Creative Miami: Nina Surel’s Studio, a Touch of the Feminine by Diana Rivera

On a recent trip to Miami, I came with a question: What is Creativity Today: Miami? Inside of me I was curious about the people and places that make up a synergistic artist community in the southern most cosmopolitan city of the United States, crowned and arranged in la hispanidad. Beyond Art Basel Miami, and the hoopla that international, art festivals bring to any community, what happens when the lights dim and the curtain closes? Who is still performing the fine art of their own personal performance in creativity?

I went on a hunt through the city like a fox with a compass, a clown with a note pad, a detective with a wand.

I arrived at to the Art Center SF of Miami to learn more about their artist community and organization, and was given a tour by their Executive Director, Chris Ingalls. As we walked through the corridors of the 40 + artist resident studios, we were invited into Nina Surel’s Studio by her welcoming smile and a canvas of a Klimt-esque, succulent collage painting of a majestic woman.

I had an opportunity to meet with Nina a couple of days later. The same smile welcomed me into her studio and I was drawn to how it was adorned with glass jars of costume jewelry, antique buttons, porcelain flowers and lace strings falling from shelves. Looking at the details of the room, I felt the rarity of my fingers turning into rose petaled syrup.

I came to learn about how Nina creates. When she was a young girl in small town Argentina, she became ill with a form of rheumatism. As someone who studies the psychology of creativity, I was flashing back to many research studies that had been done on well-known visual artists who tapped into their artistry as a result of illness. The symptoms left her unable to be physically rigorous. It did allow her imagination to tune her fingers into another frequency: one where she could orchestrate with clay and other materials such as fabrics, paints and sewing.

Nina described her training and mentorship with a Spanish ceramist in her town. She spoke of leaving her ‘day-job’ to claim her artistry. She offered a timeline of her experience coming to Miami as a personal revival. In the background of her explanation was the silhouette of her paintings, many of which featured a digital image of her as the principal subject adorned with flowers and arranged in jewels.

From her interpretation, I learned that her new series of paintings included her as the primary subject. Each series expressed her own personal transformation as a woman and as an artist. It was a collection of conscious and unconscious stories that propelled the play of her femininity on canvas. I encourage you to check out her collection by clicking here.

It’s interesting to wonder about why one is drawn to a piece of art. Perhaps it is this conversation between her story of the feminine that had catapulted my attention consciously and unconsciously  to be curious and seek out a conversation. As she poured me jasmine pearl tea, my fingers wrapped around the dainty floral painted porcelain cup. I sat back with the peace in knowing that any artist’s work is a result of an intrapersonal conversation and it is in moments of  inquiry and authentic listening, that I heard an artist’s personal journey as if it were my own.

What is creative Miami? Within that hour, creative Miami was an authentic exchange of experience, shaped into a conversation, distilled onto canvas. It was the antiquated pieces of jewelry, paints and fabrics that defined the collage as a story where I became a character within it: a crowning flower with wings of an ear.

Points to ponder:

Have you met an artist recently that has sparked your curiosity? What would you care to know about in that person? How does that question relate to you?


The Art of Physics and Beethoven by Diana Rivera

Energy can be neither created, nor destroyed. It can only change form. This is a law of energy conservation and also a premise for creative activity. It could help to explain the energy it takes to create a product from one’s imagination, as well as the challenges artists overcome, to direct energy toward their artistic product. All that creative energy is neither created, nor destroyed, but changes form in relationship to thoughts, beliefs, social and cultural milieu.

Let me fasten this connection with Leonard Shlain’s book, Art and Physics, to Beethoven.

Shlain’s book looks at a history of art through the lens of science to assert that scientific phenomena was, in many cases, first looked at, grappled with and explored in visual art. Artists were either consciously asking or working within the consciousness of exploration that scientists were invested in, specifically space, time and light. Listen to a lecture by Shlain here.

The book expanded the galaxy of imagination to consider artists as scientific phenomena. Take Beethoven and the vast talent in his form: he struggled intensely in his personal life with memories of a verbally abusive childhood, to medical issues affecting his stomach and ultimately his own hearing. As the savant composer began to make his mark in music history, he slowly became deaf.

For many, a disability to this extent could be the end of their career. In fact, Beethoven also struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.

An artist’s drive to create is an energy and that energy can not be destroyed, it just changes into form. In the epoch of Beethoven’s weakest physical state, that energy was a force that thrusted into the galaxy of the imagination. As a result, he produced the 9 symphonies that have marked his career in the history of art, music and culture.

Thinking of this reminded me of Symphony #7. Whenever I listen to it, I feel an incredible potential moving toward the center of the unknown. In my youtube research, I discovered the exact visual experience, and it was deeper. It was symphony #7 to hubble space images.

The energy that had changed form in Beethoven resembled the luminous spirals in our galaxy. If it were a song, this might be the one to serenade an experience through the outer unknown manifestation of our imagination. If not, then what a fascinating voyage through the art of physical phenomena and the physical phenomena of art.

Points to ponder:

What is the role of energy in your personal, professional and creative life?

Pina Bausch and Leonardo da Vinci at the Goodwill by Diana Rivera

Since I was in middle school, I have had a very synergistic relationship with vintage shops, garage sales and sidewalk peddler products. Not sure how it could be that one day I’d be imagining some ambiguous silk chinese cocktail dress, and then I’d get an instinct to go to the Goodwill (a salvation army style thrift shop), and all of a sudden, it would be there. The one I had imagined. Besides no one, I am the only person that has such a rare existence with a thrift shop. It’s clearly a conversation with destiny: goodwill represents a space where my imagination materializes.

I go there to find things to repair, rip up and recreate. I go there to salvage treasures. I also call in creators from the past. I know this one seems like a stretch, but I have some evidence.

A year or so ago, I wrote a piece on Pina Bausch (read it here) whose work has stunned me, haunted me, left a trace embedded forever in my imagination. Recently I realized that Wim Wenders had produced a film in honor of her.

The day I saw this trailer, I had been thinking of Pina, and as I was driving by the Goodwill, I knew I had to stop in. Like a whisper-of-an-instinct of where to go, I quickly walked to the poster section and there it was. An original framed poster of the women of the Wuppertal Theatre, Pina Bausch’s theatre company. Here is a picture:

To me, it’s highly unlikely that a poster like this is circulating regularly around Goodwill, untouched and only $20. In fact, I am so positive about it, I felt that feeling that I had been gifted with a present from the creator herself. Perhaps it was a recognition of the work? Or perhaps she knew she was on my mind?

The next evidence of said relationship is with Leonardo da Vinci. I had been reading of his contributions as a scientist of the arts and an artist of the sciences in Leonard Shlain’s book, Art and Physics. I was driving by the Goodwill and I had that same little voice go off. It was clear: go to the magazine section. I went and guess what I found:

How is that I have been called by instinct to the Goodwill to find these little treasures? The beauty is that they could be meaningless garbage to everybody else, but for me there is clearly a greater message: Pina and Leonardo had their eyes on me too.

It made me think: what if there were creators from the past who you follow that also follow you? The one I refer to is a more transpersonal approach to following, something that twitter could never compare to.

Point to ponder:

What if it took a little faith in believing that you are taken care of by the creative entities you most admire? How would things be different for you right now?

Creativity Today in Los Angeles: Poster Art and Trash Art by Diana Rivera

I was thinking about that song from the 90’s by Missing Persons, “Nobody Walks in LA.” The song is essentially about how nobody does walk in LA and how ironic it is when even teenagers and cops don’t. Having grown up this side of the pond, I used to agree with the punky thrasher lyrics, but nowadays I have seen some real shifts in its transportation culture, street culture and therefore urban art culture. Uniquely and not quite ironically, the city is bursting with little nooks and crannies of artist expression in little back alleys, corner store holes and underneath cars. You have to have an eye toward the the less obvious ways that creativity presents itself in our culture.

That’s when I enter the stage with my evidence of creativity photos and Creativity Today web-series. Here’s a couple of examples of creativity that I have seen as of recent.

Shepard Fairey’s poster designs on Sunset Blvd:

This one was next to his studio in the Echo Park neighborhood and shows the multidimensional strength of Lance Armstrong. This could have been a hard one to spot if one was speeding up Sunset Blvd.

The second photo is of another poster art design I spotted in Downtown LA. The once decrepit sector of LA, has been experiencing a renaissance in neighborhoods like the Barker Block district where on one brick wall, I found another Fairey bombing of an artist warrior of sorts and a contrasting piece on hope. Inspiring for a neighborhood that has struggled with hope.

The third photo is a piece of trash. Yes indeed, trash on the street has meaning and this one was quite delightful. As I was walking in Silverlake, I was crossing a street to notice a shredded piece of paper for priority admission to a Tim Burton film. Check out the imagery though: a tilted staircase with a forlorn fellow walking up the stairs.

The last evidence of creativity is a collage image on a trash can. Check out my video:

Points to ponder:

Have you been out of your car and noticed the evidence of creativity around you?

How might you contribute to the everyday creativity on the streets?

Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road’s Message about Creativity and Children by Diana Rivera

Taken from KPCC

I am a ponderer. I’ll write something and I am mulling over things for weeks later. I discussed in the last blog, and consequently ranted for days later, about the nature of having a message in one’s art work. Does it give more sound to the painted colors on canvas? Does it give more texture to the music of your orchestration? For me, it’s a rhetorical question about the relationship between a creator, their work and an audience that led to some spicy commentary.

In one case, I spoke to TV/Film Composer Roger Neill and his partner about art–be it works in the visual and performing arts–having a message. Roger explained to me that he disagreed and thought it was too didactic. In fact, I agreed with his disagreement: art should allow people to experience ‘universalities’ or ‘truths’ (lower case ‘t’ on that one), allowing the audience full reign to create the bridges of comprehension. Whether it be take-away messages, morals or themes, art should raise the bar of its audience allowing them to be thinkers and multi-sentient comprehenders in the process.

Fair enough. That’s how I like to experience art like a grown-up woman: one who can think on her own and create her own meaning with sand, water and a shovel.

Then the day I met Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, I got to thinking again. At a recent stop in L.A., Yo-Yo made sure to roll into Inner City Arts Organization before his performance that week at the Disney Hall. Yo-Yo played and showed the power of music with the help of dancer Lil’ Buck. He called it a “creativity strike.” Here is a glimpse of that day.

Yo-Yo later explained to journalists at KPCC that our creativity crisis in the U.S. can be best challenged through creative practice. As Yo-Yo  explains, “The best way to get to innovation and creative imagination and the most efficient way is through movement, visualizing, sound and writing.” He went on to say that we can build community through imagination and empathy. Empathy shows that we care. To listen to the full interview: click here.

Is this about message? Maybe. For me, it’s all about the depth of this artist. Yo-Yo Ma doesn’t just roll into LA, play and hit the road. What makes him a talented and multi-layered cellist is his empathy. He cares about others. He sees the power of his work and his colleagues as a basis for humanizing and fomenting community.

If that were a message and if messages were important, this would be a powerful one. Show that you care. Show that your work matters. Show that your art has meaning to others. If not, that empathic could be a descriptor  defining a world-renowned artist puts my thoughts to rest.


Where does empathy exist for you?

Lennon, Ono, the Creative Frequency and the Big Message by Diana Rivera

John Lennon, Yoko Ono and a group of creative professionals in a 10-week program called the Creative Frequency relate more than just in my imagination. Firstly, a couple things you should know about me as the writer of this blog: I love to blow bubbles into thin air and admire the colors; I also love playing scrabble and patterning words to other words, instinctually. This is all to say, I like to make rippling connections between experiences that bubble to surface and than heat into a relationship where words are needed to simmer  it down.

This past Saturday I  ended a 10 week series that I had carefully constructed a year before. The purpose was to bring together a variety of creative professionals from a variety of creative fields (performance, art, design, music). We focused on empowerment of creative aptitude to the skills and strategies of creating a final product. We came together that day so everyone could present for 30 minutes their final outcome. We ate, we talked, we laughed, some of us even cried. One of the participants even skyped in from NYC. It was, like the title of the project intended, a frequency of high creative energy bubbling between us. In one moment, it dawned on me like a spectrum of color that the imagination is capable of creating anything.

This is where Lennon and Ono enter upstage. Driving through Hollywood, I noticed this huge wall poster that had been pasted to a cement wall. It was of Lennon, Ono and a sweet dog. Although the image had been rained on, I could see their figure a block away. I knew they were there to connect the frequency of energy and spectrum of revelations with one triangulating message that Lennon and Ono had written in the poster, “All you need is Love.” This was their 5 word pattern message as a united, creative duo. It was simple, and in that simplicity penetrated internationally and inter-generationally, making me ask myself on my ride home: what is your message to the world?

One of my messages is the belief that the imagination exists and it is the key to our individual and collective future. I had felt it with the group that day and I knew it by heart. Then, a flash: the sound of the song “Imagine”  arrived, twirling into clarity of gesture. The lyrics laid themselves before me. Whatever you can in your greatest vision imagine is only half of what is possible, but that half you are fully responsible in creating.

Albert Einstein, Robert Wilson and Phillip Glass on the Beach by Diana Rivera

Did you know that Einstein interviewed poets to learn about the nature of intuition and imagination? It was a form of collaboration between artist and scientist (Einstein was in fact a versed violinist who would, in a moment of scientist block, play his violin to help him find an answer to his theories), and is beautifully divergent from a stagnant perception that scientists are not artists, and have no interest in the arts. It’s almost symphonic to imagine the words shared between them. Fast-forward years later to a buzzing  conversation between the accomplished Theatre Director, Robert Wilson, and Composer, Phillip Glass, regarding the basis of a collaboration on a 4-5 hour long opera.

Conversations like these are as vast and symbolic as the beach. The ebb and flow of the ocean summons in the tidal wave of an idea; the sky comfortably and sometimes turbulently crowns the idea by demanding more of your attention just to see if you can think in the grand sense of the stars and planets. In both  cases, such conversations led Einstein (whether with a poet or a violin) to create his posthumous findings, along with Wilson and Glass to invent for the four walls of a black box theatre, a galaxy of an idea called “Einstein on the Beach.”

Wilson and Glass will tell you: they were broke before they even began the project in the 1970’s in NYC. Broke but larger than life with a creative notion to collaborate on a popular work of theatre fusing an anti-linear narrative with movement and opera.

Wilson would tell you himself that the opera community was at first unsure of this kind of work. It should be in some artist loft space, not at the MET. With Einstein symbolically at the helm, Wilson and Glass were the poets of this creative equation who knew they were on to something and so it was worth the momentary hardship to produce “Einstein at the Beach.”

Check out this video on the process:

So, where does this information lead us in our thoughts as a creative community? Whether it’s Einstein, Wilson and Glass at the beach, how can we think and believe as large as the sky and create a project as massive as a galaxy? To this result, collaboration is the primary route and it must be done by like-minded and not so like-minded folk. As individual creators, a synergistic conversation between thinkers of different domains (poetry and science or music and dance) can provide a ‘galactic’ quality that advances information and/or the finding of a scientific theory or the basis of a show.

Whatever the outcome might be, the value is higher when having orbited through the fine art and science of conversation. In fact, Einstein’s theories live on for present-day collaborators and Wilson and Glass’ show is set to reopen in 2012 internationally.

Points to ponder:

If you are in the incubation process of an idea, invite a colleague to the beach of your thought process. This colleague could be of the same domain and a different one (again, this means someone of a different field). What is the nature or theme of the conversation you are looking to address? How can you let go of your theories, expand your notions and think ‘galactic.’

William Sidis: Harvard grad and destitute genius

Have you heard of William Sidis? If you did, you would know that he was the youngest student to graduate from Harvard University. He was admitted at 11 and by the end of the year, lectured to colleagues in his math club on the 4th dimension. Just based on his situation, you’d think he was eminent for having succeeded at such an early age.  You may also wonder, like me, if someone can be born that way or do they become it.

I am boggled by this concept in my creativity research and observation: can we learn to be creative or is it something within our DNA? The case of Sidis is tragic enough to also think: is tragedy nurtured or is it born into?

Sidis came from an immigrant Russian family with a father who was convinced by his own theory that he could make his son a genius. Through structured homeschooling, mounting curriculum above his grade level, and enforced rigor and discipline in a variety of subject areas, William epitomized early age genius. He entered into high school at 8, and understood advanced mathematical concepts like integral calcus at 10 and this was before he was admitted to Harvard at 11.

There is an important rule to all this. If you want a genius child, you can’t allow them to function through play or socialization like other children do. You keep them isolated from the world, removing rubbish distractions like friends. Sound enticing?

There is a shadow side to fostering a genius. Sidis became a bitter and disillusioned man who couldn’t complete graduate school, failed at a teaching position at Rice University and ultimately passed away destitute and unemployed. Now, he could have held the keys to ongoing mysteries in the sciences and humanities, if his creative thought process was not so tightly monitored by a parental control unit named dad.

Based on category of information, William’s upbringing was tragic and harsh to the social needs of a child and should be considered in light of his father’s psychology, the environment of the place and time in history. How does William Sidis relate to you though?

It’s ultimately a question of upbringing and how your creativity was fostered and/or squelched. Everyone has a story and for those most successful in their creative industry, the story of your past will work in your favor. For those experiencing defeat, the story will appear darker than a rain cloud, and will work against you. Do you have control over the story? Yes, you do.

There are realities to everyone’s reality with experiences as harsh as nails on a chalkboard. At a certain time, it is up to your own consciousness to recognize how the story has lined up, played out and either allowed you to fall victim, become your worst arch-nemesis or redeem your inner superhero.


What was your upbringing in creativity? What worked for you? What could have been different? What can you do to change the story of your past to work in favor of your artistry?

Published in: on March 1, 2011 at 7:08 am  Comments (1)  
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Giulietta Masina, Gypsy and a Classroom of Children by Diana Rivera

How many film artists, actors and designers all draw inspiration from Federico Fellini’s magnificently constructed worlds, connecting thoughtful story structure and characterization? Countless. It’s curious to think about when one artist inspires another’s work, it’s a co-creation of a separate entity. Like any great piece of art, it takes on a life with legs to walk, hands to mold and eyes to direct the way.

Fellini’s wife and collaborator, Giulietta Masina, did that to me. The first time I saw her in Fellini’s “La Strada” she performed the role of Gelsomina, a fey young woman sold off to a strongman by her mother. There is a whimsical quality to her that captured my kaleidoscopic imagination. Here is a rolling image bank showing her with the strongman, becoming a performer for the circus act, and an emotional progression which leads to a very sad story end:

So, how does Giuletta Masina connect to a swanky cabaret in San Francisco and ultimately a character I developed named Gypsy that I recently taught to children?

In San Francisco, I produced, along with an amazing ensemble of creators, a fellinesque hybrid cabaret called “Rococo Risque.” We incorporated original material driven by eclectic character’s dealing with human conflicts, a bizarre life experience or some kind of human need. Inspired by Masina’s portrait of Gelsomina, I drew from the authentic quest for the unknown and thirst for unleashed talent to create Gypsy.

Gypsy, also known as the little girl, embodies curiosity or as much as she could being performed in a smoky-yet-hip whisky bar in San Francisco. The character discovers, through a unique journey with her cohort, Piglet, her greatest talent: she can turn into anything. Gypsy was a hit for many of the adult audience members and I had a hunch that even though the run of our show came to a close, Gypsy still had a longer life line.

It was true. Years later during a residency in Los Angeles at the Music Center, I had an opportunity to build curriculum for a 1st grade class in any specialized aspect of the art of performance. It dawned on me: take the story of Gypsy and revamp it so that it would be 1st grade friendly. This would be a rare opportunity to make her not just a child-like character performed by an adult actor, but have her be interpreted through the eyes of children and be performed by them.

To make it suitable, I had to slash some aspects of the original story and add other details. In brief, the result was a symbolic transcendence of how Gypsy found a key which led her through a theatre, which led her to know her greatest talent to transform into anything. I brought the story and a carefully constructed curriculum to a classroom of first graders. It was a huge hit as they stepped into the role of Gypsy and used other techniques of performance, including mime, to tell the story within a 6-week process.

Watching my students complete their final performance, I realized something. Gypsy symbolized the art of performance, which is to me, the art of transformation. This was why I appreciated Giulietta Masina in the long run: as an actor she could turn into anything. Her petite frame seemed to illuminate the dramatic gestures of her face where every emotion multiplied. Her style of performance was a house of mirrors reflecting the elegance of a knight or the buffoonery of a court jester. The character Gypsy had that same quality about her too, except she was a child herself and could speak to the imagination of other children.

As you can see, the connections of inspiration create a circle and then a spiral. Somewhere in between is me, the artist, co-creating with Giulietta, with Gypsy and with children.

a thank you card from my students


Where does inspiration go to next? Once a story has been created, it has a mind, heart and spirit of it own and directs the artist along the path it believes it should go. In that process, you hold the key to your imagination and the doors of creative perception to continue up-leveling the process one step at a time.

This is a potential, yet it’s more than just goodwill that transforms inspiration into art. At any moment that you deny the hunch, limit yourself from the possibility of where your art can go or fail to connect how the original inspiration has called on you to make that art, it disrupts the natural process of creation. Creation is having the key and with certainty and confidence unlocking the door to its destiny.

Tool Box, Ladder and Lightning: the 3 S’s of the Co-Creator Series by Diana Rivera

I’m a total believer that when an achievable idea clicks, it happens quickly and effortlessly (at least at the beginning) and then it sticks. It’s as if the tick-tock of the inner clock finally strikes at the moment of some timed conception. It’s as if it was pre-designed, pre-orchestrated, pre-choreographed in the waiting room of ideas.

I had that experience recently. I was considering the dynamic advancement of creativity amongst my colleagues. Some ideas stood out to me: in order to advance in one’s creativity as an act of experimentation or as a profession, it might rely on the enhancement of one’s skills, strategies and/or synergies. This idea struck me so intensely as if it had been pre-determined in some way so I decided to build an on-line program/podcast called the Co-Creator Series to address this:

I am wrapping my head/heart around this matrix. Here it goes:

Skills are the tool box you are working with. Many of the tools may have been passed down from mentors, developed through intensive training, on the job and/or gifted to you let’s say…pre-birth. Sometimes we need new skills for our advancement, be it learning a new computer program, becoming proficient in a foreign language or taking a class in production.

Strategies are a wooden ladder reaching a sky. They are aligning steps that lead to a goal, an objective, a master plan, a big picture. When an organization garners support for a strategic plan, it directs attention to where the ladder leads. When an entrepreneur decides on their strategy, he/she ultimately builds the ladder with their tool box.

Synergies are a bolt of lightning. They are the connective, energetic threads formed in the sky that strike down at times serendipitously like when two strangers meet at a cafe and they become essential to each other’s work; or two long-term collaborators who finally reconcile the ending of their script; or a moment in nature when a guiding question becomes imminent. Synergies are the elements of dialogue in the physical and metaphysical world one inhabits that finally pop.

With all that said, I had that dynamic moment where there was synergy between skills and strategies. At that moment, I crafted the goal and brainstormed the first wave of interviewees quickly and effortlessly as if the idea was pre-conceived and I finally stepped onto the ladder.


What’s your tool box looking like these days? What might be one new tool that could make a difference for you in building the ladder? Also, what synergistic partnership in your life might support that ladder?

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment