Creative Inspiration–a presentation by Craig Kausen, grandson of Chuck Jones #chuckjones

This post is a summary of a presentation that Craig Kausen gave at the Founder’s District Toastmasters Conference on November 3, 2012.  His presentation was in three parts: introducing himself, talking about his grandfather’s work, and then discussing how it illuminates the phenomenon of creativity.

1. Craig Kausen’s bio

Craig first introduced himself. He graduated with a Computer Engineering degree from UCLA, became a computer design engineer, and taught for a decade as a college instructor. He helped establish The Chuck Jones Galleries, three of the most highly respected animation art galleries in the U.S., to showcase his grandfather Chuck Jones’ work and the work that he inspired.

In 1999, he formed the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, a non-profit educational organization located in Costa Mesa, CA. The Center’s vision is to inspire the innate creative genius within each person that leads to a more joyous, passionate, and harmonious life and worldas it states on their website

I’m sure the question that was each audience member’s mind was: what was it like being the grandson of a fun, creative genius like Chuck Jones? Craig told the following story. His grandfather Chuck Jones knew a lot about animal anatomy from having sketched so many different “critters” over the years, albeit in exaggerated form. One of the places he liked to take his grandsons was Sea World down in San Diego, CA. On one occasion, he went down to make sketches of sea lions. After their return to the Los Angeles area, his grandfather wondered, given the limitations of movement that having flippers rather than hands entails, how a human would be able to move in the water. He decided to do an experiment that involved his two grandsons, one of them being Craig. When I say “involved”, I mean really involved. He had their arms and legs tied with sections of rope to restrict their movement, and then threw them in their backyard pool to see how they would be able to swim.* Indeed, the movements that they made to get across the pool from one side to another exactly mimicked the characteristic movement of sea lions, demonstrating the evolutionary pressures responsible for them.

*As Craig reassured us while telling us this story, no grandsons were harmed in the course of this experiment!

2. Chuck Jones bio

Chuck Jones became an illustrator because his father was an unsuccessful businessman and kept purchasing new stationery and new pencils each time he would try one more failed attempt at a new business venture. To use up them up, he insisted that his children, Chuck and his two older sisters, draw every day. After Chuck was in art school, the art professor told the class that each of them had 100,000 bad drawings in them that they would first have to get out of their system before they would produce anything worthwhile. This was an immediate relief to Chuck because he figured he had done at least twice as many on his father’s seemingly endless supply of stationery!

Craig expressed a couple of themes about his grandfather that remained true throughout his life. He was tenacious, and that tenacity can be seen as a hallmark characteristic of one of his most celebrated cartoon creations, Wile E. Coyote. He was, of course, creative, which can be seen as a characteristic of Bugs Bunny in the ways that he thinks of creative ways to overcome foes and adversity. He was also a teacher, in that he knew how to take the creative strengths of others who were aspiring animators and to inspire them to tap their own creative wellsprings.

During one of the breaks, I asked Craig about this because I had just coincidentally watched the night before the presentation a biography of Mel Blanc, who was to the voice characterizations of the Warner Brothers cartoons what Chuck Jones was to the animation. Craig said that, although his grandfather knew he was a good illustrator and animator, there were many involved in the various aspects of making a cartoon that were much better at their job than he could ever be (like Mel Blanc, for example), so Chuck Jones allowed an open mode of discourse with them that made their best work shine forth as well.

Many of these aspects of Chuck Jones’ biography were explained by Chuck Jones himself in the form of short clips of biographical interviews that had been conducted later in his life, that Craig would later expound upon.

3. Creativity

Creativity comes from a place of natural intelligence within us that comes forth like a clear signal when the “noise” of the daily chatter of the mind is stilled. The mind has an outer layer and an inner layer as seen in my rendition of the drawing Craig drew on the whiteboard. The outer world is stimulated by all the impressions of the outer world, which it receives constantly. It processes the stimuli of the outer world, and from this, the inner mind does the real work of breaking down and recombining down those thoughts of the outer mind and coming up with something new, something creative.

The problem is that, if the outer mind is too turbulent, denoted by all the vertical lines in the diagram below, this becomes noise which drowns out any creative signal which the inner mind may have produced. So you have to learn to quiet the outer mind and let the creativity come through. This is why people say they get creative thoughts at times like a shower, or while walking, or in the case of Einstein, while riding the train to work. The quieted outer mind finally lets the creative emerge from the inner mind.

        Fig. 1 Creativity, the Outer Mind, and the Outer World

4. Conclusion

Craig said that he has learned to appreciate Einstein’s thoughts on creativity, including his statement “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Perhaps in honor of Einstein as a physicist, he started to write an equation on the board that started with E, but it was not E = mc2. It was

E = (knowledge + understanding + experience) creativity

E is your effectiveness in your chosen profession. Yes, knowledge which leads to understanding is important, and this will lead to a body of experience. But creativity, like the exponential in the above equation, is what really will take your profession to astronomical heights. Without it, you’ll just be like Wile E. Coyote, chasing that Road Runner of inspiration.

It was a wonderful talk and a creative way of looking at the subject way of creativity. He expressed some nervousness about doing a two-hour presentation in front of Toastmasters, who are devoted to the art of public speaking, but I thought he did a tremendous job. Right after the talk, I and another person who belongs to my club were inspired to go and share a brainstorming session on five creative ways we could help our club to grow. I will look into the Creativity Center and try to get more involved, because I think creativity is a vital yet overlooked quality of being a truly inspirational leader.   It’s something we need to pay attention to, especially as Toastmasters, since the new branding slogan of Toastmasters International is “Where Leaders Are Made.”   Maybe we should change that to “Created”!


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