Stop what you’re doing and watch David Zinn’s recent TEDx talk

Zinn delivers his TEDx talk in Ann Arbor at the Power Center on Feb. 14, 2020.
Zinn delivers his TEDx talk in Ann Arbor at the Power Center on Feb. 14, 2020. (TEDxUofM)

ANN ARBOR – Need a little distraction from the flood of coronavirus stories out there? So do we.

TEDxUofM recently posted famed street artist David Zinn’s talk at the Power Center from Feb. 14 and it offers a rare glimpse into the mind of Zinn, who leaves his whimsical creatures on sidewalks around town without a trace.

During the talk, he reveals what inspired him in the first place to explore street art. Many years ago, he was walking down Washington St. and happened upon a drawing of Mickey Mouse without his most recognizable feature: his ears. A confused Zinn kept walking, and he continued to think about who drew Mickey without ears and why.

Later, he passed the same sidewalk at night and saw that, perfectly aligned with the drawing under a street light, were the shadows of two parking meters which became two perfectly shaped Mickey ears.

Suddenly the seemingly random drawing made sense, and it was a gift for those who took the time to notice.

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Cue Zinn’s love for doodling and fear of a blank canvas.

“When I say that I’m afraid of blank canvases, what I’m really afraid of is choices,” Zinn said during the TED Talk. “Doodling is how my parents kept me quiet as a child, and doodling is generally how I avoid talking to people as an adult.”

Ironically, after garnering a global following -- Zinn has 336K followers on Instagram -- he said the thing that he used to avoid having to talk with people is what now connects him with others the most.

He referenced the phenomenon of pareidolia - when you see a specific meaning in things that are random or ambiguous, like seeing animals in clouds.

“Because of this I decided that the best way for me to get over my fear of making ‘Capital A’ art on blank canvases, was to make ‘small a’ art on all the canvases that aren’t blank," said Zinn. "I committed myself to becoming a very serious doodler and I never missed an opportunity to just mess around with whatever scribbles and spaces were in front of me.”

Due to the temporary nature of chalk drawings and their inevitable destruction by passing feet or the elements, he said the creative pressure is off.

“Since you can’t take it home and you certainly can’t sell it to a gallery, you have no reason not to just enjoy having an excuse to be outside on a nice day and maybe the opportunity to leave a secret message for the next person who looks at their feet while they’re walking.”

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