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  • I'm an artist.

  • Being an artist is the greatest job there is.

  • And I really pity each and every one of you

  • who has to spend your days discovering new galaxies

  • or saving humanity from global warming.

  • (Laughter)

  • But being an artist is also a daunting job.

  • I spend every day, from nine to six, doing this.

  • (Laughter)

  • I even started a side career that consists entirely

  • of complaining about the difficulty of the creative process.

  • (Laughter)

  • But today, I don't want to talk about what makes my life difficult.

  • I want to talk about what makes it easy.

  • And that is you

  • and the fact that you are fluent in a language

  • that you're probably not even aware of.

  • You're fluent in the language of reading images.

  • Deciphering an image like that

  • takes quite a bit of an intellectual effort.

  • But nobody ever taught you how this works,

  • you just know it.

  • College, shopping, music.

  • What makes a language powerful is that you can take a very complex idea

  • and communicate it in a very simple, efficient form.

  • These images represent exactly the same ideas.

  • But when you look, for example, at the college hat,

  • you know that this doesn't represent the accessory you wear on your head

  • when you're being handed your diploma,

  • but rather the whole idea of college.

  • Now, what drawings can do is they cannot only communicate images,

  • they can even evoke emotions.

  • Let's say you get to an unfamiliar place and you see this.

  • You feel happiness and relief.

  • (Laughter)

  • Or a slight sense of unease or maybe downright panic.

  • (Laughter)

  • Or blissful peace and quiet.

  • (Laughter)

  • But visuals, they're of course more than just graphic icons.

  • You know, if I want to tell the story of modern-day struggle,

  • I would start with the armrest between two airplane seats

  • and two sets of elbows fighting.

  • What I love there is this universal law

  • that, you know, you have 30 seconds to fight it out

  • and once it's yours, you get to keep it for the rest of the flight.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, commercial flight is full of these images.

  • If I want to illustrate the idea of discomfort,

  • nothing better than these neck pillows.

  • They're designed to make you more comfortable --

  • (Laughter)

  • except they don't.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I never sleep on airplanes.

  • What I do occasionally is I fall into a sort of painful coma.

  • And when I wake up from that,

  • I have the most terrible taste in my mouth.

  • It's a taste that's so bad, it cannot be described with words,

  • but it can be drawn.

  • (Laughter)

  • The thing is, you know, I love sleeping.

  • And when I sleep, I really prefer to do it while spooning.

  • I've been spooning on almost a pro level for close to 20 years,

  • but in all this time, I've never figured out

  • what to do with that bottom arm.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • And the only thing --

  • the only thing that makes sleeping even more complicated

  • than trying to do it on an airplane

  • is when you have small children.

  • They show up at your bed at around 4am

  • with some bogus excuse of, "I had a bad dream."

  • (Laughter)

  • And then, of course you feel sorry for them, they're your kids,

  • so you let them into your bed.

  • And I have to admit, at the beginning, they're really cute and warm and snugly.

  • The minute you fall back asleep, they inexplicably --

  • (Laughter)

  • start rotating.

  • (Laughter)

  • We like to call this the helicopter mode.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, the deeper something is etched into your consciousness,

  • the fewer details we need to have an emotional reaction.

  • (Laughter)

  • So why does an image like this work?

  • It works, because we as readers

  • are incredibly good at filling in the blanks.

  • Now, when you draw, there's this concept of negative space.

  • And the idea is, that instead of drawing the actual object,

  • you draw the space around it.

  • So the bowls in this drawing are empty.

  • But the black ink prompts your brain to project food into a void.

  • What we see here is not a owl flying.

  • What we actually see is a pair of AA batteries

  • standing on a nonsensical drawing,

  • and I animate the scene by moving my desk lamp up and down.

  • (Laughter)

  • The image really only exists in your mind.

  • So, how much information do we need to trigger such an image?

  • My goal as an artist is to use the smallest amount possible.

  • I try to achieve a level of simplicity

  • where, if you were to take away one more element,

  • the whole concept would just collapse.

  • And that's why my personal favorite tool as an artist is abstraction.

  • I've come up with this system which I call the abstract-o-meter,

  • and this is how it works.

  • So you take a symbol, any symbol, for example the heart and the arrow,

  • which most of us would read as the symbol for love,

  • and I'm an artist, so I can draw this

  • in any given degree of realism or abstraction.

  • Now, if I go too realistic on it, it just grosses everybody out.

  • (Laughter)

  • If I go too far on the other side and do very abstract,

  • nobody has any idea what they're looking at.

  • So I have to find the perfect place on that scale,

  • in this case it's somewhere in the middle.

  • Now, once we have reduced an image to a more simple form,

  • all sorts of new connections become possible.

  • And that allows for totally new angles in storytelling.

  • (Laughter)

  • And so, what I like to do is,

  • I like to take images from really remote cultural areas and bring them together.

  • Now, with more daring references --

  • (Laughter)

  • I can have more fun.

  • But of course, I know that eventually things become so obscure

  • that I start losing some of you.

  • So as a designer, it's absolutely key to have a good understanding

  • of the visual and cultural vocabulary of your audience.

  • With this image here, a comment on the Olympics in Athens,

  • I assumed that the reader of the "New Yorker"

  • would have some rudimentary idea of Greek art.

  • If you don't, the image doesn't work.

  • But if you do, you might even appreciate the small detail,

  • like the beer-can pattern here on the bottom of the vase.

  • (Laughter)

  • A recurring discussion I have with magazine editors,

  • who are usually word people,

  • is that their audience, you,

  • are much better at making radical leaps with images

  • than they're being given credit for.

  • And the only thing I find frustrating is that they often seem to push me

  • towards a small set of really tired visual clichés

  • that are considered safe.

  • You know, it's the businessman climbing up a ladder,

  • and then the ladder moves, morphs into a stock market graph,

  • and anything with dollar signs; that's always good.

  • (Laughter)

  • If there are editorial decision makers here in the audience,

  • I want to give you a piece of advice.

  • Every time a drawing like this is published,

  • a baby panda will die.

  • (Laughter)

  • Literally.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • When is a visual cliché good or bad?

  • It's a fine line.

  • And it really depends on the story.

  • In 2011, during the earthquake and the tsunami in Japan,

  • I was thinking of a cover.

  • And I went through the classic symbols:

  • the Japanese flag,

  • "The Great Wave" by Hokusai, one of the greatest drawings ever.

  • And then the story changed

  • when the situation at the power plant in Fukushima got out of hand.

  • And I remember these TV images of the workers in hazmat suits,

  • just walking through the site,

  • and what struck me was how quiet and serene it was.

  • And so I wanted to create an image of a silent catastrophe.

  • And that's the image I came up with.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • What I want to do is create an aha moment, for you, for the reader.

  • And unfortunately, that does not mean

  • that I have an aha moment when I create these images.

  • I never sit at my desk

  • with the proverbial light bulb going off in my head.

  • What it takes is actually a very slow,

  • unsexy process of minimal design decisions

  • that then, when I'm lucky, lead to a good idea.

  • So one day, I'm on a train, and I'm trying to decode

  • the graphic rules for drops on a window.

  • And eventually I realize,

  • "Oh, it's the background blurry upside-down,

  • contained in a sharp image."

  • And I thought, wow, that's really cool,

  • and I have absolutely no idea what to do with that.

  • A while later, I'm back in New York,

  • and I draw this image of being stuck on the Brooklyn bridge in a traffic jam.

  • It's really annoying, but also kind of poetic.

  • And only later I realized,

  • I can take both of these ideas and put them together in this idea.

  • And what I want to do is not show a realistic scene.

  • But, maybe like poetry,

  • make you aware that you already had this image with you,

  • but only now I've unearthed it

  • and made you realize that you were carrying it with you all along.

  • But like poetry, this is a very delicate process

  • that is neither efficient nor scalable, I think.

  • And maybe the most important skill for an artist

  • is really empathy.

  • You need craft and you need --

  • (Laughter)

  • you need creativity --

  • (Laughter)

  • thank you --

  • to come up with an image like that.

  • But then you need to step back

  • and look at what you've done from the perspective of the reader.

  • I've tried to become a better artist by becoming a better observer of images.

  • And for that, I started an exercise for myself

  • which I call Sunday sketching,

  • which meant, on a Sunday, I would take a random object I found around the house

  • and try to see if that object could trigger an idea

  • that had nothing to do with the original purpose of that item.

  • And it usually just means I'm blank for a long while.

  • And the only trick that eventually works is if I open my mind

  • and run through every image I have stored up there,

  • and see if something clicks.

  • And if it does, just add a few lines of ink to connect --

  • to preserve this very short moment of inspiration.

  • And the great lesson there

  • was that the real magic doesn't happen on paper.

  • It happens in the mind of the viewer.

  • When your expectations and your knowledge clash with my artistic intentions.

  • Your interaction with an image,

  • your ability to read, question, be bothered or bored or inspired

  • by an image

  • is as important as my artistic contribution.

  • Because that's what turns an artistic statement

  • really, into a creative dialogue.

  • And so, your skill at reading images

  • is not only amazing,

  • it is what makes my art possible.

  • And for that, I thank you very much.

  • (Applause)

  • (Cheers)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

I'm an artist.

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【TED】Christoph Niemann: You are fluent in this language (and don't even know it) (You are fluent in this language (and don't even know it) | Christoph Niemann)

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    林宜悉 posted on 2018/08/22
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