Dolores park in San Francisco is a spectacle every weekend. After the coconut rum, and magic truffles, there are dozens of people competing for attention in extravagant ways in the amphitheater-shaped lawn.
A few years ago, I was sitting on a picnic blanket with my friend Nina and we came up with the term “winner of the park”. It’s a special trophy term for those who win the attention of the hundreds of people on that particular day, of which there are many competitors. On that day, the clear winner was a guy whipping the air, making a thunderous crack. He was wearing a leather vest, sans shirt, and a rugged cowboy hat. You could have cut him out and pasted him back in an old cowboy western. He even had an old-timey glass bottle with a leather strap around it. The detail was tremendous and we couldn’t help but laugh and be amazed.
Last week, I was walking by Dolores again with a friend, and we noticed a guy had trained a macaw parrot to fly around the palm trees and come back to him. The wide stretch of rainbow feathers as the bird soared caught me completely off guard.
My mind went right back to “winner of the park” from years earlier. It was one of those terms were once you’ve coined what’s happening, the label burrows in your memory.
It made me start philosophizing about the idea of context. How if you take something that would be completely normal and bring it way out of where it belongs it wakes people up. It causes your brain to pause and start re-registering a familiar environment. It knocks you straight out of autopilot to see what else may be new or different.
I’m thinking of a bicycle on a highway. A small splash of red paint on a pencil drawing. A person sitting down cross-legged at a rock concert in the middle of a mosh pit.
Another example is my friend Brent who last week bought a goat to be a pet at his hostel in Austin, TX.
Something that was once creative can also be easily normalized by overuse and birth a cliche. For example, a wedding dress in an ocean for a bridal photo (which at first was maybe stunning and invoked reckless abandon, and now is trite unless you’re adding new elements to it. Here is a poorly executed stock photo of said image.)
Next time you’re hitting a creative block, try bringing something completely normal and putting it out of place. It will wake people up and make them pay attention.