think of ancient civilizations or primordial peoples and their cultures we think, first, of their arts. We search for a historical record of their sculpture, painting, their dance, their technology and their way of life. We have archive and study treasured examples of their poetry and other writing.
The brain has no hard edges; neither does information. There are no gray interior walls to prevent ideas from wandering across the boundaries between and among fields. Many paths of curiosity lead to intellectual, artistic and scientific questioning, and onward to understanding. For many of us and for our children, these curious pathways are barred by signs that say: “Private Property—Do Not Enter Without Permission”). In the words of a song: “We have to be carefully taught.”
When first my consciousness surfaced this morning from the night-long swim through sleep, I directed my attention to remembering a photograph of a woman who has been traveling much too long, someone I love, whose photograph I have looked at often, and with serious consideration during the writing of these essays.
While these sentiments may be important to her and myself, they are also important to my subject. I have been motivated to regard this image, to find charming details, new discoveries, to memorize it. I know this photograph. I have searched it almost microscopically for meaning. I also know other photographs, for there are many photographs that I admire as art, that I have examined carefully. This one is not art, only a snapshot. Before opening my eyes I readied myself to observe the experience of remembering this photograph. It happens fast. First there is no photo, then as I become aware that I intend to remember it, it is there in memory. But what has “appeared”, and where is it? What kind of representation am I examining so earnestly? Can I actually see it “in my minds eye”?
Publishing a web-log has shifted some gears in my mind— from neutral into first gear. It has also put me in touch with an audience that I have not had in forty years. Even one serious reader can make that happen.
I think that no one can be a writer unless they first love reading wonderful writing by others. That is not a sufficient criterion by itself, but it does ensure an occasional artistic warmth and generosity among otherwise often crusty competitors. Necessary for the ‘natural’ or real writer is a compulsive need to remember and refine, by means of ‘writing it down’, thoughts that come in waves, often in storms of waves, threatening to swamp and drown one another in foamy confusion leaving nothing on the beach for the next day. Writing, my own included, is therefore narcissistically not very generous (that is not to imply it is un-generous), and self-inventing. What can save a sinner like me are intellectually and artistically generous friends who are fine writers and who will ungrudgingly read one’s work. So for the first time, when I write, I imagine the eye and mind of one who will read and comprehend, whereas before I always wrote into the abstracted impersonal void. I never imagined an audience. Maybe my writing will become simpler and more personal for this favor—and personal writing demands more courage than writing impersonally.
The Alex Foundation- Home page Irene Pepperberg studies cognitive process, teaching and learning in birds. She is problably the most recognized researcher on avian cognition in the world. Alex, her now famous long-time research subject and 'collaborator' recently died at half his life expectancy. Now Wart and Griffin are her collaborators. They are saying and doing things we used to believe that only small children, great apes, and dolphins could do. Her brilliant work deserves better funding.
Tai Chi Chen style Taiji quan- Instruction Marin Spivack is a masterful Teacher of Tai Chi in Salem, Massachusetts; Chen style Instruction in authentic Taiji martial arts, Qi cultivation, Tai Chi DVD videos. Chen Zhaokui Martial Arts Research Association, North America. He is also a composer, a saxophonist, and he is my son.
Minding the Planet Nova is a cognitive scientist and high-tech entrepreneur working on technologies that overcome our information overload. He has founded companies and is now developing interactive internet software, TWINE, that we all need. His thinking covers a great range. He is my Son.
Marin Spivack & Milo Francis | Amie Street Marin Spivack is a Composer, virtuoso saxophonist, Teacher of Tai Chi in Salem, Massachusetts; Chen style Instruction in authentic Taiji martial arts, Qi cultivation, Tai Chi DVD videos. Chen Zhaokui Martial Arts Research Association, North America. He is my son.