The third book—who knew there’d be a third book?—started from a very different place. Then as head of the SAIC Exhibitions Department in 2008, I was thinking: What can the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing mean for SAIC? What does modern mean today and in Chicago? How is it that we still define our society as modern? This was a big subject and we needed to get outside of ourselves institutionally, so I looked for collaborators and found a perfect partner in Justine Jentes at the Mies van der Rohe Society at Illinois Institute of Technology. This subject didn’t involve Buddhism (or so I thought), but it followed a similar process of talking and programming that I had long employed to speculate and collaborate, and which I found to be consistent with cultivating a Buddhist open mind.
The theme I focused on within modernism, and that I found spoke best through this process and which I felt needed to be revealed again was: the value of individual creativity and the development of the self in order to better society. Projects with classes, lectures, and a myriad of methods to probe ideas and turn our everyday work into creative work ensued. If there was an endpoint, it wasn’t a show—the exhibitions we did were a form of research—but the book that will be released in June 2012 is calledChicago Makes Modern: How Creative Minds Shaped Society.(Its working title had been Modern Mind.) And the Buddhism part: well, you’ll have to read it for yourself, but I’d say the focus, underscored by a deep and multi-faceted look at László Moholy-Nagy, is permeated by an ethos of creativity with responsibility. Understanding that the world depends on what we do, and that we often do wrong, we have enormous capacity to think in new and well-directed ways. It is a story of interdependence and interconnection.