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Ze Frank is one of the most creative and enigmatic people working in digital media. He's also just plain funny. His work could arguably be among the most viewed and participated-in content ever created. He is known as a performance artist, humorist, composer and speaker, including multiple appearances at the prestigious TED conferences. For millions of followers and fans who know him through his experiments in online interactivity, social media, and audience participation, this installment of Creative Inspirations reveals the man himself as he explains his unique point of view, his thought processes, and what spurs him on.
(Music playing.) Certainly, "How To Dance Properly" is one of the first breakout things which I still keep up on the site for the fun of it, which is just these little Chaplinesque sorts of movies. In the beginning, I actually just tried to copy myself over and over again. So you will see like these series of these things that look remarkably similar to "How To Dance Properly", because to be honest with you, I just had no-- This is the lowest point of my entire career, by the way.
"How To Dance Properly 2" basically, which was a sad, sad thing, where you started trying to copy yourself. It was a sign of not having any idea what it was that made this thing popular. But as a result of kind of getting frustrated in trying to copy myself, that's when I started trying all these different kind of projects. In the beginning, there were these participatory projects, back before video was around or possible, and they were just photo contests.
Like "When Office Supplies Attack," pictures of people getting attacked by office supplies. In total, this site, between Color Wars, the show, and all of these other breakout links that have depth, there is probably maybe 300-500 projects, depending on how you count the sub-projects represented on here. And that's probably just about a third of the projects that I have done. Most of them get thrown away. For me, creativity hasn't been so much of a set way of doing or thinking.
I mean, I think of like Twyla Tharp, "The Creative Habit" and books like that, where artists have talked about creating procedures or routines or concise ways of solving these problems. What I tend to do is constantly try to flip the framework that I am in. I will follow a particular kind of process until I become incredibly anxious about the outcome and then I will try to flip it. If I am doing, for example, a visual essay, something in the style of this video blog that I did for a year, like the show that I am doing now sporadically for TIME Magazine.
"Improvised explosive devices are used more and more often and the number of areas across?" What I will do is I will hyper research, so I will try to tackle a subject, even if it's a three-minute movie, by trying to research the topic until I feel like I could talk about it for an hour or so. Then, at that point usually I am incredibly overwhelmed, because you don't really-- I don't find that I find that little sinew that flows through the information without referring to all the information around it.
So it seems like a contextual impossibility of reducing information down. So at that point usually when I hit that wall, I switch back and I refer and I look purely at how it makes me feel. Like what the feeling of being overwhelmed by this data is. So if it's on Afghanistan, you can say wow, I am just amazed how little I know about this and as an American, with troops committed over there, that kind of gives me a framework to move forward. Like now that framework is outside of the research framework. It really has to do with the emotional process behind it.
My voice is giving out and I have gone over time, but I wanted to say that I put this video together to try to visually connect with a war that I feel pretty disconnected from. I started out wanting to write an opinion piece, but pretty soon I realized that my opinions of what should be going on have been interfering with my ability to try to understand what has been going on. It's easy for me to forget the casual, offhand way that a lot of the stuff that I have done has been made. What I have to watch out for quite a bit is the trick, the little voice in the back of my head that says that I can actually control this stuff.
You should be good at this stuff, and you should be able to control it, and you should be able to plan it, and you should be able to come up with these things and execute them exactly as you would want them done. It's a very dangerous position to be in, because I, for myself anyways, I am wearing away from precisely the kind of attitude about the world that I think has brought me the most joy, and ultimately is the most successful in kind of conveying an attitude, a spirit in work.
So that's the other part, is constantly reminding myself to step back, not plan as much, don't overwork things, and find ways to almost do less, do less in the process.
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