Mad Art Lab's Richard Feynman paper doll, a line drawing and cut out

The Fun of Making Shit Up

Larry, Sergey & Maria.
Roads: more & less traveled.
Chinese footbinding.
Italian pranksters.
Why you’re working on a bachelors’ degree and Paris Hilton never even finished high school.

Mixed Reality Cabaret author Erik Morales and I were sitting at the CSULB Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf this afternoon. He’s thinking of going to Defcon again this summer. It’s August 1-4 in Las Vegas. Erik’s grandmother loves to gamble. And it’ll be his birthday. I asked if he’d take his Alienware laptop to Defcon and he answered in just two words,

No way.

I thought about BarCampSD and Jun Axup and her tamper-proof seals. Or the last BCSD when she was annoyed with the Defcon guys for posting that they’d cracked her iPhone.

Mad Art Lab's Richard Feynman paper doll, a line drawing and cut out

Cracking iPhones.
Picking locks.
Cracking safes.

And then I started to think about Richard Feynman. Feynman died in 1988, and Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, so Feynman just missed playing in the sandbox that we’ve come to think of as every day life these days. Even so, thinking about some of his attributes:

Pencil drawing of a woman, with fine detail on her face and head and quick flowing gestures for her shirt
Portrait of Dabney Zorthian by Ofey

Nobel Laureate
Rock Starr (geek version, anyway)
Rejected by Columbia University
Manhattan Project
Quantum Mechanics
Bongo Player
Exhibited drawings under the pseudonym “Ofey”
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!
What Do You Care What Other People Think?
The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.

I thought that given his genius, his rebellious spirit, his curiosity, and of course, his safe-cracking, that Feynman could have been the patron saint of Defcon.

And then our conversation turned to Erik’s evolving major. And how wouldn’t it be cool if instead of picking a major and then being told what list of classes to take and requirements to fulfill, if you could design your own curriculum. A kind of Mozilla Open Badge Framework where you’d cobble together some F2F experiences, maybe take a robotics class from Stanford online, a business class from Wharton online, and when you thought you’d explored and understood enough to warrant a piece of paper on top if it, you’d show up with your virtual box of badges to some University Registrar, maybe write them a check for $10,000 or something, let them evaluate your stuff, maybe be tested by the faculty, or “defend” your program, and eventually receive a certificate or a diploma.

That’s the best, most relevant future for education that I see ATM.

Instagram of students gathered around an iPad and viewing online content
Me. Showing the trailer for Koyaanisqatsi to 3 students who want to do a photo/video nature-city contrast project. I also told them about Sam Green & Dave Cerf’s 2010 performance film Utopia in Four Movements, or that guy whose name eludes me and those Digital Campfire stories he used to tell, both artists interweaving the power of rich media and the impact of live performance. Instagram by Erik Morales.

But IDK if the university or the faculty are ready for that. Oh. And by the way. I’m pretty sure most students don’t want it either. Students don’t want to be slaves, there’s plenty of hoops they’d just as soon not have to jump through, but the truth is, most students in these parts don’t really want freedom either:

Just tell us what to do.

I’ve thought that before. But I’ve sort of “blamed” the students for that. Today I realized that if you’ve spent the last 12 years of your life being told,

Here, memorize this stuff and then we’ll test how well you memorized what we told you to memorize.

then you’re probably not prepared for a “write your own curriculum” college experience. But I realized that just because students in 2013 aren’t ready for it, doesn’t mean it couldn’t be the norm for students in 2023.

And then I suddenly remembered reading Steven Levy’s “biography” of Google, In The Plex. Today Marissa Mayer is President & CEO of Yahoo, but back when Levy was researching his book she was a long-time executive & spokesperson at Google, and she famously told Levy,

You can’t understand Google unless you know that both Larry and Sergey were Montessori kids.

And then I made this Tout outside CBTL:

And then I wandered through the School of Art and ran into Krista Feld & January Smith who were forming some furniture:

January’s done with the “January Smith” identity and wanted thoughts on new identity explorations. I told them about “Curiosity vs Respect,” and Krista thought that “Obedience” was maybe a better word.


Much better.

I thought about Stanley Milgram.
And Philip Zimbardo.
Then I got in my car to drive to Newport Beach to kayak and just happened to be at the exact chapter in the book on CD version of Lisa See’s 2005 book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan where they go through the excruciating details of foot binding.


Last week I read her 2007 book Peony in Love which featured excruciating footbinding scenes. This week the scenes in Peony in Love seem almost easy.

black & white "cut up" photos montaged to show multiple faces of the possibly fictitious identity January Smith
January Smith & January Smith

But of course, if your mother really loved you, it was her duty to break the bones in your feet, beat you, and pretty much torture the living crap out of you. If she didn’t, you were just a worthless girl who may as well have been drowned at birth. But if she did, then you could be a valuable commodity, fetching a high “bride price” when you were eventually sold off.

It’s not really fair to critique the culture of another time and place from your own cozy vantage point. Still. From the easy life of a Californian in the 21st century, the values on the compellingly written pages of See’s books are so many unrelenting slaps across the face of the world as I’d imagined it ought to be.

Richard Feynman was a genius.
And a maverick.
He won a Nobel prize.
And cracked safes.

photo of Eva & Franco Mattes holding the postcard for their "ADHD" show

It’d probably be misleading to make an analogy between Feynman and Italian prankster artists Eva & Franco Mattes. I’m sure they’re not quite geniuses in the way that he was. And I don’t think he was a prankster on their level. IDK. I do sort of think that if Eva & Franco were scientists, they wouldn’t be that sanctimonious Einstein or that self-important Hawking, they’d be the smartass… they’d be Feynman.

photograph of many magazine and newspaper articles about Darko Maver and his work

One of Feynman’s books was called, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. Eva & Franco would never write that book. They might write The Fun of Making Shit Up. And boy did they have fun. The number of times “real” and “fake” reverse in the story of Darko Maver is remarkable. Bottom line: Darko Maver was a “fake” artist who had more powerful insights and critiques of art and culture than most “real” artists.

And maybe that’s the point.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out and The Fun of Making Shit Up seem like pretty different books. But are they?

Both sort of say “assume nothing,” “test it for yourself,” “nothing is sacred,” “have your own, direct experience.” Whether you’re looking at something no one has ever looked at before, or something that’s been settled for ages, it doesn’t matter, still poke at it, prod it, take it apart, break it, understand it.

The United States hasn’t done so much manufacturing for a long time now. Yet we may still be the most creative country on earth. If we are, I don’t think it’s because of “American Exceptionalism” or some other self-centered, self-righteous “God likes us better” egotism, I think it’s because of our diversity. The very people that the proponents of American Exceptionalism don’t want to let in this country, are the reason we are diverse and creative and think different and are exceptional and are, perhaps, great.

Frame from the film Inception in which Ariadne draws mazes for Cobb

I love the scene in Inception where Cobb asks Ariadne to draw mazes. She’s just walking between architecture classes at a Paris university when her favorite professor says “Mr. Cobb has a job offer for you.” He’s about to offer her money and creative opportunity beyond her wildest dreams, but first she has to pass a test. He gives her graph paper and asks her to draw mazes. They’re not good enough. Finally in frustration she rejects the graph paper he’s provided and uses the cardboard backing of the pad instead. And then, free of the tyranny of the lines, she impresses Cobb and lands the job.

Yves Klein throwing gold into the river Seine as part of his Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility project
Yves Klein, Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility

In that moment of frustration she invents the solution, the “revenge of color” that Yves Klein dreamt of in his storyboard for The War Between Line and Color: she invents “coloring outside the lines.”

Perhaps it’s not that hard to color outside the lines we see.

But what about the lines we don’t see?

How do you color outside the lines of a zone of immaterial sensibility?

Image from an article about Rem Koolhaas design for LACMA

A few years back the Los Angeles County Museum of Art hired a bunch of the world’s greatest architecture firms. They paid them a bunch of money for proposals for a massive redesign. They had a number of conditions, a number of “rules” for the design. Every architect who submitted a design proposal complied with the rules they were given. Except one: Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas just chose to ignore the rules he was given. He didn’t do what LACMA asked. He submitted a design that didn’t meet the terms that LACMA had stipulated. Oh, and his design was also brilliant.

After much review it came time for LACMA to pick a winner… they picked Koolhaas’ design.

Image of woman wearing headphones and holding a small photo print as she takes a Janet Cardiff walking tour through a city

Janet Cardiff makes shit up too. She creates alternative, site-specific audio tours that guide you into a mysterious narrative world of time and place and people and possibility. Who gives a crap if it’s true, it’s truth! I think sometimes we think

fact = truth
fiction = fake

But I think it’s the opposite. My copy of

Windows 7 User’s Manual
is filled with “facts,”
but it doesn’t contain any important “truths” at all.

My copy of

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
isn’t factual, it’s just a bunch of shit that Shakespeare made up.
But it’s about the most powerful human truth I know of.

1. Your voice is the most powerful thing you’ll ever own. Or, at least it could be, if you practice using it.
2. Richard Feynman should be the patron saint of Defcon.
3. If you really care about discovering powerful truths, you’re going to have to make a lot of shit up to get there.
4. Knowledge is Power: we need more citizen journalists.
5. Knowledge is Power: what if we worried less about Obedience and more about Curiosity?

Can we “teach creativity”? IDK. But I’m pretty sure we can teach… or promote… or encourage… or inspire… Curiosity…

obviously, to be broken as desired
1. Commit an act of curiosity every day.
2. Commit an act of journalism every day by telling the world what you discovered in #1.
3. Repeat while breathing.

L i n k s
Mad Art Lab / Feynman Day
Krista Feld / MRC
January Smith / MRC
Erik Morales / Instagram
Utopia in Four
Koyaanisqatsi / Vimeo
Cardiff /
Rem Koolhaas / OMA: LACMA Extension, 2001
Darko Maver / Rhizome
Eva & Franco Mattes /


One response to “The Fun of Making Shit Up”

  1. Jonathan M Avatar
    Jonathan M

    this is great stuff!! i will try to commit an act of curiosity every day!

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