The Blue Man Group and Creativity

whispering crane institute-chop-2.jpgWhat is it that sets the creative individual from the uncreative, unable to create individual? Is creativity something that can be learned? Can it be nurtured, developed, accelerated? In children? In adults? In children only?

Can creativity be discovered? Uncovered? Can creativity be released? Unchained? Is creativity hidden, needing only the right vehicle or situation to be released?

Can we all be/become creative?

In a profession where creativity is of up most importance(Landscape Design) creativity is sorely lacking. Landscape Design has become a profession where mediocrity has become the accepted norm. Where the routine is good, and the overdone, bloated landscape is great.

What happened?

Or in reality has it always been this way? Has the mediocre always been acceptable? Has the bar always been this low? Lower? and where does the constant barrage of today’s media play into how we determine the accepted level?

I am asking all these questions because of something I was watching today on HDNet(another good topic on creativity), it was a Blue Man Concert . . . . .

I watched with complete amazement, humor, enjoyment and awe . . .

  • who else in the entire would plays PVC pipe,
  • uses wind vibration as a musical instrument,
  • plays the strings of a baby grand piano,
  • spits paint on audience members(who gladly accepted spitted paint),
  • oh, and by the way . . . paints themselves solid blue
  • never talks(talks) to the audience . . .
  • etc, etc, etc . . .

On top of that, they play really great music with a solid group of professional musicians. totally engaging their audience without ever mentioning “we’re so happy to be in _______ “, or “How ya’ll doing out there”.

[A Blue Man video on Global Warming***]

Blue Man Group entertains, and they entertain very well, at a very high level the entire show through the music and the visual, and the emotional attachment to their audience. Yes other musicians do as well, but no one does this like the Blue Man Goup.

When you equate the tag, “No one else does . . . . . . . . . . . ” That implies they’ve reached a level or creativity, and professionalism/emotional response unlike any other. The same could be said for any profession in the World.

When you start that sort of list thing why are there so few people on the “no one else does . . . .” list in every profession?

Why is creativity so limited? Billions of people, billions of people . . . yet, so few creative people?

I have always wondered about this? The “why don’t more people take more time to look for a more innovative solution?”. Especially in my field.

I sort of take it for granted that Landscape Designers(paid landscape designers) are in this profession because we get to promote our creativity, and then I am constantly amazed at how often the lazy, simplistic, “over and over” solution becomes the answer.


Why is that? Maybe the answer is not about creativity, but laziness . . . mental laziness. The unwillingness to go the extra thought, the extra sketch, the extra ten minutes, the extra “what if?.

The “what if”

My former partner Richard Dube’ what great at explaining the “what if”, he loved talking about this as a creative teaching tool. We’d have exercises where the Designer would look at the site and ask the question . . .

  • “What if A. E. Bye, or Martha Schwartz was designing this space”?
  • “What if Olmstead was designing this space”?
  • “What if Ryan Gainey was designing this space”?
  • “What if (insert best designer you know” was designing this space”?

This was Richard’s (WCI’s) way of asking a designer to step out from their comfort zone. To look at a different way of designing the space.

What if Rick Anderson, Richard L. Dube was designing this space“?

To get beyond the obvious answer 101. Is it extra work? Yep, you’re damn right it is, and maybe that’s part of the problem.

Refuse to settle

  • Why settle for the obvious answer?
  • Look beyond, ask yourself what someone else would do with the space.
  • Turn the drawing upside down.
  • Draw it on brown paper.
  • Sketch with a crayon, a charcoal pencil.
  • Take the sketch out on you back patio.
  • Draw at 2:00AM.
  • Listen to some different music while you work.
  • Read something outside the profession of Landscape Design.
  • Watch a Blue Man Group video.
  • Come up with another solution to look at your work differently
  • Refuse to settle for the easy, obvious, lazy answer.

Look around

    I have talked to other creative people and something else I’ve noticed that runs across all fields. Creative types are curious people who are “damn curious people”.

    In some creative types this curiosity is insatiable. Their appetite for learning about not only what people do in their field seek out, but this desire extends into other professions/trades. Curious, curiouser, and damn curious. I mean the Blue Man Groups plays PVC pipe . . . c’mon, PVC pipe, where in the hell did that come from?

    Have you seen any of Martha Schwartz’s work? I’m still curious about how she decides to pull those elements together for a project. Wild stuff.

    So what are some ways to be curious. Really, when you think about it; asking how to go about being curious . . . seems strangely curious!

    • Read a book on lighting-stage sets.
    • Go to a conference on cement.
    • Go to a trade show where the sell tools to fabricate stone.
    • Learn how to paint in acrylics.
    • Listen to a lot of jazz(it’s about the rhythm’s). Join the local bird club.
    • Go to a national pond conference event.

    Be curious about everything, and anything about everything affecting the FIELD of Landscape Design. It’s a great big damn profession and it’s beautiful, wonderful and challenging.

    It don’t mean a thing, if it don’t got that swing.” -Duke Ellington


    Maybe this is the real killer of creativity . . .

    The fear of failure.

    Oh my God, they won’t like this, in fact they’re going to hate it. Laugh me right out of the room.

    I have it, not like I used to, I fought it and mostly won. But the fear of failure has a powerful grip . . . a fear that can stop most of us instantly turning us into a slobbering, whimpering, frozen blob of a Jello-like state. Incapable of making any sort of decision, let alone a stroke of the pencil.

    Sound Familiar? Am I striking a chord? Hopefully not, hopefully this is a creativity killer you have not had to deal with, or had to overcome. Some Designers never do overcome this fear, paralyzed at the level of mediocrity, for all eternity-yikes!

    Some folks never even become designers for fear of rejection The “NO“. Unable to think about even hearing no, let alone being told “No this is not what I wanted, you’re WRONG!

    For a lot of folks, maybe most folks(remember-6 billion+ on the planet) being told “No” is something they’re incapable of handling. It’s been decided that they are not going to go through life having to deal with a job where being told “No” is not part of their make-up.

    They are not going to put their thoughts, ideas, hard-work on the line . . . only to be rejected by someone, only to be personally rejected. After all it’s you and “your” ideas . . . personally rejected, the proverbial “slap-in-the-face”.

    Or is it?

    I, and many other experienced Designers have learned a secret.

    “Never take your design work personally” -Experienced Landscape Designers

    A key to getting away from the fear factor is realizing you are actually designing for someone else! Hey how about that? This isn’t your design-it’s their design. Their design done by you for their space/property/landscape/home.


    Listen . . . you take your experience, their site, and their ideas, and you come up with a solution for their space. If they don’t like it, or don’t want it, it’s because your design didn’t fit their:

    • needs
    • desire
    • income
    • dreams
    • wants
    • goals, etc.

    Yes, you have failed as a designer, or I should say your design for their space has failed.

    Have you failed? Maybe.

    1. Maybe you don’t have enough experience as a designer for that kind of particular project(experience does count in this field).
    2. Maybe you didn’t listen closely enough during the interview process-ask the right questions, or interpret their answers correctly.
    3. Maybe, just maybe you didn’t listen closely enough to the demands of the site.

    Back to the big 3 again:

    Designer experience(s), Clients need, Site, the needs of the site

    But in no way does this knock you as a person, or who you are as a person . . . your experience(maybe), but not you personally. That’s why fear here should not be a factor. Perform the service and let the owner of the site decide their space.

    Let me say this . . . the fear could be from something else here. Maybe, just maybe you interviewed poorly, or didn’t pay attention during the interview. You know, you let your mind wander away to somewhere else . . . you were not in this moment.

    Maybe you didn’t do your due diligence when studying the site, paying attention to it’s needs. Not enough pictures, the wrong pictures. Now you’re afraid.

    Afraid with reason.

    Back to due diligence, doing the work, not being lazy, exploring all options. Afraid of rejection because in your mind and heart you didn’t put in the proper legwork. You know/knew the design will not be the best it could possibly be. The most creative, the most sustainable, the most realistic. . . . . it’s a legitimate fear.

    So do the homework, Do the research. Explore the profession, be curious about your profession and others, ask the what-if’s. Ask questions, question the mediocrity, never settle for the easy way out.

    Maybe if more folks do this I won’t ask some many questions about creative people(or lack there-of). Maybe I won’t be so dismayed about the “accepted” level of “good enough”. Maybe we can all leave this place just a little better than we found it. In our own little creative way.

    Be determined to be creative.


    ***Global Warming: A subject for another day.

    By Rick Anderson

    The Whispering Crane Institute was originally formed to act as the umbrella organization for the Philosophy of Design Symposium, and other seminars and workshops given by Rick Anderson and Richard L. Dube’. In the year 2000 WCI became a sole proprietorship owned by Rick Anderson. Today the WCI provides design and consultation services for Landscape Contractors, acts as a Green Industry think tank, and provides training for others in the form of workshops, seminars, and individual consulting. The WCI also provides written material, opinions, case-studies and how-to articles for industry trade magazines.


    1. Wow this is certainly an interesting topic, and something that can be related to all creative fields. You ask a lot of interesting questions in this post, and my mind will ponder over this all night …. goodbye sleep ;-)!

      Thank you for visiting my blog, and for the sweet comment! I’m really glad you did, as I’ve now discovered your truly interesting blog!

    2. Rick,
      Great pep talk for those of us who wish to be more creative – you should should be teaching or coaching, if you have more time! – reminded me of Amadeus – it might be an uphill battle for those of us unblessed with overflowing natural creativity – but why not enjoy Thoreau’s seat of a pumpkin? – still have to wait to April Fool’s day to see if the bucks land the Pa QB – so much expectations are often unfulfillled. The gastronomic reward must further await…

      What can I say. I promote myself has being available for speaking engagements/workshops/ teaching-seminars . . . amadeus . . Amadeus!!! . . .Figero!!!

      He’s gonna sign, unless the Nits have bought the old man.

      btw, APLD Ohio has asked DeVore and I to do some sort of stone workshop . . . you read it here 1st!!!

    3. I liked the Blue Man Group thing. It was striking. Let me suggest something (though perhaps it’s irrelevant to those who read this blog). I think (from my daily running in a developing subdivision) that perhaps some folks come up with a “workable formula” that generates the maximum income. I’m thinking maybe at some point income trumps creative satisfaction. How many tons of mulch reap the greatest discount? Yeah, there’s a little creativity — we’re a fairly hilly and rocky terrain (we’re basically a plateau atop a mountain chain). So uphill and downhill must be negotiated within any single yard. I do see a lot of red wood mulch (redwood? cedar?), and little trees or shrubs stuck out in the middle of somewhere, with a couple of bushes around. There is lots of metal statuary (bears, deer, raccoons). Lots of folks are building second/retirement homes, so they’re not here 24/7. But I don’t see a lot of creativity. So I have to assume that “tried and true” trumps creative expression. But what do I know? I’m a simple country priest who loves a few flowers.

      Millions of concrete statuary all manufactured to create “individuality”. Those folks would create more excitement by rolling around some cypress stumps and creating some really wild fence line. As for “tried and true” . . . well I consider that the easy way out, and the easy way out is the way of choice for most humans. Thank God that all humans in out history have not been that way.

      The mulch is most likely Cypress, the secondary product from the lumber yard. The terrain sounds absolutely beautiful, should take advantage of those views.

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