NYC Women's March - January 21, 2017, Live-Drawing from 2nd Av + 46 St © Flash Rosenberg 2017

Flash Rosenberg: “Attention Span for Hire”

Live-drawing at the Women’s March

By Gayil Nalls

Published March 10, 2017

On January 21, 2017, during the Women’s March in New York City, Flash Rosenberg stood in the crowded throngs on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 46th Street making real-time live-sketches. Rosenberg is a self-described “Attention Span for Hire.” Not only is she a storyteller, writer, and performer who uses drawing and photography to stay present in unfolding events and situations, she’s also an intelligent and keenly clever provocateur and entertainer. You might have seen her TEDx Talk, or, if you are a fan of The Moth, heard her story “Cents of Luck.” She’s also the mastermind behind many live-drawing animations, such as “IMAGINE: How Creativity Works.”

For humans today, all the things we wear and do have symbolic qualities. We have relationships with people we are not biologically linked to, such as with crowds, in which we gather in symbolic acts of collective behavior. In the most recent decades of this social behavior’s long evolution, thinkers from Carl Jung to Kenneth Burke provided us with insight into our use of symbols in meaningful communication, from language and action to dreams. So it’s no surprise that Rosenberg’s acute observation skills thrive in events like protests, marches, and rallies, which can be viewed as bursts of symbolic communication. Emblematic representations present in these events can include the objects people carry or wear, the body gestures they make, and their vocalizations, such as speech, songs, and chants. These actions and others, used intentionally and unintentionally, communicate human needs and desires. I think that when we read massing events, such as protests, and take in the many combinations of indicators on display, we come to know and respond to aspects of the collective unconscious. The pink pussyhats worn at the Women’s March are now symbolic artifacts imbued with meaning far beyond keeping a head warm. The visual literacy of artists and humorists like Rosenberg allows them to be master interpreters of symbolic meaning.

I spoke to Rosenberg at the beginning of February in New York about the cultural meaning of her experience and how she decoded the dynamics of the Women's March in New York City.

© 2017 Gayil Nalls, All rights reserved