Why "Solutions"?

Before I explain the reasons behind the current topic, Solutions, I’d like to review some of what I learned during our previous topic, Beginnings. [Each topic of focus in TPR is inspired by what occurred in previous programs, so articulating the connections between them helps me define what’s coming next and—more interestingly—why.]

I learned from Beginnings that many makers do, in fact, have an “aha moment” that sparks a new idea, and that this aha moment is a real thing that occurs in the brain and can be explained, as of very recently, by scientists. I also learned that it’s helpful to be ignorant about your idea when you begin working on it, and that using your personal beginnings as subject matter is actually not a straightforward way of finding the truth about your family.

Some highlights: Musician and filmmaker David Mitsuo Nixon presented his new film-in-progress, Bladfold, about his enigmatic and infamous father, Bradford Nixon. His research into his family’s past revealed complex issues around what defines the “truth,” as it also did for author Alison Bechdel, who visited TPR for a conversation about her new graphic novel Are You My Mother? Kevin and Jennifer McCoy created mock art tours by actors of works by Northwest Masters, which allowed a refreshingly new way to look at the region’s art history. It was also very, very funny. I also learned that no matter the field, people who make things are often inspired by a problem or a challenge to which they have found no satisfying response. Some may even create a problem that can be researched, but it leads to the same place: creativity is often an act of problem solving.

The Start Up roundtable discussion that took place in March inspired the idea, but I was interested in the topic before then, even before I made myself a job as an independent curator sometime around 2003.*

So I ran the idea of seeking solutions as a motivator by a few other makers, including author of Imagine, Jonah Lehrer. Jonah had this to say about why he wrote a book about creativity:

“I’m just drawn to mysteries, to things I can’t begin to understand. So for me it began with moments of insight. We all have them all the time and they are so befuddling. And I knew I wanted to write a book on creativity because it seemed like a vague enough subject where I could tell lots of good stories, which is the other kind of subject I’m drawn to. But I kept bumping into creative people and asking them questions, and they couldn’t explain their epiphanies any better than anyone else. It’s just as mysterious to them. And that’s why I thought the science could be interesting.” Read more about our conversation here.

With solutions on the mind, Decide Co-Founder Hsu-Ken Ooi, visual artist Susie Lee, and I have invited ten artists and ten technologists to participate in a mock “speed-dating” event, during which they will identify some problems to tackle. To add more complexity to the conversation, ten “Chaperones” will facilitate the “dates” and tweet in real time so we can all follow along. The event is June 27, and the Twitter name is projectroomSEA. More info about that is coming soon.

And I’ll present other perspectives, including those of composer Garrett Fisher and filmmaker Ryan K. Adams, who shared the next installment of the making of Magda G in a film script reading June 3.  Read about Garrett’s approach to problem-solving here. Printmaker Charles Spitzack will continue making new work in response to all TPR’s topics—including Solutions—and we’ll continue to hear from other makers, both in and outside of the arts. And save the date for July 14, when TPR celebrates its first birthday!

What Solutions is really about is motivation: What motivates us? What gets us so fired up that we decide to make something about it? How often is that thing a problem of some kind? In other words, Why Do We Make Things?

Solutions proves that there is still much fertile ground to cover within this big question.


*My experience with problem solving can be traced back deep into my past, to when my new gym teacher in sixth grade kept forgetting the students’ names well into the school year. This inspired me to ask my dad to bring me sticky nametags from his office so I could organize my classmates into wearing them in class. My dad told me at this time that this was called creative problem solving.