Our Future Strategy - Adjunct Prof. Ray Wills

Futurist and Adjunct Professor Ray Wills is a bit of a rock-star to the science and tech worlds, bringing passion and vision to his topics of energy, climate, technology and sustainability - and the future.

I first saw Ray speak at an energy innovation event, where he began talking about the importance of Pokemon Go to tech, moved onto stress the importance of language in innovation, then showed clearly how rates of change are increasing, and argued governments must in fact drive innovation.

Ray's pursuits are many and varied, from his $160 million Cunderdin solar farm and his work as a futurist at Future Smart Strategies. I caught up with Ray for one of the longer chats I've had for this blog - where amongst other topics we covered Star Trek and the impact of the US election - those parts of the chat I've saved for a future 'Part 2', but the rest remains compelling to hear.

In essence, "the future" may not be as far away as we think - whereas once we thought the years 1984 or 2000 were futuristic (the 1981 TV show "Towards 2000" became "Beyond 2000" in 1985), its quite likely that the technology we still think of as futuristic now (driverless cars or 3D printed buildings) may already be past the corner, due to the changes in our abilities to test and iterate.

This also brings more fundamental and possibly unexpected changes - road systems themselves may entirely change and need to be re-thought if cars can self-regulate, for example, and a city of roads starts to seem, well, very 2016.

My chat with Ray is not so much about the role of creativity directly, but it illustrates how rapidly things may change, and I believe our "creative capacity" (our ability to create new opportunities, generate new answers and iterate if things don't work) becomes crucial - and quite possibly, the skills we will need to both anticipate our future, and design systems and models we use within it.

Accessing Creativity - Artist Open House Fremantle

If we are to benefit more widely from creativity and art, we need to have good access to it, and the greater the quality of our contact, the more we stand to benefit. But there can be barriers to appreciating art or connecting to creativity. One initiative aimed at overcoming that very problem is Artist Open House Fremantle.

AOHF is in its third year of opening up homes throughout South Fremantle as exhibition spaces over a weekend - a unique combination of art in the very environment in which it will ultimately be enjoyed, and an opportunity to see and interact with spaces or forms that inspire those who live there. Of course, the art and architecture also interact, highlighting and accentuating each other. 

Whilst not the only of its kind (ArtWalk Freo is similar) AOHF has made a big impact as a warm, welcoming community event, and an excellent way to see an array of artists in a setting that breaks down some barriers that can be present in more traditional exhibition. 

For that reason, AOHF and initiatives like it, allow us to benefit from better connections to creative work. I see this as similar to the Parlour Gigs model (and others like it) of backyard or lounge-room gigs - bringing music into new environments that allow different or direct connections to audiences. Similarly again at a much broader scale, Perth's FRINGEWORLD Festival (on whose board I currently sit) brings us a huge range of art and creativity in variety of very unique settings, and has proven it's ability to create a huge audience.

I believe that the quality of our access to art is as important as appreciating the true benefits of art and creativity in our lives: which is that the more we connect to art and creativity, the more we can be innovative and creative in any aspect of our lives, and in the face of unknown future challenges. Thus, the more effectively we connect to creativity and art, the greater these potential benefits can be.

On my visit to AOHF this year, I spoke with Cat Read, found of "Artist Open House Fremantle", about the event, and how it works.

 

 

Re-thinking film distribution - Richard Sowada

Ironically, I wasn't able to film my conversation with Richard Sowada, recent Head of Film Programs at ACMI and Festival Director at Revelation Perth Independent Film Festival, so perhaps think of these penned notes as a "script" for a movie you haven't yet seen!

Whilst my thoughts on this blog often explore how models or practices in art and creativity benefit us in unrelated areas, by no means is the creative sector itself free of the need for innovation or creative solutions to ensure the arts can deliver its outcomes effectively. In many cases, delivery or distribution models have proven to be outdated, as the recorded music industry itself can sorely attest to. As artists themselves continue to experiment with form, structure or even product, this can seed wider change in how we access art.

Richard explains, "The film sector may be viewed as being based on innovative approaches and practice, but this pertains in most part to (film) technology and the use of it. The qualities and power that digital presentation provides in cinema, festival, installation and non-cinema contexts and concepts is extraordinary. Sound, picture, colour, mobility, photography and cost all amount to an utterly different experience for audiences and extraordinary new creative ground for filmmakers to explore". 

Richard adds that there has been a marked leap in both the quality of ideas and quality of execution, in experimental cinema particularly, which has experienced a great shift into broader festival programming due to an ability to harness big screen aesthetics.

"But the gears of the industry aren’t necessarily working together in a way that follows through that innovative production approach into actually reaching audiences", Richard explains. "Despite wholesale changes in the sector and a rapid move away from analogue to digital presentation, the distribution and exhibition sector has stayed largely the same". 

"Despite the audiences desire for more tailored experiences and the dissolving of traditional "territory by territory" access to content, the distribution and exhibition sector remains a small number of key players, multiplex dominated, with decades old program formats of staggered release windows - cinema, TV, home entertainment etc. This is currently a major battleground, but utterly unwinnable by the exhibitors, who want to maintain longer release times between cinema and other platforms."

So, as the filmmaking art-form itself is seeing such leaps and bounds, why isn't the way it reaches its audience also keeping pace? Ironically again, the creative sector itself needs to maintain and build its own "creative capacity", and apply creative approaches and thinking to its own outputs. Apple and other's "creative capacity" did it for the music industry, which has struggled to catch-up since.

Like music, Richard says "There now exists a different chronology in the film release pattern, as well as a different kind of audience, with a different kind of expectation. The dilemma is that the foundations and practices are so entrenched that those who have been part of that traditional way simply cannot see an alternative - but I’m guessing that’s no different to any long standing business."

"For the filmmaker who wants to enter the business part of the sector, this provides some difficulty - especially if they’re wanting to effect some form of deep and immediate change in a sector that has fundamentally remained unchanged despite the enormous changes that have gone on around it and continue to buffet it. Strangely though, the sector doesn’t look inward to reveal the lessons of the power of innovation", he says.  If ever there was proof that we need to build our "creative capacity" in every area, there it is.

"One need look no further than the great moments of cinema and here two things spring immediately to mind - Reservoir Dogs, a film so fresh and different that Tarantino’s approach completely reshaped the world of contemporary cinema overnight. He’s not alone, as many of the great moments of cinema did likewise by emphatically pointing that-a-way and saying not “this is what we are” but “this is what we are not”.

As the world changes at an increasing rate, in new and unexpected ways, we need the ability to move forward from where we have been, understanding how to chart new courses and overcome new obstacles. It is our "creative capacity" that will deliver us that.

Creating Conversations - AWESOME Arts

AWESOME International Arts Festival has wrapped up for this year after 10 days of creative and arts-driven fun solely for kids.

It's an arts event that does more than just entertain - it directly builds the creative capacity of our children for whatever their future lives hold. I had the chance to speak to CEO Jenny Simpson about how the Festival approaches its audience, and aims to provide children with something more long lasting and valuable than 'just fun' (the video is below, or externally here).

AWESOME is also very collaborative within the Perth arts community - it works alongside a range of other organisation (not all of them in the arts sector), to offer a diversity of activity over its 10 days, and to connect children to these other entities. Holding events in the State Theatre Centre could be the first time that a child (including the very young) experiences one of our city's top arts performance venues. It sets up relationships and foundations on which future engagement with arts or creative activity can grow, and also ensures creativity, curiosity and imagination (and other skills that will become essential to both our and our children's futures, as I discussed recently with Paul Collard) are given the chance to become a central tenet of how our kids see, and engage with, their future worlds. 

Several events stood out to me as being particularly, impressive - State Library of WA's "Better Beginnings" book-writing program sees our youngsters writing their own books, which are copied and placed into the Library's collection. Acting as a 'time capsule', it gives kids direct connection with our State Library's connection, a staggeringly impressive resource once you take a look to see what is actually in there. Any reason for kids to visit that in the future is a good one.

Similarly, WA Museum's "Museum of Us" allows kids to put their own 'piece', and its story, into the Museum collection, after being on display in the pop-up museum over the course of the Festival. Submissions over the 10 days of AWESOME are now on display on the WA Museum's website.

The shelves of the 'Museum of Us' already well stocked mid-festival at AWESOME 2016.

The shelves of the 'Museum of Us' already well stocked mid-festival at AWESOME 2016.

There is also the Charter of Children's Rights to Arts and Culture (how awesome is that!) put together by Italy's La Baracca Testoni Ragazzi theatre, and translated into 27 languages. It's now been translated now into Noongar by Coleen Sherratt, recognising Noongar as our first language.

The "Charter of Children's Rights to Arts & Culture", translated into Noongar by Coleen Sherratt.

The "Charter of Children's Rights to Arts & Culture", translated into Noongar by Coleen Sherratt.

AWESOME CEO Jenny Simpson has a lot to say in our chat about what the Festival offers kids - and what it directly offers to the building of our 'creative capacity' - a future where we can create opportunity, find solutions and respond to challenges of any kind, in a creative, positive manner.

Thanks for reading, and please do 'spread the word', it is a conversation I believe is worth having!

 

Creative Kids - Paul Collard, FORM's Expert-in-Residence

Paul Collard believes creativity is essential to teach children - and it's not too late for adults.

Paul is CEO of UK-based kids education foundation Creativity, Culture & Education, and he has been 'expert-in-residence' at FORM's newly unveiled 'The Goods Shed' in Claremont this month.

I saw Paul speak to a group of parents and teachers about how important creativity is - and will be - for children growing up into a complex, changing future, and how 'creativity' is actually multi-dimensional, involving elements of resilience, discipline, curiosity and interactivity. He explains this in our chat below.

Paul and I kept chatting after filming, and I regret running out of camera memory, as he had a lot more great, insightful things to say, a lot of which relate directly to creative capacity.

'It's about imagination'

As Paul explains in our chat, many adults do in fact use creative skills in some aspects of their lives, but in many cases we don't see ourselves as being "creative" - or we don't apply those skills 'at work'. If Paul meant that we all have creative skills and ability that we could simply try to "bring out", I asked him whether being surrounded by a community rich in arts and creativity would help us do that.

To my surprise, Paul was circumspect. Surely he wasn't about to say arts didn't have an impact on our own creativity?

He didn't (phew) - and what he said was very insightful. Paul believes a lot of arts or creative 'activity' is not really very creative. For example, learning scales on an instrument or watching TV - what matter, is whether our imagination is involved. For example, using a musical instrument to play something original or as interpreted by us, or to dissecting the narratives presented in a film. When we do this, we engage our imagination and that's when we engage - and develop - our creativity. That developed creativity then becomes something useful to us in a range of ways: at work, in family life, in our other hobbies and pastimes. It's all in how you do it.

'A language for art'

Paul also spoke about our ability to connect to art, and how that often also increases once our imagination is properly engaged. An art critic, for example, is generally seeing each new piece of art against all the works they have seen before, to compare and contrast and use the language they have developed through all of those other works, and then describing what they see now in a new work.

For many of us, we might not have a fully developed "language for art", and that can get in the way of us appreciating art more fully, and, as Paul described above, engaging our imaginations beyond simply a visual impression or reaction. I likened this 'language' to how understanding the rules of a sport can suddenly make sense (or even beauty) from what can otherwise seem a mess of people running around with a round thing. Or how a wine-tasting course can bring insight and appreciation beyond simply reacting to taste.

If we don't have time for an art appreciation course, how do we gain a 'language for art'? Paul described several techniques he uses with children, such as an artwork being verbally described to you in detail before you actually get to see it, so your imagination builds up a picture for you - then, on seeing the work, the colours, shapes and dimensions connect with what formed in your imagination. It's the engagement of your imagination that helps you to more deeply see the artist's creativity at work. It's for this reason that I believe a regular interaction with arts and creativity of all types - visual art, sculpture, design, film, music and performance - does in fact help us build our wider creative skills and capacity. The more art we see, engage with and expose ourselves to, the more we build up a 'language of art and creativity', which in turn activates and develops our own creative or imaginative abilities. It might also allow us to develop the related skills in persistence, collaboration or curiosity. By building up our experience of all those aspects of creativity, we become a lot better at being creative ourselves, and we can make the choice to apply that to areas such as our work and home lives.

In the end, it's a neat 'take away' - we are all creative beings (as I say, "to be creative is to be human, to be human is to be creative"), and we stand to benefit greatly it we develop our creativity: as individuals, as families or groups, and as a society. We can develop creativity by not only recognising its different dimensions (such as those Paul describes), but by also recognising we all have those skills already to some degree and developing them by engaging with arts and creative work in a way that engages our imaginations. Building our creative muscles.

I believe that if we do this - as individuals, groups, or as a society - we can create a future that is rich with opportunity, growth, and harmony, for us, and for our increasingly creative kids.

Language & Identity - Melbourne Writers Festival

The Melbourne Writers Festival concluded on Sunday, after 10 days' focus on books and writing.

Amongst sessions covering issues as diverse as whether Australian needs a 'bill of rights' (Bob Carr thinks not, saying an 'engaged population' is adequate protection against wayward laws - Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs disagrees), mapping Indigenous land and languages, political behind-the-scenes, and the ability of language to unite a nation and maintain identity, I spoke to Festival Director Lisa Dempster about the role that the literature festival plays in a city.

Lisa (a former Emerging Writers' Festival Director) had a lot to say about the importance of an ideas and creativity-based festival, and the conversations that start - and remain - because of it.

Literature and language are key tools in how we develop identity, ideas and 'creative capacity' - our individual or combined ability to generate new solutions, opportunities, and thus, our future.

Michael Tucak talks to Lisa Dempster, Festival Director of Melbourne Writers Festival, about the creative and social benefits that literature, and a 10 day festival dedicated to writing and ideas, has for Melbourne - and the importance of a strong creative ecology to a developing city. 

CinéfestOZ - seeding local creativity

CinéfestOZ film festival happens each August around Busselton, Western Australia, and brings the Australian film industry with it.

It also boasts the richest film prize in Australia, the $100,000 "Australian Film Prize" (won this year by quirky 70s' period coming of age comedy 'Girl Asleep').

I spoke with CinéfestOZ Chair, and one of its visionary founders, Helen Shervington, about what the festival offers the region in lasting benefits after the red carpet is rolled up for another year.

It is a great example of "capacity building" across the South West region, from seeding creativity amongst festival guests, filmmakers and stars, as well as local school kids and their teachers, to redefining the community's identity (and its capacity) through creativity. 

All this is a huge credit to the largely volunteer-based CinéfestOZ team and it is as much well loved festival for anyone who has discovered it (David Wenham comes most years). It was itself borne from the creative idea to combine a film fest with a food and wine region amongst one of the most stunning scenery Western Australia has to offer. It is building its audience and the local community - all through a clever combination of harnessing creative activity and spreading its light out to others.

 

 

Creative Capacity Building

Today I'm taking a big step in a direction I've been wanting to do for a while - for years, actually.

This blog starts a new chapter for me advocating for and championing arts and creative activity, building on what I've done to date.

I'm doing so because believe that creativity, embodied in arts, culture and creative work, are fundamental to how we develop as a society. So far, I've dedicated my legal career to supporting creative work for almost 20 years, and set up a specialist arts and creative industries law practice just over 8 years ago.

I've dedicated hours to other creative endeavours, such as arts boards as diverse as RTRFM 92.1 radio, Emerging Writer's Festival, FringeWorld and the Chamber of Arts & Culture. I've managed and mentored writers and musicians, executive-produced film and multi-platform concepts, and spent probably too many hours enjoying films, performances, exhibitions, festivals and pitches.

Why am I blowing my own trumpet? Not just to make up for never becoming an actual musician, but as a small fanfare for why I think this area is so important and for me to want to do more. Creativity makes us who we are, and allows us to connect, explore and understand. It gives us balance and well-being, whether we experience it ourselves or through someone else's work. It helps us develop skills and abilities - empathy and critical thinking, for example, innovation and collaboration - in a way that will become essential in a rapidly changing and complex world. I also believe that our creativity is the essence of being human.

I want to continue my work in support of creativity in a new way, and help give voice to an area that I feel we are yet to appreciate and fully understand for the direct and tangible benefits it gives us.

It's a little bit like me moving from drums up to guitar.

Please join me on this journey, and sign up to the blog (so I can stop annoying you on Facebook!)

A great wave can carry us far

A great wave can carry us far

cre·ate (krēˈāt/) verb - to bring (something) into existence

 

Cultural Collaboration - Caucasian Chalk Circle

A lot has been said about the "cultural circle" inherent in Black Swan Theatre's collaborative new production "The Caucasian Chalk Circle" - a Chinese fable, adapted by a European playwright, performed by Australian actors, under direction by a Chinese director. 

It also offers great potential as a kind of 'blueprint' for collaboration and co-operation between Australia and China in other areas - within the 'shared language' of theatre, a lot would have been learned about how to best mesh or connect two different cultures. It would offer great, useful insight to others, Chinese or West Australian, also seeking to form bonds and work together effectively. A commercial or governmental connection might have different objectives or rules to theatre, but the cultural aspect of international co-operation in any sector is always crucial. International business theory recognises this. The arts may offer a very fertile way to do it. 

It was collaboration clearly visible on stage - Beijing opera style masks and robes, sets and movements, combined with very "local" accents, dialogue and music - musician Clint Bracknell expertly putting Brecht's verse to a laconic Australian folk style, live on stage. A highlight was Geoff Kelso's completely larrikin Judge Azdak dispensing justice with gestures and movement completely Chinese, but a manner and turn of phrase that reminded me of Bob Hawke when he's had a few two many at the races (or America's Cup)! It had me thinking - amongst the laughter - about the kinds of similarities that might exist between what two very different cultures.

According to Dr Wang Xiaoying (of the National Theatre of China, housed in the now well know "giant egg" building in Beijing), it is probably the first step in ongoing collaboration with WA's state theatre company. The opportunity is also there for a wider benefit.

Innovation needs a creative culture

The WA Innovation Summit held in Perth last week was a great step forward for WA - but despite the focus, collaboration, ideas and outcomes, something crucial to us becoming an innovative state was still missing.

Innovation is not just about the right business, investment or funding conditions, or new linkages between industry, institutions and government, or retaining the best and brightest talent. It needs creativity itself to be strong, actually woven through the very fabric of the system that innovates.

The Innovation Summit seemed - and looked - very much a business and government event (suits, ties and the nature of a lot of the discussion), which treated the subject within its own framework. There was very little discussion about where the ideas actually come from - a who, where or why?

Looking at innovation this way risks leaving a massive hole in the foundations - yes, innovation will work best through a 'top down' approach, whether that top is a company board/executive, or the government of the day. But it also needs an environment from which ideas can spring and "bubble up". Innovation itself rarely comes from the top. It often comes from unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

Focussing our innovation discussions within a business-only framework, without looking at where and why ideas spark and bubble, is a little like a corporate board deciding 'lets be innovative' and allocating funds, a new 'Innovation Team' and regular reporting and scorecards on progress made.

Compare that to the current global leaders in innovation- all have environments heavily focussed on creativity: the Googles and Apples. They recognise it's still the individual that starts innovation through a human creative process - and they will best do this in an open, creative environment. It doesn't simply mean beanbags or foosball tables in the breakout room. It is a cultural approach.

In the case of building a more innovative city or state, this means we need to create a culture that does the same thing - viz. the best conditions in which creativity and innovation can "bubble up" from anywhere. Once that foundation is strong, it's on it we can build structures around business, investment, collaboration and commercialisation. At present, we're ignoring the actual innovators.

How exactly do we build this creative foundation for our city? I believe it begins with the arts and creative sectors, by ensuring those sectors are strong, visible, diversely connected and vital. If we do that, we value creativity and we encourage the individuals who generate it and engage with it.

I tweeted to this effect last week live streaming the Summit. I hope the seed was at least planted.

 

 

Art Informing Innovation

An artist’s talk by Perth artist Miik Green, at his current "Pigments and Pathogens" exhibition at Linton & Kay in Subiaco, demonstrates how arts can benefit innovation.

Green's work and process is unusual - he prepares then pours a hybrid resin onto a square aluminium 'canvas' laid flat on the floor of his studio, mixing in pigments for colour. He then injects (quite literally, with lab syringes) various industrial chemicals and compounds - 'pathogens' that will soon affect the resin. He seals off the studio, and then leaves the flat work alone, bubbling away, reacting and creating new forms. A few hours later, when the reactions are complete, he inspects the resultant works, which based on those in the exhibition, are often quite astounding and unexpected.

The chemical reactions within or on the surface of the resin create cracks, scars, cell-like forms and cosmic patterns - quickly leading the viewer to make connections with organic or chemical processes, of forms growing in a lab, or occurring in outer space. Some seem to have mutated, others have formed surfaces of great beauty – or both.

Miik Green from the Xylem Series (mixed media on aluminium)

Miik Green from the Xylem Series (mixed media on aluminium)

But to look only at the surface of these works is to miss the point – and a real benefit. An artist’s work is also always an embodiment of the artist’s process and approach to creating, and it is of course here that artists can really push boundaries. The artistic process is not just the technical application of paint or hard lines of sculpting, it is the inception, implementation and realisation of new concepts, models and perspectives. These might not always be evident in the finished work, but they are always there – and they are important. It’s these matters that offer great benefit to how we innovate.

Miik’s approach to his creations is quite unique – in his words (paraphrased), he is 'controlling the inputs, but not the outputs', and he willingly gives over the process to “chaos”, once he has mixed and injected a combination of ‘pigments and pathogens’. He carefully seeks out and considers these inputs, and tightly controls the process in which they interact, but at the point he closes the door to his lab, he steps away. He doesn’t seek to find perfection or any other specific goal – he simply seeks to create.

He also rarely tries to replicate or fine-tune a work to get closer to a desired result – instead he simply moves on to uncover the outcome of another set of pigments and pathogens. No work is a “failure” (even if it turns out brown!) unless the process fails by say catching fire, or a bug landing in the resin mucks it all up. All his outcomes are 'successes', and so he chooses which to exhibit based on the range of those results.

So – how could Miik’s artistic process of creating chemical works benefit innovation?

If we look at why we innovate, we are often setting out to meet specific needs. But, in many cases, true innovation occurs with a discovery of the unexpected, chartering of an unexplored territory, or the uncovering of new possibilities, which we then seek to utilise. Any innovation is expected to be useful, or to solve some problem, but it does not mean we need to narrow our goals and “close off” how we should arrive at them.

The artistic process, and in particular Miik Green’s, offers great insight to this aspect. A process by which an unlimited range of output can occur offers just as much scope for innovative results as does a carefully controlled, replicated and refined process of seeking to arrive at a specific goal (such as a specific advancement in a technology). If we seek just to achieve goal A, we may well miss out on all innovation from B to Z.

Not all those outcomes might be immediately useful, but they will seldom be useless. A murky brown artwork is still useful – should murky brown artwork come into vogue. The point is that if we preconceive what will be “innovative”, we will limit innovation.

For example, one of Miik’s works reminded me of lush grey marble splattered with silver ingots – Miik’s artistic process may have been much like the natural process that forms marble; a unique combination of chemicals mixing in a molten magma to create an entirely unpredictable and unreplicable effect, which is exactly what gives marble its unique allure. Miik clearly wasn’t setting out to create this result. Could we have innovated marble in a controlled laboratory, before we even knew marble was?

Opening up the outcomes, whether in a chemical laboratory, an engineering factory, an app development studio or a service delivery review, can create more outcomes – and can lead to useful innovations from outside where we had previously focused our efforts or control. Quite literally, ‘outside the box’ of where we think we know it will be.

Whilst there is obviously value in seeking to control outcomes and to achieve specific results, this can come at the expense of completely missing the innovation we would see by leaving the objectives or parameters more open. Innovation can benefit from an artistic methodology, like Miik Green's, that seeks to uncover all the possibilities.

More tangibly then, drawing on the artist’s processes in a technological or industrial setting would open up more possibilities for innovation. There are precedents for an “artist in residence” who can challenge industrial approaches, and open innovation. Xerox’s Palo Alto Artist-in-Residence, put artists and developers, who each worked with similar technology, in an environment that lead to new technology and methods.

Placing Miik Green in a West Australian industrial chemical lab to work alongside and collaborate in creating new compounds or uses would likely lead to similar results.

At the very least, his process, of seeking not to control or direct outputs, of having no specific objective or ‘box’ other than to create new interactions, and therefore results, offers a powerful new perspective to innovators in technology, chemistry or software.

Whilst there is value in seeking to control outcomes and achieve specific outcomes (new tools or products we need, for example), how many do we miss, by a long way or a hair's breadth, by not leaving the parameters or objectives more open? Could innovation benefit from a methodology, like Miik Green's, that seeks to uncover all the possibilities, rather than narrow down certainties?

MIIK GREEN from the Xlyem Series (mixed media on aluminium)

MIIK GREEN from the Xlyem Series (mixed media on aluminium)

The Greatest - An Artist

Vale Muhammad Ali.

We did lose an undisputed legend of the sporting world this weekend - and also a great artist.

Muhammad Ali's boxing prowess was equally matched by his commitment to social justice and of course his verbal abilities - his quotes, quips and 'trash talk' clearly displaying his immense strength of self-belief, determination and an utterly unique approach.

I believe Ali tapped into the source of his very individual self, that thing that set him apart - and each of us too - from any other human being on the planet. Doing so, he was able to not just be a skilled boxer or sensationalist showman, he was able to express this 'self', and the talents that went with it, to their optimum, to their fullest. I'm not just saying he was an artist because of how he spoke or how he 'performed', but because these things he did were an honest and wholehearted expression of what lay within himself. To my mind, that makes him an artist - driven by not just a need to succeed or to 'be the best', but to bring his own unique humanity to the world.

That's what I believe art and creativity offers us - the opportunity to bring the best and most unique parts of ourselves to the world. Of course, it is often expressed in forms most of the rest of the world can understand (music, sculpture, speech, or sport), and it is often able to resonate with people we've never met, who come from opposite sides of the world and who are shaped by different cultures.

Our creativity is our humanity, and it lies within each of us - it gives life to who we each are. We know "greatness" when we see it, and I believe that's when someone has tapped deeply into their humanity, and (thus) their creativity. Each of us has the ability to do this.

We can do it in anything we do, whether its 'artistic' or not. But also - Importantly - experiencing the art and creativity of others lets us connect or tap into this part of ourselves - the power experienced in seeing an incredible vocal or musical performance, an artistic or sculptural work. For this reason, art and creativity are fundamental - they allow us to be the best we can be, "the greatest of all time".

The doco about Muhammad Ali's victory in Zaire, "When We Were Kings" (the clip above is the trailer) is one of my favourite films of all time, because it demonstrates the above in so many ways - great filmmaking, some of the world's best music, and "The Greatest": Ali.