Is Your Magic “Sticky”?

From the Dean, Lawrence Hass, Ph.D.

Is Your Magic “Sticky”?
Longtime readers will know I conclude every calendar year with a reflective “visioning” process, during which I articulate my goals and plans for the new year. As one part of this, I state some commitments for the year ahead, and for 2018, this one was at the top of my list:

Spend more time with sticky art.

I came up with this concept—“sticky art”—last year while watching David Lynch’s extraordinary show, Twin Peaks: The Return. I had enjoyed Twin Peaks when it aired in the early 1990’s, but that was nothing compared to the incredible experience I had while watching The Return from May to September 2017.

It was 18 weekly one-hour episodes—no binging allowed!—and thank heavens for that, because each episode left me thinking, pondering, reflecting for days. Watching this show was an incredibly rich encounter with art—one of the very best I had all last year.

So at the end of 2017, I realized I wanted more of that. I wanted to spend less time and money on superficial, glossy forgettable art-stuff. I wanted to have fewer “potato chips” and less “white bread” in my arts and entertainment diet. I wanted to invest my deeply precious time with entertainment objects that would “stick to my bones.”


I hope by now you are starting to think about entertainments you’ve encountered that have this quality. One good measure of them is that you find yourself thinking or talking about them—not just the next morning, but two days later. Here is a list of some sticky art I have recently experienced:

Films: The Last Jedi and Black Panther (my wife, daughter, and I dined out for days on these films.)

Art exhibits: Jasper Johns (The Broad) and Richard Diebenkorn (SFMOMA)

Graphic novels: Planetary (by Warren Ellis and John Cassidy) and Watchmen (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons)

Music: David Bowie’s astonishing final album Blackstar

Short stories by Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman

I understand, of course, that what’s sticky for me might not be so for you. As with most aesthetic things, they are inflected with personal interests and tastes. Even so, I believe there are certain qualities all these entertainments share, and I suspect you’ll find at least some of the following qualities in the items on your list.

  1. Again, these objects are sticky as opposed to slick, superficial, or glossy. They are memorable two days later rather than being bubble-gum forgettable.
  2. They are thought-rich rather than thought-poor. That is, a palpable amount of thinking and artistic decision-making went into their creation. You can feel and tell that the artist(s) thought about every detail.
  3. Sticky art objects are also fecund as opposed to barren—they are more like a tropical jungle than a desert. They inspire energized thoughts and conversations. Essential to this is that they don’t give everything up on the first experience. Each of them is what J. J. Abrams has called in one of his TED Talks, “The Mystery Box.”
  4. Also, I have observed that sticky art involves things that are dramatically unexpected, as opposed to “organic” developments or run-of-the-mill, cliché familiarities. (This is part of why A Game of Thrones is so compelling.)

Now, with all this in place, I have a few questions for you. Since we are the Magic & Mystery School, you might consider it homework.
What art works—films, TV programs, fine arts, music, theater shows, comic books, fiction, stand-up comics, architecture—have you found sticky? Spend a little time reflecting on them, and compare them to the list of qualities I just provided. This process will allow you to enjoy them once again, and might give you a richer sense of why.

Next: What pieces of magic or magic shows have you recently experienced that were sticky in this way? (I have a few in my recent experiences, but I don’t want to hijack your process.)

Finally, and perhaps most important of all: since “stickiness” is obviously an extremely fine, powerful quality in entertainment, which pieces of magic in your repertoire have it, or have more of it than others? And can you aim to get more of it in the next piece you create? That is, can you make that routine more memorable, thought-rich, fecund, and unexpected? Can you craft a hooky “mystery box” that will linger for days?

Because I hope by now you see: stickiness isn’t merely an aesthetic quality, it’s also a commercial one.

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