Reading Florida in Florida

A week or so ago I finished one of the books I brought along, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited by Richard Florida. This is the follow up to his book The Rise of the Creative Class which I read 10 years ago. The original book was quite controversial and in this new edition Florida addresses that controversy. That makes this book even more readable than the first.

I think this is an important book for artists to read and I will probably make it a required text for my class.


The basic premise is that a new class (and if you don’t like the word “class” use “group” or something like that) has emerged that must be understood in order for the economy to advance and especially to understand how cities will thrive, or not. That class is the Creative Class. And artists are an essential element in this.

Florida says, “What I call the Super-Creative Core of the Creative Class includes scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects, as well as the thought leadership of modern society: non-fiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts and other opinion makers.” (BF mine)

They key thing here, for this blog, is that Florida recognizes and includes artists as a necessary part of the economic picture. Art is not a frill or a luxury, but a necessary component of the climate of successful cities nowadays. Note that Florida does not come from the point of being an arts promoter a priori.

When I find myself in front of audiences primarily interested in arts, culture or diversity issues, I always begin with an apology: I am not a student of those subjects, I say, I only have a cursory understanding of them. The reason I came to arts, culture, and diversity issues (rather late in my career) is because I found them to be fundamental to the process of economic growth.

So the arts are fundamental, but just to be clear, Florida does not see them as the “keys” to economic development. Those are the “3T’s”: technology, talent, and tolerance. The future successful urban areas, as he sees it, will be strong in those areas. But one of the things that helps draw “talent” is a thriving arts community. He recommends extending “the definition of innovation beyond R&D to include investment in the arts, in culture and in every other form of creativity.” I think that’s because he sees “creativity” as holistic, so you can’t just pick and choose which form of creativity to foster.

He is advocating that we get realistic about what actually leads to economic health, warning about “cities that are trapped by their pasts.” Here’s an example:

At a time when genuine political will seems difficult to muster for virtually anything, city after city across the country can generate the political capital to underwrite hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in professional sports stadiums. The ostensible economic goal of these facilities is one to which they are sublimely irrelevant. Recent studies show that, far from producing wealth, stadiums actually reduce local incomes. Ponder for a moment, the opportunity costs of these facilities. Imagine what could have been accomplished if those hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent on something genuinely productive, like university research, or on more finely grained neighborhood improvements and lifestyle amenities that can actually attract and retain talented people. Not once during any of my focus groups and interviews did a member of the Creative Class mention professional sports teams as playing even a marginal role in their choice of where to live and work. (BF mine) (Note: I’m not a sports basher..GO BLAZERS! GO DUCKS!)

So this book makes the case for artists that they are important essential contributors, not just that “art is good for you” in some abstract feel good way, or that people who go to arts events spend money elsewhere on their night out. Florida and his team (see the website:; lotsa good little posts almost every day, scroll down) are deep in research. They back up their findings with data (which you can easily skim through if you aren’t interested in the details). Florida makes it clear that he believes that he is only reporting what the data shows, that this is what seems to be working, not that he was looking for a justification for emphasizing creativity. “We’ve…been able to identify…key Creative Class groups [that] add most to regional development. Three of these groups—technology, business professionals, and arts and cultural workers—add considerably to regional economic output and wages.” (BF mine)

In his Conclusion, Florida proposes the Creative Compact that would be “dedicated to the creatification of everyone.”  His research shows that the Creative Class is doing fine economically (The unemployment rate for the Creative Class from 1971-2009 never gets above 4% until 2008. The average is about 3%.), the Working Class is doing kind of OK, and the Service Class is woefully undervalued. The way to increase the value of all workers is to find and increase the creative aspects of what they do not just for their sake, but realistically for the health of the economy for all of us. To be clear, he is not trying to glorify a Creative elite, but to help us understand how important it is to find the creative capital in everyone.

The outline for this is:

–       Invest in Developing the Full Human Potential and Creative Capabilities of Every Single

        Human Being

–       Make Openness and Diversity and Inclusion a Central Part of the Economic Agenda

–       Build an Education System That Spurs, Not Squelches, Creativity

Florida mentions Ken Robinson, so here’s a recommended quick video:

–       Build a Social Safety Net for the Creative Economy

–       Strengthen Cities; Promote Density, Clustering, and Concentration

The details of the above list make a lot of sense to me. But I’m not going to go into those details here.

This is a book for art students so that they have a deep answer to the question, “You’re majoring in art??? What are you going to do with that?” Now they can say, “Be a meaningful contributor to the health of the economy.”

(“You’re majoring in art??? What are you going to do with that?” actually means, “Hey I know that there are people who have made successful lives in the arts, but you couldn’t possibly be one of them.”)

Also, I believe that artists (and everyone else) nowadays should have a good general education and this book is a comfortable intro to ideas having to do with economics.

Some miscellaneous details from the book that I want to mention but won’t fit into the above

“Long-term jobs and reasonably stable careers with firms are relatively recent phenomena, associated with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of modern unions and management.” [See Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation, available on Amazon.]

“The manufacturing jobs that pay best today look a lot more like knowledge work than traditional factory work.”

“Creative work cannot be regimented, like rote work in the old factory or office. Because a lot of it goes on in people’s heads, you literally cannot see it happening…” [See Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, available on Amazon. You might like this one, especially since he says, “The MFA is the new MBA.”]

“Even though immigrants make up just 12 percent of the US population, they generate more than 25 percent of its global patents and account for nearly one-half (47 percent) of its science and engineering workers with PhDs.”

“Whereas companies that get financial incentives—and sports teams for that matter—can pull up and leave at virtually a moment’s notice when even more attractive inducement materializes somewhere else, investments in broad amenities like urban parks last for generations while benefitting a broad swath of the population.”

“…roughly one-third of the estimated 20,000 homeless people in Santa Clara County (the heart of Silicon Valley) had full-time jobs.”

“…rich voters trend Republican, rich states trend Democratic.”


Here’s a good long (an hour or so) very entertaining recent talk by Florida which presents a lot of his ideas very well (sorry I don’t know how to embed this one):

There is an introduction lasting just over 20 minutes that you might want to fast forward through.







Friday the 14th

Not much different as the day went except that Matt was at the grill at lunchtime.IMG_4207Matt worked for Bob beginning in 1993 and knows pretty much anything you need to know from flora and fauna on the property to how to make stuff to how to cook as in a previous life he was a sous chef.

Working on editing in the studio. I was thinking that my process is now like the editing process in writing. Chose a slightly better word here, put an explanatory adverb there, cut a few words now and then, tweak the tone. These three are very near (maybe completely) done:IMG_4211



Dangers they don’t tell you about #1

Do not sit under the coconut palms.


After feeling like I couldn’t figure anything out on Wednesday afternoon I had a really productive day on Thursday. I found a lot to do, noticing things that needed fixing that I just couldn’t see before. So here’s a composite of the long line of works from the end of the day:Wall Composite 12 13 12


I saw Stephen walking across the deck at the Weeks House with his iPhone lighting up his pocket. I asked him to let me get a picture.

Stephen V 12 13 12


I did a little work on a few paintings before lunch.

After a little fiddling with a couple pieces it got to the point that I couldn’t “see” the paintings anymore, so I decided to shake things up and spent some time taking down the foot square pieces and hanging all the color paintings in one line and lighting them.

IMG_4108After staring at them for awhile I decided that my brain had ceased to function for the day and walked over to the Weeks House where I watched Osprey adding to a nest. This one is the guard/lookout and the partner was bring some new materials from time to time. There are several of these nesting pole platforms here. This one is maybe 50 feet from the Weeks House.IMG_4111

Went out to the Fish House. Something was drastically wrong with the weather yesterday as you can see:IMG_4113

However, according (funny, if you type “accordin,” the autocorrect suggestion is “accordion”) to my iPhone the temperature was 79 degrees.

Nearing dusk, on the way back across the boardwalk I saw this scene:IMG_4131


Two weeks before Xmas

For someone who has never been to Florida before this just doesn’t seem like two weeks ’til Xmas weather.


Here’s a shot of the starfruit tree that grows right next to the studio building:

IMG_4074Maybe those are Xmas tree decorations.

Made some good progress in the studio. The middle row is about 99 percent done (I think, now).


That’s all for Tuesday…


Linda K, Johnson sent me this picture of her notes in the Dance Studio:

LKJ bOn Monday I took down the top five panels and started sanding them. Here are the first two after sanding:

IMG_4047Then I noticed the blister on my thumb and thought I should put a bandaid on that hot spot. After I got several bandaids from the studio first aid kit I noticed that they made an interesting found sculpture:IMG_4050After a couple  hours of sanding I spent another couple hours working a whitewash over the surfaces, and this is where things stood at the end of the day:


Over the Weekend


At Marylhurst University, just outside Portland, Oregon, where I teach, one is often greeted by a gaggle of  Canada Geese moseying across the road. Here is a similar bunch of moseyers from Saturday morning:

IMG_3940These American White Ibis are on what we call the Jungle Road which connects he east side of the property to the Gulf of Mexico. Great place to stroll and look at the flora, and you might run into something like these guys. They say there are bobcats in here, but you need to be along here at night and lucky to see them. Here’s another example of flora:

IMG_3967Later in the morning I encountered more wildlife:

IMG_3981At lunchtime I saw this Osprey, which you can see has lunch in its talons. Evidently the Ibis is not afraid of being dessert.


Studio Saturday and Sunday

Here’s a nice panorama of the studio that Stephen took with his iPhone:

IMG_2367That’s my workspace on the left, Maria Elena’s work in the center and Yassi’s work in progress just to the right of center.

I worked in the studio on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Here’s the end of the day on Saturday:

IMG_3991In the second from the left in the bottom row I added some goofy grass green.

IMG_3990On Sunday I made it goofyer (autocorrect says that should be “goofier,” but I think “goofyer” looks goofyer):

IMG_4015Here’s the end of the day on Sunday:IMG_4031I moved the green painting to the top row. Plan of attack for Monday: Step #1, Take all the paintings in the top row and work them over with sandpaper.

Friday Dec 7

Did some satisfying work in the studio today. Began by looking at pieces that had just the beginning dabs on them and began to get them into shape. I think they’re all moving along OK and my modus operandi (still reading Hadrian, get to use latin!) is working. Here’s an end of day shot:


Just towards sundown we were summoned to the Fish House for individual and group portraits by Laurie. She has to leave tomorrow, but she gets to return when a new group of artists is here. Here she is, hard at work again, trying to get the best angle on the wild bunch:


The light out there was beautiful…


Laurie brought a copy of her recent book Roy Lichtenstein in His Studio which you see Linda and Maria Elena perusing just before dinner:

IMG_3921It is a beautiful book and available on Amazon. Still time to get those Xmas presents delivered!

Since I haven’t managed to get Jack Pierson in a pic before, here he was at dinner a couple hours ago.

IMG_3932He is usually more focused than this picture…



Rauschenberg and the purpose of ART

Trying a little thinking out loud…

In all of the living quarters and gathering places here there are stacks of books on Robert Rauschenberg. Who knew there were so many publications! In this room there are roughly 30 volumes, many slim exhibition catalogues, most of which I’ve not seen before.

One of these is the National Gallery of Art catalogue for the 1991 exhibition of works from the Rauschenberg Overseas Cultural Interchange project, a series of exhibitions in eleven countries from 1985-1990 ( good overview, mid-project, NY Times 1987:

In the back pages is a conversation between Bob and Donald Saff. At one point Bob says, “If I am a successful artist, then I think you don’t need art. Art is then an appreciation of your own life.”

The cynic might scoff at that thinking that evidently Bob wasn’t successful since we still need art (well, another cynic might say we don’t need art at all, that it is frivolous, elitist, whatever). But I am reminded of what another great philosopher, Vince Lombardi said:  “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

So if Bob worked with the idea that his work was based on what he found interesting, as document and visually compelling, which was pretty much the whole world, then he was setting up the possibility that others might be able to do that as well—to get the idea. He could strive to help folks “see”, but it might not work for everybody. All we got is excellent art.

Further along in the discussion is this recollection from Bob:

Jasper Johns had a schoolteacher in South Carolina, I think, and she had a gentleman visitor who came often and always sat opposite a Moholy-Nagy [painter/photographer, taught at the Bauhaus] and stared at it all through the evening. After months the guest said, “What is that?” and she said, “That’s a space modulator” and he said, “Oh,” and he never looked back at it.

Understanding is a form of blindness. Good art, I think, can never be understood.

For some reason we tend to privilege the verbal, to give weight to words as “meaningful” and if there is meaning that cannot be put into words then there is a tendency to dismiss it, to act as if it is silly, it can’t exist if it can’t be verbalized. And when we are new at this art stuff, or not really connected with it at all, we tend to hear an “explanation” and be satisfied that that is the final answer, that it is in the the words attached to the art—not the art itself—that is where the “answer” lies.

Here’s a recollection from the photographer Robert Adams:

Part of the reason that these attempts at explanation fail, I think, is that photographers, like all artists, choose their medium because it allows them the most fully truthful expression of their vision… as Robert Frost told a person who asked him what one of his poems meant, “You want me to say it worse?”

And in “How We Listen to Music” Aaron Copland says:

This whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, “Is there a meaning to music?” My answer to that would be, “Yes.” And “Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?” My answer to that would be, “No.” Therein lies the difficulty.