How do Mad Artists Think? Now at a Mad House near you on 10th May 2014, Saturday.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde, by Damien Hirst

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot (4.3 m) tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde, by Damien Hirst

  1. Synopsis
  2. Date and Time
  3. Address
  4. Contact numbers/e-mail addresses for registration
  5. Workshop Fee
  6. Food and Drinks
  7. Mission statement/Workshop manifesto
  8. Structure of the workshop
  9. Takeaway from the workshop
  10. Who is this workshop for?


1. Synopsis

What are the lessons in creative thinking from the world of Art and Design? What is your unique and special artistic expression? 

What does Andy Warhol’s Pop Art have in common with our very own, very successful ‘Chumbak’ and ‘Happily Unmarried’ brands? What is ‘Modern Art’ anyway, and why is Picasso considered a great artist when even a child could draw like him? What’s really so great about Pink Floyd?

Through vivid discussions over drinks and snacks, leading up to a small, fun project, I’ll help you develop an informed artistic opinion on the things you create, so that you can see for yourself how awesome you really are! 

No qualification required. Just come with an open mind.

How do those mad artists think? By the end of the workshop, you’ll tell me!


2. Date and Time

Date and Time:
Saturday,10th May 2014, 2.30 PM – 7.30 PM

3. Address 

G-16/5, DLF Phase 1, Qutub Enclave, Gurgaon.

It’s really easy to find.

  • Closest Metro station – Sikandarpur, MG Road, Gurgaon
  • From Sikandarpur Metro Station, turn LEFT towards Bristol Chowk
  • After passing Bristol Hotel on your right, continue STRAIGHT towards Faridabad (DO NOT take the right onto Golf Course Road)
  • Cross the FIRST traffic signal (with Qutub market on your right), and then take the LEFT into DLF phase 1 colony gate
  • Take the THIRD RIGHT. The venue is the fourth house in that lane (G-16/5)


4. Contact details for registration

Prior Registration is required by calling OR e-mailing Viraj/Nayantara

Viraj : 97177 38723 /
Nayantara: 97171 03014 /
Join the Facebook event for updates and interesting links to help you get the most out of the workshop.


5. Workshop Fee
Rs.500 (First time attendees)

Rs.200 (people who attended the previous workshop at Zorba)

You can pay at the venue.

6. Food and Drinks

BYOB. Snacks will be provided.

7. My Mission/Workshop manifesto

  1. Make people aware of the context of their talents in the world of Art. Do you have leanings towards Futurism or are you a Purist, for instance?
  2. Initiate people to the ‘thinking structures’ of great Artists, past and present, from various fields.
  3. By so doing, instil in people the confidence and vocabulary to take their particular talents in innovative directions.

8. Structure of the Workshop

This is not a painting class, or a sculpture class, or a photography class. In this workshop you will learn how to ‘think’ like an artist.

  • The first section of the workshop will be a discussion on fundamental questions like ‘What is Art?’, ‘What’s the difference between Art and Craft?’ and ‘What do Painting and Music and Photography and any other medium have in common?’. During the course of these discussions, interesting examples, and Art History, from the multifarious fields of Art (Painting, Film, Music, Writing, Conceptual Art) will be shared so that the conversations have a reference point.
  • In the second section, participants will be asked the question, ‘What has affected you deeply in the recent past?’. The participants will be encouraged, through discussion with the group, to think deeply about why they feel strongly about the issue. They will then be asked to create an ‘artistic work’ that expresses the issue they feel strongly about.

The artistic work could be completely conceptual, in which case the participant simply has to describe it through language, or it could be a piece of poetry, cellphone photography, performance, or even a rough sketch.

The focus is not on the final product, but the thinking process behind it.

The final discussion will be participants responding to each other’s work.

9. What is the takeaway from the workshop?

At the end of the workshop, the participant would have touched, and harnessed the power of his/her own artistic temperament, and possibly have found an affinity for a certain medium of expression like Photography, or Painting, or Writing, which they could pursue vocationally, by going for a ‘Basics of Photography’ class for example.

He/She would have been introduced to the major Art Movements from the Renaissance to the present, and have understood the modes of thought that defined these movements.

Importantly, he/she would have developed a basic vocabulary to be able to have an informed opinion on any piece of Art from any field.

10. Who is this workshop for?

  1. Any job requires creativity. The lessons from the lateral thinking of the Art world are truly inspiring and will help you think ‘out of the box.’
  2. Creative Professionals like designers, art directors and copywriters will be able to attribute reasons and logic to their intuitive output. (Haven’t you always wanted to give it back to clients who offer unstudied and dumb opinions on your work?)
  3. Anyone who indulges in an artistic hobby like writing, photography, painting, music etc., or indulges in Art appreciation of any kind, will benefit greatly from this workshop.

For any questions you can also write to us by filling the form below:



All the Madness from the ‘Mad Artists’ workshop at Zorba the Buddha

header image

The agenda of this post is to document the ‘How do those Mad Artists Think? Lessons in creative thinking from the world of Art and Design’ workshop, point out the interactive techniques I used, and give the reader an idea of what to expect, should they participate in the next one.

I write this after reading the feedback forms, and I’m happy to report that there are at least ten more Mad Artists in the world who are keen on experimenting with their talents.

I did learn a few lessons though, as regards the length of the workshop (I ought to contract it), and that 10 am on a Sunday morning is a lousy time to start! A sincere thank you to all those who came. The next time it will probably be a half-day session, from 3.30 pm to 8.30 pm, and end with an Asterix comic style feast for dinner!

My Mission/Workshop manifesto

The ‘How do Mad Artists think?’ workshop provides the participants with tools and strategies to:

1. Extract maximum value from any artwork they encounter

2. Place their own creative products in the context of the larger world of Art

3. Be articulate about the reasons for their intuitive creative output

The Technique used in the Workshop  

One of the main things I wanted to do through this workshop was make people realize that Art is not as esoteric as it’s made out to be. Behind the often tumid prose that surrounds any discussion on Art, is a fundamental artistic process, which I wanted to reveal.

Most of the ‘big words’ that surround Art, all fall into this artistic process in logical places, in an almost formulaic manner.

Often I meet incredibly gifted writers, illustrators and musicians, who practice their crafts prolifically, but in a largely stagnant manner, within a decorated box, utilizing predictable and hackneyed tropes in their renditions.

While there is no harm in this, (the important thing is that they enjoy what they do) I have also experienced that a small initiation to lateral thinking by great artists in a person’s area of interest, at living room conversations or parties, tends to inspire them with a new respect for their talents.

I employed a playful method to demonstrate the ‘logical methods’ behind the lateral thinking to the participants, so that the next time they created anything, they could experiment with their crafts, and be articulate about the nature of their experiments.

Step 1

I randomly placed the ‘big words’ on the floor of the workshop space, in the area enclosed by the circle of chairs.

That's me, randomly pasting 'big words' from the world of Art, all over the floor of the workshop space. 

Randomly pasting ‘big words’ from the world of Art, all over the floor of the workshop space.


Step 2

As people walked in and sat down, the fluorescent chits on the Terrazo got their attention and a process of thinking about the words started from the very outset.

After the introductions, I got people talking about the words pasted on the floor by posing questions like, “What’s the difference between Art and Craft?” or “How important is Skill or Technique in Art?” (the italicized words were pasted on the floor).


I wanted people to arrive at the differences between the meanings of the words, or the relationships between them, through a process of discussion.

For example Craft is different from Art because there is often Use for it. Culture, Tradition, Spirituality and Local Material play an important role, and it relies heavily on learnt Technique.

In this snapshot you can see the words 'Art', 'Ephemerality', 'Dematerialization', 'Design' and 'Spirituality' amongst others

In this snapshot you can see the words ‘Art’, ‘Ephemerality’, ‘Dematerialization’, ‘Design’ and ‘Spirituality’ amongst others

Step 3

At the end of the rich discussion, I rearranged the random words, with the participants help, to form a logical order that described the artistic process.

This made for a lot of interaction and fun (“…put that word here, next to Design, no, no I think it should go before plasticity!”) , and furthered the participants understanding of the words and concepts.

An example of one such logical arrangement is as follows:

Art is a dialogue between Intelligence and Intuition and manifests in a Form that lies in a continuum from Realism to Abstraction. (refer to picture below)


The Arc from Realism to Abstraction 

As the words on the (now logically ordered) post its were being assimilated, I took the participants through a really quick presentation on the arc from Realism to Abstraction (encompassing 500 years in seven slides!), from the Renaissance to Cubism.

Along the way I stressed on the tenacious link between the technological and intellectual advancements of the day and the style, subject matter and concepts in the Art, and urged them to think about what themes, they surmised, Contemporary Art might show.

The following is the slideshow I took them through:

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The slideshow above served the purpose of helping the participants understand the conceptual tools used by Artists in the past to think about the forms and methods they employed.

It was absolutely crucial in fact, for the next section, which was:

A crash course on modern Art movements from Cubism onwards, including examples from Literature, Music, Performance Art etc.

This section encompassed the Futurists, the Abstract Expressionists and the Pop Artists amongst others, and led up to where contemporary Art is today.

Art went a little crazy with Rothko’s painting, Damien Hirst’s antics, Gavin Turk’s pranks and Marina Abramovic’s performances, but the foundation that was laid by the post it discussions right at the beginning, allowed people, who would otherwise have scoffed at the even red canvases and sharks in formaldehyde, to take it all in voraciously.

Russolo, the futurist composer’s music concerts were cited as an example of how music interpreted the movements of the day, as was Pink Floyd’s homage to him (with their helicopter and cash register sounds).

A parallel was drawn between the battle against ephemerality manifested in the the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ style of Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Truman Capote’s Gonzo journalism and the Art of Blogging and writing in the New Media Age.

I shared my own poem, A Bystander in Love, in which I try and link the flow of the narrative and the poetic rhythm to the subjects of the poem (i.e love and the oscillating swing).

Open-minded thinking 

To demonstrate the kind of open minded conversations that were taking place, here’s a snippet from the workshop in which I’m responding to a participant who spoke of failing a junior Art class because her teacher said she couldn’t draw.

Rothko, the abstract expressionist (though he didn’t like the label) famously said that colour, not line, ought to be the starting point of painting. He disputed the need to depict objects from nature and treated the canvas as a field of vision without a focal point.

In this manner, with a lateral concept, he bravely re-imagined the direction painting could take.

Post lunch activity – The fun part –  Creating an ‘Artistic Work’

Step1 – Thinking of an issue that has affected you

Ultimately, Art is commentary. It is a creative expression of a passionate thought. I asked the participants the following question:

‘What has affected you deeply in the recent past?’

The participant was further encouraged, through discussion with the group, to think deeply about why they felt strongly about the issue.

The issues that were brought up ranged from the corruption in our country, to the anomalous nature of monogamy, to the impossibility of ‘ever knowing anything’ despite the glut of information on the internet, to, in the case of a girl with a tooth-ache, the ‘futility’ of seeing a dentist (“We ought to fix our hearts first! Go see a cardiac surgeon” she trembled as she spoke!).

Step 2 – Manifesting your feelings in an ‘Artistic Work’

The ‘Artistic Work’ could be completely conceptual, in which case the participant simply had to describe it through language, or it could be a piece of poetry, cellphone photography, performance, or even a rough sketch.

The focus was not on the final product, but on the thinking process behind it.

Abhi (name changed) the internet agnostic, imagined a slate, the oldest metaphor of human knowledge and learning, (but also a metaphor relevant to our times due to the dynamism of its surface) with a crack running through it, so that anything that anyone wrote on it would be incomplete. He imagined a Performance Art piece, Marina Abramovic style,in which people wrote words on the slate, erased them and walked on, giving way to the next person to do the same.

Deep (name changed) troubled by the concept monogamy, wrote the following free-form Haiku titled ‘Unnatural’.

In our world

We would call bees cheats

And flowers whores

The technique of assonance in the ‘bees cheats’ and ‘flowers whores’ was noted as a device used to draw attention to the irony and the metaphors. Deep, an advertising copywriter, used the words side-by-side intuitively, a testament to her brilliant grasp of her craft, but true to the agenda of the workshop, an articulation of the literary device was important.

Naina (name changed) took a photo of dead leaves and equated it with the politics in our country at the moment. In her own words “Even a bad decision is going to pay off.” Among other things, leaves, and their function as agents of photosynthesis, and as humus, inspired her analogy.


The importance of ‘leaving the door open’ for interpretation was stressed in the discussions that followed the presentation of each artistic work.

Art after all is what one makes of it, as much as what the Artist wanted to convey.

A few words about spreading the word 

There were three basic platforms I relied on for spreading the word about the workshop. A Facebook event was the center of it all,  but my blog and the e-mailers I sent through (the absolutely amazing!) Mail Chimp platform, had a big part to play.

Here’s the basic digital strategy I used:


Mail Chimp allowed me to track individual opens, and send reminders (sometimes in the form of a phone call) in case a crucial person had not opened the e-mailer I had sent him/her. A lot of the time this was because Gmail has a separate ‘promotions’ tab, and not everyone checks the mails listed there often.


The discussions were vivid and rich and will certainly help me in my own artistic growth.

But most importantly, like I said in the introduction, a lot of the people agreed that they were Mad Artists too (refer to image below). My agenda of inspiring the confidence to experiment, and of helping the participants to be more articulate about how they used their craft, was largely successful and I am deeply thankful for it.


On Song Writing – With a Home (like you can hear my sister chopping onions) Recording

woodstock-poster (detail)

I picked up the guitar last evening (after ages!) and strummed and hummed a bit.

The thing is, once you have a blog and four and twenty followers (thank you guys), and are trying to write seriously, ‘na-naaa-na–na’…doesn’t hack it as very lyrical content, however soulful the intonation.

Last night’s song writing process – snatching words out of thin air 

I’ve read that certain artists like Paul McCartney do the melody part first and then stick in the lyrics. Dylan does it the other way around, and writes the words first (he says as much in this great interview, a must watch for any Dylan enthusiast).

I always thought I belonged to the Dylan school, but last night I saw a lot of merit in switching camps.

This is what I wrote last night, and replaced the na–na-naa with:

Ah! if time could go backwards, then we’d see, we were tethered to the weeds, the likes of you and me.

Ah! the pieces of that broken jamboree, knee deep in the givin’ green, lives slippin’ between.

Cold hard livin’, broken songs at seventeen, I have seen.

Cold hard living, dream for me.

Ah! praise for all the kings and the has-beens, ah the things that they have seen, shining through in reams.

And here’s the song, with the lyrics above.

Intelligence, intuition…and good old fashioned luck!

I Just wanted to point out certain groups of words that came about simply because I was trying to be loyal to the meter of the humming.

‘tethered to the weeds’ was one such group, ‘broken jamboree’ was another and so was ‘kings and the has-beens’.

The image of being tethered to weeds, or that of a broken jamboree gave me a kick once I had them down. They seemed vivid and allegorical and I could not have come to them any other way.

When I snatched ‘broken jamboree’ out of thin air (it just happened to pop into my head, no reason) and appended it to the previous line, about ‘lives slipping between’, it took the song in a direction I was not planning, but one that inflamed my brain and gave me a head rush.

When Cat Stevens wrote, ‘When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air, Will you keep on building higher, till there’s no more room up there?’ from the beautiful ‘Where do the Children Play?’, my feeling (purely conjecture) is he may have arrived at the vivid phrase ‘crack the sky’ this way.

Any artistic process is doing a balancing act between intelligence and intuition says Michael Tilson Thomas in this AMAZING talk on Music and Emotion through Time(below).

I think chance is a very important third component.


Featured image photo adapted from dbking on Flickr using CC by 2.0 license 


Commercial Art’s Conundrum


A period advertisement for cigars

A short preamble 

Alain De Botton hypothesizes in his book ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work‘ that the real reason for the pervasive disillusionment in our society is that our jobs have been disconnected from purpose and meaning.

Before societies and businesses became as complex as they are today, he says, in a far simpler world, every professional had a very clear cut role to play in society. A fisherman hauled in fish for a village, that would starve without his efforts. The direct human connection made his life’s work fulfilling and meaningful.

Contrast this with an accountant (it’s always a poor accountant!)  lost in the bureaucratic order of a huge corporation that makes, say, biscuits. He has no idea of how his day’s work really contributed to anything, other than giving him something to fill in his timesheet! HR departments in big companies really exist to fill the void caused by this divorce of purpose from our jobs.

Venkat Bhai, my favourite person in the office, beams at the camera at lunch time.

Venkat Bhai, my favourite person in the office, beams at the camera at lunch time.

Indeed, Venkat Bhai, our canteen in-charge, is arguably the happiest dude on the floor. He’s always smiling, and his movement can be surmised from the cheers of adulation that follow him as he, quite literally, purveys the grease that keeps the wheels of the office turning!

Mike Rowe, of the popular show ‘Dirty Jobs’ has a wonderful talk on a Ted where he makes a similar point. ‘Roadkill picker-uppers whistle to work’ he says, as he makes a strong case for hands-on work.

Does a Commercial Artist ever really feel a sense of purpose?

Isn’t every designer a closet artist? All the good ones are at any rate, escaping the confines of form and function and ‘purpose’ to scribble in their diaries, caricature a face, or illustrate some fantastic character.

You could argue that it’s actually quite simple, that when you see an ad you made in a magazine, for instance, the client’s message has been disseminated, and a sense of purpose is achieved.

But the likely truth would be that when a designer sees his work out there in the world, he’s normally thinking wistfully of how he may have done it better, or on rare occasions, how thrilled he is that the work ran the hierarchical gauntlet and emerged relatively unaltered! He is certainly NOT thinking of how the ‘purpose’ was served. That’s someone else’s job.

A conundrum?

More fundamentally, the creation process for commercial and intrinsically motivated art have an insidious distinction.

As a self motivated artist you aim at ‘connecting’ with the work and reaching a state of ‘flow’ where you’re almost one with the what you’re creating. You’re intensely focused on the task, all your senses are on full alert yet you’re manifestly calm. A piece of work gets its power from your attachment to it.

Commercial art, not so much.

This is a very cynical evaluation, but the whole idea, after a few years, often tends towards disconnecting enough with the work so that you don’t feel the stab when a suit gives you his unstudied opinion on how the colour doesn’t work! When you manage to disconnect enough so as not to feel anything, you begin to pride yourself on being ‘thick skinned’, which is great news except that this ‘thick skin’s’ function is not so much to buffer you from the hurt of slander but to build an impenetrable wall between you and the work.

If the thing you have to do to get the most pleasure out of your work,(and in the case of art it is to ‘connect’ with it), is exactly what you cannot afford to do on a daily basis, then there lies an unresolved conundrum, a recipe for frequent bouts of discontent. And if the creation processes for intrinsically motivated art and commercial art are so vastly different when it comes to a fundamental factor like connectedness, then things like personal style, a work’s personality, indeed all the things that give a piece of work individuality, all come into question, and the umbilical cord between cathartic art and commercial art seems to be tenuous at best, and capable of being snapped at the whim of the first unimaginative MBA.


I do love my job. It’s fun. And I wouldn’t trade it with the accountant. There are lots of people in the commercial art world who are really happy with their jobs. But when I came across Alain De Botton’s theory of disconnectedness of purpose and meaning, I thought I owed my line of work as a commercial artist a tough examination.

Cigar ad image by Double–M on Flickr using attribution license