Brooks Peck – EMP Curator

🎟 You can get tickets for his upcoming CreativeMornings talk here. 🎟

CreativeMornings: How do you define creativity and apply it in your career?

Brooks Peck: I think creativity is a talent for putting together seemingly disparate elements that together make something new. It’s a process of invention, (and so I see science and engineering as very creative pursuits.) So many of the creative things that I admire—films, stories, designs, games, whatever—can be described as, “They took this, mushed it up with that, and made this new thing.” The farther apart those elements are, the more surprising the combinations, and surprising is good.

In my work I try to find those surprising or hopefully new and unusual combinations. Curating exhibitions goes beyond simply displaying objects and describing what they are. There are overarching themes and ideas that can be expressed through scenic design, sound design, illustration, even type choices. Those are opportunities to bring in unusual combinations that may jar the visitor and give them a new way to think about what’s on display.

CM: Where do you find your best creative inspiration?

BP: About 80% of my work, both as a curator and author, is words/text. I take a lot of inspiration, though, from purely visual sources, especially illustration and graphic design. Pictures and imagery without words bypass the word-focused parts of me and feel more like pure thought. It’s refreshing—those sources literally refresh my ideas. I really love comics without dialogue, such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and a lot of Jason’s work.

CM: What’s the one creative advice or tip you wish you’d known as a young person?

BP: Just make it up. That’s not a flippant answer—when I’m struggling to solve a creative problem, I sometimes fall into a trap of thinking that there’s a single, “correct” method for what I’m trying to do, be it write a paragraph or design a display in a gallery. This is, of course, poppycock. If no ideas are coming, just put down something. Anything at all. Then look at what you’ve got and make improvements. This keeps me moving forward. The lovely thing is that the audience for whatever the project is, barring critics and pedants, will assume there’s a single way to do what you’ve done, and wow, you found it. I encourage people who say they aren’t creative to practice spitting out whatever comes to mind.

TL;DR: Creativity is a talent, one that can be learned, for making up crap and fixing it later.

CM: Who would you like to hear speak at CreativeMornings?

BP: Joss Whedon, who combines story with imagery and music in fun, startling ways.

Pogo, Australian DJ and composer. He did an entire concept album based on samples from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. (An overly hipster choice, I know, but his work is so original and fun).

G. Willow Wilson because we both love comics yet come from such different backgrounds.

Then, pick two questions from this wildcard list and answer them:

CM: How does your life and career compare to what you envisioned for your future when you were a sixth grader?

BP: By sixth grade I finally transitioned out of my first career choice, hot dog vendor, and after briefly considering the clergy (“Over my dead body.” – my mother) I settled on becoming a writer. I liked books, and my father was a writer. Only my father wasn’t a writer at all. He was in publishing. The confusion arose when one day he presented me with a book, James Thurber’s autobiography My Life and Hard Times. I asked him what it was, and he said, “This is what I do at work.” So I assumed, I’d like to think understandably, that he wrote the book at work. For weeks I pestered him with questions about events in Thurber’s life that I thought had happened to him.

Anyway, in sixth grade I was positive that by this stage in my life I would be a moon colonist. I did recently travel to Iceland, and that’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to it.

CM: When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?

BP: Always drink more tea. Next, I’m a big fan of writing down a list of the very worst ideas I can think of about whatever I’m trying to do. I get this from the writer John Vorhaus, and I love it. The key is to think up the stupidest, most inane and inappropriate things possible. Invariably something in there will trigger a tangential thought that leads to something else that’s not so inane after all, and you’re off.