If you work in technology, entertainment, design, or all of them, you’ve probably heard of TED talks, a global set of conferences that takes its name from these very creative fields. Founded in 1984, these panels have gathered hundreds of prominent speakers who used this opportunity to share their vast knowledge on a myriad of topics, turning TED into one of the most inspiring platforms for creatives. Many leaders, politicians, musicians, writers, philanthropists, tech moguls and of course prominent contemporary artists have all taken the stage for a maximum of eighteen minutes to talk about their life, work, most challenging projects and the way their vision can and did change the world for the better.
Since 2006, the TED talks are available for free viewing online through the official website, and if you’re not able to attend them in person, they offer a streaming service, so that anyone can access them at any time. Among these videos, we have our favourite artists, like JR and Olafur Eliasson, talking about what they do best: make great art with an even greater impact. For this article, we’ve selected fifteen of the most interesting TED talks led by contemporary talents that can lift your spirits up and remind you of the beauty of art, in all its forms and shapes.
One of the most iconic TED Talks ever features JR and his global project entitled Inside Out, which was introduced in 2011. Because this mysterious Frenchman is all about changing the world, he invited everyone to do the same. Through large, trademark “pastings”, the participants from anywhere can contribute with their own portrait and a statement of what they stand for. To date, over 100,000 posters from more than 108 countries have been archived on the project’s official website, in a beautiful example of how we can come together through a single, common thought.
In 2014, JR was able to visit Ellis Island and the abandoned hospital located there. The facility became the place of a new art project by the French photograffeur. JR chose about 20 archival photographs of the hospital's patients and staff and wheat-pasted these images around the abandoned building, creating haunting scenes that bring the history of these rooms back to life: a family looking out at the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, a small boy lying on an empty bed frame, patients staring out of the caged "psychopathic" ward. The work, which is accessible by guided tour, will remain up "until it decides to disappear."
Featured image: JR via REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett
Maybe you know him as Liu Bolin, maybe you know him as China’s Invisible Man, or maybe you’ve looked at some photographs with his name and saw nothing in particular. The truth is that no one can blame you if that’s the case, because this extraordinary chameleon is just too good at hiding himself in plain sight. By painting his entire body according to his surroundings, Liu Bolin blends in, literally, protesting poor conservative government choices and drawing our attention to the concept of identity and what it means to be a part of Chinese and other societies today.
This comprehensive book showcases Bolin’s most striking photographs and sculptures and explores the techniques he uses to create his unforgettable art. Bolin has also helped other people disappear, including the members of Bon Jovi for the band’s recent album cover, as well as the fashion designers Jean Paul Gaultier, Missoni, Valentino, and more, and a selection of these photographs is featured throughout the book. Liu Bolin first became invisible in 2006. He camouflaged himself in the ruins with acrylic paints and photographed the finished product, marking the first of his Hiding in the City series. Since then, he has “disappeared” in many different places around the world—from politically fraught areas in China to grocery stores, toy stores, and more.
Featured image: Liu Bolin by JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images
Arguably the most notable calligrapher today, eL Seed created perhaps his most famous work to date in his hometown of Gabés, in Tunisia. He painted the 57-meter tall minaret wall with one of his signature writings that mix Arabic calligraphy and graffiti, with this one in particular saying ”Oh humankind, we have created you from a male and a female, and made you people and tribe, so you may know each other.” eL Seed’s artworks can be found all around the world, in form of messages inspired by the local community and always written in Arabic.
This book illustrates the calligraffiti journey of discovery for artist eL Seed, who chronicles the painting of 24 walls in four weeks. Inspired by the reaction to his largest project to date, the minaret of the Jara mosque in his ancestral home of Gabes, eL Seed decided to set out on this month-long personal journey across his motherland, painting "lost" walls along the way. This book provides unique and rare insight into the world of calligraffiti and the Tunisian people. Lost Walls, his first book, beautifully and poetically documents these walls, handpicked during his road trip around Tunisia.
Featured image: eL Seed via oasis-mag
Surely one of the most entertaining TED talks out there is the one by Vik Muniz, a Brazilian multimedia artist who can make artworks out of anything. No, really. In his practice, he uses everything from diamonds to sugar, coffee, dust, garbage, ketchup, caviar, wire, dry pigment, chocolate, earth; some of his pieces include land art drawings and those made with a plane flying over Manhattan. Here, we also find out how Vik Muniz ended up in the United States and became an artist in the first place.
This book features an extraordinary selection of works that span Muniz's entire career--more than 150 color illustrations display the enormous range of Muniz's work and the disorienting and expansive logic of his world. This exhilarating overview of the acclaimed artist Vik Muniz traces the development of his work from the very beginning of his career to his most recent astonishing large-scale works. Vik Muniz is celebrated for his joyful, quirky, dark, and occasionally mind-boggling work that riffs on popular photographic imagery, referencing social icons and cultural realities and juxtaposing these themes in fascinating ways.
Featured image: Vik Muniz by Jonas Karlsson via architecturaldigest
Known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes, Canadian photography Edward Burtynsky was always inspired by nature, its wonders and its constant reminder of the transience of humankind. In 2006, he created a documentary entitled Manufactured Landscapes, featuring pictures of quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams and other man-made structures, raising questions about ethics and aesthetics. Edward Burtynsky draws our attention to how industrial developments is altering the Earth’s natural landscape and calls for a global conversation on sustainability.
The internationally renowned Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has been an explorer of unfamiliar places where human activity has reshaped the surface of the land for more than one quarter of a century. His astonishing large-scale colour photographs of the landscapes of mining, quarrying, railcutting, recycling, oil refining and shipbreaking uncover a stark, almost sublime beauty in the residue of industrial progress. The implicit social and environmental upheavals that underlie these images make them powerful emblems of our times.
Featured image: Edward Burtynsky via straight
What can we, as human beings, perceive and how do we do it? Olafur Eliasson creates art from a palette of space, distance, color and light. This idea-packed talk begins with an experiment in the nature of perception and continues with the artist explaining what it means for a body to exist in space and to even interact with it. In his TED Talk, Olafur Eliasson also mentions some of his most significant interventions around the world, including his waterfalls installed in New York City or the Green rivers of Tokyo or Los Angeles.
This will be the first monograph of Olafur Eliasson in more than ten years, produced in close collaboration with the artist and his studio, as it explores his driving interest in finding visionary shapes to physically represent abstract ideas. It is a richly illustrated journey through spheres, tunnels, towers, walkways, and archways, as well as pavilions and larger buildings realized by Eliasson and his studio since the late 1990s. The work is illuminated by in-depth project descriptions and Eliasson’s own words. Informative essays by renowned writers across a variety of fields―from geologists and historians of art and science to architects, artists, and philosophers―give the works context.
Featured image: Olafur Eliasson by Malte Jaeger for the Observer
Perhaps, while browsing the art universe, you came across these yellow, lifelike kinetic sculptures built from plastic tubes and lemonade bottles. They are designed to move - and even survive - on their own, usually inhabiting beaches. They’re the magnificent artworks of artist Theo Jansen, whose goal was to create ”a new form of life” using wind, physics and, well, tubes. His ongoing project was started over twenty years ago, and in this TED talk, Theo Jansen shows one of the examples and its smooth movements across the stage.
Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been working for nearly two decades to develop a new life-form that moves, and even survives, on its own. For the past seven years, photographer and artist Lena Herzog has followed the evolution of this new, kinetic species - intricate as insects, but with bursts of equine energy, the "Strandbeests" or "beach creatures.” Coinciding with a travelling exhibition, Herzog's photographic tribute captures Jansen's menagerie in a meditative black and white, showcasing Jansen's imaginative vision, as well as the compelling intersection of animate and inanimate in his creatures.
Featured image: Theo Jansen via Twitter
Again, like in the case of Liu Bolin, you should look closer. At first glance, it looks like a decent painting of anybody, quite figurative, except it’s not painted on canvas. American artist Alexa Meade paints directly onto her subjects and space, using the advantage of a point of view to make it look two-dimensional in a photograph. By creating photos of her paintings - or better, painted people and objects, Alexa Meade turns everything she touches into art, making it all seem very hard to believe until you see this video. Prepare to be amazed.
From fine art to fashion and from advertising to competition, the world of bodypainting is vast and beautiful. With The Human Canvas you will get front row seats to the pageantry of mind-blowing images from accomplished artists around the world. Many of these artists have won the coveted championship at the World Bodypainting Festival and every one holds a special place within this secret, joyful world of creativity and art. With gorgeous images and inside peeks into the minds and processes of the artists, this book will inspire and amaze you.
Featured image: Alexa Meade via The Artchival
Her feminist, black and white images are among the most famous works in photography to date. They came from a personal fight against her own government and for freedom of speech. Shirin Neshat is a daring artist who is not afraid to speak up about the changes she encountered in her homeland after being in exile for twelve years after the Islamic Revolution. Her work focuses on the women in both universal and personal ways and questions their position in the Iranian society, as well as how they are treated according to religion and political rules.
With texts from renowned art critic and historian Arthur C. Danto and a foreword in form of a letter by artist Marina Abramović, this book explores the entirety of Shirin Neshat’s rich and varied oeuvre, from the earliest photographs to her latest work, the film Women Without Men. Her first feature film, for which she was awarded the prestigious Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, is based on the novella of the same name that was banned in Iran; it has taken nearly seven years to complete. With commentaries for each series of work by Neshat herself, it allows us a glimpse into the creative process of one of the most unique artists of her time.
Featured image: Shirin Neshat via interartive
Janet Echelman started off as a painter, something she did for ten years before discovering fishnets, lace, crafty materials. These soon became a part of spectacular sculptures, suspended in space and time and responding to the atmosphere around them. By combining ancient craft with cutting-edge technology, Janet Echelman continues to make large constructions at the scale of buildings, many of which were done in collaboration with people working with those materials, engineers, scientists, architects and technology connoisseurs.
Unexpected Art showcases the wonderfully experimental work of more than 50 innovative artists from around the world in galleries of their most astonishing artworks. - Graffiti made from cake icing, man-made clouds floating indoors, a luminous moon resting on water. Collected here are dozens of jaw-dropping artworks—site-specific installations, extraordinary sculptures, and groundbreaking interventions in public spaces—that reveal the exciting things that happen when contemporary artists play with the idea of place.
Featured image: Janet Echelman by Essdras Suarez for Boston Globe
Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis project represents one of the most important bodies of work produced within the realms of landscape photography, nature photography, and art in general. These stunning shots, taken over the course of twenty years, come from all around the world, and capture the incredible, hidden corners and societies of our planet in a meticulous, breathtaking manner. But for Sebastião Salgado, creating a photograph of this kind meant facing danger, and even death, on numerous occasions and in various locations.
GENESIS is the result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society—the land and life of a still-pristine planet. Over 30 trips—travelled by foot, light aircraft, seagoing vessels, canoes, and even balloons, through extreme heat and cold and in sometimes dangerous conditions—Sebastiāo Salgado created a collection of images showing us nature, animals, and indigenous peoples in breathtaking beauty. this unlimited book presents a selection of photographs arranged in five chapters geographically: Planet South, Sanctuaries, Africa, Northern Spaces, Amazonia and Pantanal.
Featured image: Sebastião Salgado by Wong Maye-E/AP
The most important figure in performance art in history and today, Marina Abramović even turned her TED talk into a performative piece. In it, the Serbian artist goes through her incredibly rich artistic career of forty years, citing her most famous work to date, The Artist is Present, as well as her final walk towards fellow artist and lover Ulay on the Great Wall of China. She also explains the power of the immaterial form of artistic expression and the mission of the Marina Abramović Institute she is getting ready to found in a very near future.
Marco Anelli is a photographer who created portraits of those who sat opposite Marina Abramovic during her iconic performance called The Artist Is Present, held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2014. His photographic project captured every interaction, taking a portrait of each participant and noting the time they spent in the chair. Just as Abramovic’s piece concerned duration, the photographs give the viewer a chance to experience the performance from Abramovic’s perspective. They reveal both dramatic and mundane moments, and speak to the humanity of such interactions, just as the performance itself did.
Featured image: Marina Abramović by Bret Hartman via TED Talks
Artist Callie Curry, much better known by her moniker Swoon, creates beautiful portraits that inhabit urban environments and connect to the community they’re treated by on a daily basis. But not just. Her most notable works are her “junk rafts”, a cross between a stage-ship and art-raft made of construction site cast-offs and recycled scraps. Swoon even travelled on one of these rafts from Slovenia to Venice in May 2009, arriving just in time for the Biennale. This endeavour was called Swimming Cities of Serenissima, so watch the video to find out how it came to be!
This is only the first monograph of street artist Swoon, as it review the incredible range of her diverse artistic practice. Filled with brilliant color photographs, the book brings reader to streets around the world to see her life-size prints and paper cutouts that transform as natural elements slowly erode and destroy them. It travels across the waters to include striking images from her most recent projects, Swimming Cities, which show a team of craftsmen and collaborators scavenging junk to create makeshift steamships that are part floating artwork, part performance, and part experiments in communal living.
Featured image: Swoon by Bryan Welch for Forbes
He is a legendary graphic designer who is responsible for some of the iconic symbols of our time, like the I ♥ NY logo and the Brooklyn Brewery branding. At the age of 86, he is still as inspiring as ever, and in this TED talk, he explains his explorations of paintings by Piero della Francesca, and his own designs inspired by them. A genius that he is, Milton Glaser takes us through his creative process, how he created images and designs from sentences and words; what it means to create brand new ideas out of something banal, familiar, even boring.
"Graphic Design" is perhaps the most famous book of its kind. Reissued now for its 25th anniversary, it explores the extraordinary achievement of America's pre-eminent graphic artist. Milton Glaser undertakes not only a remarkably wide-ranging representation of his oeuvre but, in a personally revealing introduction, speaks of the influences on his work, the responsibilities of the artist, the hierarchies of the traditional art world, and the role of graphic design in the area of his creative growth. His work ranges from posters to book and record covers; from store and restaurant design to toy creations, magazine formats, and logotypes - all of which define the look of our time.
Featured image: Milton Glaser via Inc
If there weren’t for Taryn Simon’s photographic artworks, often if not always accompanied by a descriptive text, we probably wouldn’t be aware of certain places and people that we share our planet with. Her work is extremely well-researched; her photographs show places like the only government-led lab for cultivating cannabis or the transatlantic submarine communication cables between North America and Europe. For another project, Taryn Simon travelled the US to photograph wrongfully convicted people, questioning the role of photography in presenting reality as it is.
This volume, first published in 2008, reveals objects, sites and spaces that are integral to America’s foundation, mythology or daily functioning, but which remain inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. To make the more than 60 large-format photographs often required protracted negotiations before Taryn Simon was granted access to the sites. When circumstances permitted, she photographed with a large-format camera and careful lighting, emphatically not following the tradition of the journalistic snapshot. Although the book forces us to confront the darker side of democratic society, it also conveys the fascination that attends the exploration of forbidden territories.
Featured image: Taryn Simon via eastman.org. All images used for illustrative purposes only.
Read Other Interesting Stories
Olafur Eliasson created a new participatory project to celebrate Earth Day, inviting people to reflect on the co-existence of the multiple world views.
The famous I heart New York logo design was produced by the graphic designer Milton Glaser in 1977 for the advertising camping aimed to improve the city's image.
On 2 March 2020 the established German artist Ulay best known for collaborating with Marina Abramovic passed away in Ljubljana at the age of 76.