Spark: Kurt & Julie Talk Childhood


Friday, January 28, 2011

To celebrate Studio 360’s first decade on air, we present Spark: How Creativity Works, a new book published by HarperCollins and written by the show's long-time executive producer, Julie Burstein. Over the years, scores of America's greatest filmmakers, writers, musicians, and artists have revealed their creative processes and inspiration for listeners.

This week, Julie shares childhood stories from Chuck Close, Richard Ford, Mira Nair, and Richard Serra.

(To hear our original full-length interviews with those artists go here.)


Julie Burstein

Comments [16]

Walt Calahan from Westminster, MD

Added this book to my must read list.

Two things set my course on a creative life.

1) When I was 2-years old I had an accident that took the eyesight from my left eye. So grew up without binocular vision.

2) Dyslexia

So of course I became a professional photographer. Was even part of the start-up team of USA Today back in the early 80's.

I also teach photography on the college level. Imagine me writing anything on a chalk board!!!!

My Master's thesis was about creativity, called "Innovation: The Myth of Thinking Outside the Box."

I feel my life's path crossing with this book.

Feb. 13 2011 12:00 PM
Kattina from Seattle, WA

This is one of most captivating topics I have heard on the radio, and all of the listeners have fantastic stories. You are an inspiration.

I was in elementary school when I discovered I was dumb. I was a horrible speller, I struggled with reading, and math skills were measured out in color groups. Let me say, when you are in the "brown" group, you know you aren't the star of that skill set. Then in the 5th grade I went on a field trip on a marine research vessel ( We caught a funny looking fish that nobody had seen before. I spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what it was. I read field guides and textbooks to discover that it was one of a long line of non-native fish in the bay. Aha! it was like getting hit by lightning. I was smart at science. Since then, I have worked as an outdoor educator, marine scientist, and science teacher.My job is to help at least one student feel smart every day.

Feb. 02 2011 04:23 PM
J Donovan from Nashville, TN

In 3rd grade I luckily had a teacher recognize that drawing on the back of my math work once complete was the only way to get me to do it. She shared my drawings, and her opinion that some of them were good, with my mother, encouraging her to connect me with an artist. After meeting with us, a local potter, Peter King, invited me to work with clay in his studio after school. He gave me the simple rules "Don't break anything and make lots of work." Access to his studio was one of the first things I really valued. Today I am a professional clay artist and teacher. I truly believe that having teachers, parents and artists respond to and respect my interest in art was essential. Pay attention to your kids, parents...

Feb. 02 2011 04:22 PM
Mark D from Manhattan

During the Jewish holidays, I used to make the drive with my parents and siblings from the NYC suburbs to my grandmother's apartment in Brooklyn. Given the huge Jewish population in and around NYC, the traffic would sometimes come to a near standstill. On one of those occasions when the elevated West Side Highway came to a slow crawl, I watched as the forest of buildings in Manhattan spewed black smoke into the air. I thought to myself this cannot be a good thing, though in my childhood naivete I assumed the adults must know what they're doing! I've been an environmental scientist since graduating college in 1978.

Feb. 02 2011 04:21 PM
Reet Das from Brooklyn, NY

From my earliest memories being an only child, my hands and mind needed to keep busy. Though both my parents worked, my mother took the time each week to do a project with me. From making people out of gluing rocks together, putting together hand-made books using circus programs and magazines focusing on animals, making cheese using my dad's handkerchiefs, or using a soldering iron to create burned line all fueled my intense curiosity to create things and games from whatever was around the house.

I knew at a very early age that I loved to and would always make things with my hands. I didn't know then that this would by my future as an artist. However, being a semi-traditional mother, she wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer or Indian Chief, but her damage was done.

Today, I am a working artist in NYC. The work that I make is basically the same as when I was a child, using similar ideas and imagery. The difference today is that I'm just much better at it and can see the connections from one piece to the next as it it connected to my childhood.

To sum it up, I guess I was born and bred to make artwork, whether I wanted to or not. I could have never named it when I was growing up, but who I became is what I always was.

Feb. 02 2011 04:20 PM
Maria P from NYC

I was recognized as "the artist" in school and my family by first grade. I remember working on a still life drawing in the first grade that we were going to continue working on the following week. I remember thinking and planning on the changes I would make to the drawing the next week and being very excited about it as was the teacher. The teachers and nuns realized my talents early and put me to work. I was put in charge of the monthly decoration changes to the bulletin boards in the classroom for the 12 yrs of elementary school. I was very lucky to have been recognized and supported at such a young age.

Feb. 02 2011 04:19 PM
R.L. Geyer from Asheville, NC

Nobody realized that I needed eyeglasses until I was in the seventh grade, including me. It never occurred to me that anyone could see leaves on distant trees or identify a person on the other side of the street. Then I got my first pair of glasses, and I fell in love. With seeing. I'll never forget the ride home from the optician, when I excitedly pointed to everything. "Look at those trees!" "Hey, there's Alice!" I started documenting this exciting new world in photographs. I've never stopped photographing or being in love with seeing. You can see some of my work at

Feb. 02 2011 04:19 PM
EBeeks from New York City

I was very creative as a child and attended weekend and summer programs for my craft of choice. – so it had always been there and recognized by others. But by spring of my junior year of high school, something was off. That wonderful, impossible to define “off.” By fall I was very ill and at New Year had diagnosed myself as having depression, but that I would “get over it.”. I hid away as much as possible, sleeping after school and writing, as my family slept, in the journal my father had given me for Christmas. I had to write, to paste, to draw. By the time I left college I had been hospitalized twice and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After the first hospitalization I started a book about the illness, a guidebook of sorts. It has helped me live a life that works around what the illness throws at me. I have to write. If I don’t, it shows in my voice, mannerisms, and mood. We’ll see what happens to the book, but I know it’s saved me.

Feb. 02 2011 04:18 PM
Robert Shoemaker from Parkesburg, PA

Chuck Close's face blindness and his ability to capture portraits in paint is stunning. I never forget a face and yet rendering a face on canvass is very difficult for me. I wonder if there is a direct cause and effect in face blindness and its, reciprocal and the ability to create portraits.

Feb. 02 2011 04:16 PM
Robert Franz from North Carolina

In 8th grade we were required to read "My Side of the Mountain", about a boy who runs away to the mountains to live in a hollow tree eating wild plants. This is the first moment I felt I knew my "calling", and really inspired me to live my life itself as a creative expression. Before graduating high school I had read Walden, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and had a complete collection of The Mother Earth News.
From age 18 to 30 I traveled widely in the US, Mexico, and Central America and lived alone in a rock shelter in a wilderness area outside San Diego, CA supporting myself doing odd jobs.

Now, at age 53 I live in a small, self-built energy efficient solar home with my outdoor adventure partner and wife of 23 years. We are planning for an early retirement enabled by voluntary simplicity and have a permit to raft the Grand Canyon this Sept.

I quit college after 3 months to follow my dream of living simply in nature and have never regretted that decision.

Feb. 02 2011 04:16 PM
ralph palasek from Arlington, VA

I remember a sound spanking for bed-wetting when I was 7. It was the morning of a big clam-bake, and before the eating began our family took a walk, and as we passed along a high, steep hill, my Dad challenged me with, "Bet you ca'nt climb this hill." "Yes I can," I said, taking off up the ladder-like brush and brambles with a vengeance. While pausing to catch my breath, my parents' shouting prompted my glance down over my shoulder--which frightened me. I felt stuck, and suddenly agoraphobic "on a ledge"--while their calls of "O.K.!" and "Come on down!" were totally insensitive. Two unacceptable choices came to mind: backing down in humiliation, as on a ladder; and remaining where I was. After catching my breath, my choice was to continue up to the summit, where I encountered many adults there--because of the vista. That day still informs many events in my life--even at 70 years! I haven't acted out of hopes and dreams so much as with a purpose driven by no other satsfactory choices except to persevere. I remember considering Sysiphus in late adolescence; my consolation was in electing to the story of Calvary and acceptance--even in going to Viet Nam--because like Iphegenia, I was "too conscientious to object."

Feb. 02 2011 04:14 PM
Hugh Chatfield

As a child, I had the great fortune to be cast in the role of Michael in the Theater Company of Boston's production, Bertholt Brecht's play the Caucasian Chalk Circle. Ralph Waite played the role of Azdak, the Solomon character in Brecht's retelling of the Wisdom of Solomon. When the audience erupted in applause at the curtain call, their response was deeply knit into the fabric of my psyche. In 1987, in search of the same adulation, I crashed my car driving to a Hollywood audition. I sustained a severe brain injury and badly disabled, took up self deprecating stand up comedy. In 2009, for brain injured vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I am currently working with a nationally televised Manhattan comedy club to stage another show at Walter Reed. This will feature video footage from my 1987 post-coma hospital days, along with my current achievements, which include photography at . Are you interested?

Feb. 02 2011 04:10 PM
Dickie Wallace from Boston, MA

I'm no artist, but instead a social scientist. I trace my spark to Catholic mass at age seven. We were in the "flat church" because Mass was in a basement of what was still a building-to-be - money had run short and it stood unfinished. Readings from scripture were about Jesus cleansing the temple of moneychangers, read by visiting priest who then sermonized about how good Catholics needed to subscribe to the archdiocese's paper, "The Pilot". Then the parish priest told us that we had to give or we'd never get the church built. He added that, in the previous week, there'd been pennies in the collections baskets. Pennies!?!, he angrily boomed. And, as I'd dutiful put pennies in a basket the previous week, I was mortified. Later, I asked my dad about the old lady who only could give a two copper pennies. He didn't answer me. Some time around then I started to see the social construction of everything around us. I remain a spiritual person, but study human organizational culture.

Feb. 02 2011 04:09 PM
Alexander Thompson from Gloucester, MA

As a boy I wrote a short poem which one of my two workmates in writing class copied and turned in as their own. The teacher declared me the plagiarist. I was so furious at having my creative work stolen I lashed out and punched Mike Burke in the back as hard as I could. As it happened it had been Joan Fiore, the girl at the table. So I learned two life lessons at once.

Any work done through technical shortcuts as inferior. Recent arguments by people lifting images or text and claiming artistic authorship make me want to slap them in jail. As a man I wound up a photographer. Not a digital imaging specialist, AKA 'digital photographer'. Real art is about actual work, not how much software you can afford or who you can get away with copying.

And be careful whom you trust, if you are attracted to them, you probably can't trust them.

Feb. 02 2011 04:05 PM
zenaide reiss from milford, NJ

Your comments about childhood moments and creativity hit a spark with me and prompted this background recollection. Not one moment, but constant moments! My father was a painter and my mother a maverick. They had two girls. And as far back as the 1920's and 30's when we were children, we were told over and over in so many different ways that we would be artists. That we were talented and smart and could do anything we chose and there was no barricade to our being great. Neither my father nor my mother thought that being a girl would keep us from doing what we chose. I also had the very good fortune of going to an all girls High School (Hunter College High School in NYC) which re-enforced that message. I may not be a great artist but I but I have enjoyed years of creative joy and was Professor of Art at a University. (MY sister is also and Artist) Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give credit where it is parents.

Feb. 02 2011 01:30 PM
John Russo from Philadelphia, PA

Hello. It was interesting to hear the various defining moments of various people on your radio show this morning (Sat. Jan. 29th), and sad to say, I have no such moment that made me what I am today. Maybe that's why I'm rather discontent in my life at age 54. I guess everyone's life could be considered unique. Mine started out in being born to parents who were deaf since infancy and sign language was the dominant form of communication in my home. I also didn't fit the mold of the typical boy who was masculine and played sports. I started out as a sissy extrovert but grew up to be an introvert and then homosexual. My career path was unguided, even after attending and graduating from college, and coupled with my lack of self-confidence, I have toiled away in low-paying jobs making no more than $30,000 annually. I ask myself every day, "What could be made out of my life?" Thanks for letting me submit this.

Feb. 02 2011 01:27 PM

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