The Potential of Plastic Cups & Other Possibilities with Ken Carbonne

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Ken Carbone showed how one installation artist used 3 million cups like these to create a temporary,

ethereal landscape at a museum. Ken just sipped water from his today — but his point was well taken.

Ken Carbone is a smart man. He plays guitar. He is an accomplished speaker. He has a successful blog on Fast Company that gets folks riled up. He and his partner Leslie Smolan and other colleagues at Carbone Smolan (CSA) have a client roster that would bring tears of joys to the eyes of those of us who labor for less, um, erudite clients. The Louvre? Tiffany & Co. ? Brooklyn Botanic? The High Musuem of Art in Atlanta? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And more.

So even if you can wipe away the color of envy from your eyes, you have to stop and imagine why a design company like this gets the opportunities like it does? Well, brains. Experience that brains brings. A cranky commitment to quality. A ballsy list of characteristics they expect from a client (courage, collaboration, commitment and cash). And talent. Loads of talent. In his talk Carbone advised people to keep a sketchbook — he has 25 or more over the years. The memories and reflections help prime his creative pump from time to time.  He advised them to take time in front of paintings, sketching them in order to have  “conversation” with the artist one is viewing. He said that if not one single new musical composition or painting was ever created (save Thomas Kinkade or  TastyFreeze-Headed Teen Pop Star Justin Bieber, I am sure) he would not mind. He could study one Monk composition for the remainder of his life and not reach its depths.

If this kind of talk was coming from the mouth of someone less accomplished and one with less bountiful projects for legendary business and cultural institutions, it might come across as smug — elitist. I mean, Carbone says he draws live human models every Friday AM from 9 ’til Noon as an exercise in creative release and accumulation. But, Ken Carbone is a bit of an elitist. So what?  The world needs cranky little men with Thelonious Monk habits and nude model budgets to blow every Friday. Even if you find such exactitude a tad annoying (“Our work for highend sport apparel maker Aether is kind of where Prada meets Patagonia”), you have to admit the guy is right. Too many race to the bottom. Lower standards while raising the volume of their senseless voice.

Not Ken. “Sometimes you have to go beserk in order to create something truly wonderful, outrageous or masterful.”  Carbone’s a little crazy. Good crazy. And the world design landscape is better for it.


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    JLC said:

    One in a million. The Prada meets Patagonia quote also suggests a sense of humor, which has a way of turning cranky and annoying into irresistible charm. Unbeatable combo. We could use 10 million more like him.

  2. 06

    […] The Potential of Plastic Cups & Other Possibilities with Ken Carbone Written by Matt Porter in Among Friends, Community Good Deeds, Competitive Spirit […]