TEDx Martha’s Vineyard captivates creative minds

Janie Bryant talking about her work on Mad Men and how Scarlett O'Hara and the movie Gone with the Wind influenced her life and career choice — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

What is the common thread that sews Don Draper’s suits to the sails of a Black Dog tall ship? It has something to do with “Insanity, Genius, and the Creative Process,” the theme of the inaugural TEDx Martha’s Vineyard event, which took place at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center on Tuesday, August 19.

The independently organized event, brought to the Island by Katy Decker of Chilmark, was based on the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) model of “Ideas Worth Spreading,” and hosted 14 live speakers and a handful of video presentations. Those who missed the sold-out event can access recordings of the talk on YouTube and at tedxmarthasvineyard.com after September 1.

In addition to “Mad Men” costume designer Janie Bryant and Black Dog tall ship captain Ian Ridgeway, the diverse pool of speakers included illusionist Brad Barton, fashion designer/boxing champion Nellie Partow, film producer Gary Foster, composer and music theorist Dmitri Tymoczko, neuroscience professor Bevil Conway, designer Sebastian Errazuriz, musician Devonte Hynes, sommelier Andre Mac, social-emotional educator Brian Gordon, musician Alan Palomo, artist/philosopher Ignacio Rodriguez Bach, and author/screenwriter Jon Ronson. A dance performance by ChristinaNoel & The Creature and a surprise reading by poet Justin Ahren were interspersed between the lectures. All performances either discussed or demonstrated how their creative processes toed the border of insanity and genius.

Many an audience member was seen scribbling notes during the quotable talks when not enraptured by music, or a striking image on the projector. Memorable moments were plentiful. After wowing the audience with a card trick, Mr. Barton encouraged everyone to “turn off the analytical mind” in order to make room for more wonder and astonishment in life. Ms. Partow discussed the discrepancy between living a dream and working toward one, insisting it should be about “the measure of joy along the way.” Mr. Foster told of a frightening episode in actor Jamie Foxx’s creative process as he strove to capture the schizophrenic mind on film. After engaging the audience in a rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Mr. Tymoczko demonstrated the complex mathematical and geometric forms that illustrate rock music. Mr. Conway discussed color and optical illusion, insisting that “like a toddler smashing blocks,” we must “cut up our world to increase our understanding of it.” Ms. Bryant mused that her obsession with Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” fueled her future.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway from Tuesday’s event was the mantra, “be yourself.” Several speakers acknowledged that their creativity, though it set them apart from others, was a blessing. “We can create how we want, as long as it makes sense to ourselves,” said Mr. Hynes, a musician with synesthesia. Mr. Mac embraced the role of the black sheep, saying “You have to get used to being criticised by people who have never created anything original in their life.” Mr. Ridgeway discussed the importance of self-reliance as “something the ocean demands of us with all its indifference,” and Mr Errazuriz encouraged perseverance in the face of failure, saying, “If you work really hard, even those who missed your ideas will gather around you to see what you’re building.”

The sold-out crowd took the advice of charismatic co-organizer Maggie Bryan, by not just listening to the talks, but actively participating in the conversation and discussing the concepts with their friends and neighbors during breaks. It was a long day in a dark room, but thought-provoking topics kept the audience sharp.

“This was such a great mix of speakers and performers,” Wendy Jacobs of Vineyard Haven said. “Certainly a few of them took me by surprise. I watch TED a lot, and I think each speaker here brought a great message. I hope they do it again next year.”

Plans for another TEDx Martha’s Vineyard in 2015 are in the works, and more info can be found at tedxmarthasvineyard.com.