3 Questions

3 Questions with Chris Riley


Strategist Chris Riley on career, listening intently, and the power of photography.

3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with members of PNCA’s creative community. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.

PNCA’s President’s Office invited Chris Riley to help to shape PNCA’s future as a member of the College’s Creative Leaders Council. The members of this council are creative thought leaders who have a demonstrated commitment to the value of art and design education. Chris Riley also delivered a talk at PNCA entitled, “Great Migrations,” which you can listen to here.

“All of life is an input to your work.”


Photo courtesy of the artist.

What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?

I think there is a big commitment to the idea of a “career” in the arts. What is that? How does it manifest for the individual? I remember talking to Philip Glass about his early “career” and he told me that he was driving a taxi when “Einstein on a Beach” was playing in New York. A passenger got in his cab and said, “Wow, you have the same name as the famous composer…” He also fixed washing machines for a living.

Your career will follow an individual path, you may do many things, but maintaining a focus on evolving your work and responding to what it teaches you is very important. All of life is an input to your work. Listen intently and be unafraid to solve the problem of finding and nurturing your audience.

How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?

Change. Taking on new challenges that I am unsure how to solve. Always keeping a (conservative) eye on finances.

Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?

I was in a lecture hall at Stanford listening to a remarkable man called Shahidul Alam. He told us two powerful things: that we were the world’s minority and the majority world was alive and creative. Then he spoke of the power of the image and how local photographers told different stories to the stories that mainstream western media told. I awoke to the power of photography as an art form and the concept of a “majority world” within which my perspective was that of a tiny minority. Humbling and liberating. Photography is our first universal language. It could be more powerful than the written word in terms of changing the way we are in the world. This is a focus of mine now. So, thanks to Shahidul who has since become a friend and mentor.

CHRIS RILEY is one of the world’s leading strategic thinkers about brands and communications. He has worked as a strategist and researcher in advertising, design and marketing since 1983. Riley was head of Strategic Planning in Apple’s marketing communications group, led the worldwide strategic planning team at Wieden+Kennedy, and has worked with innovators in companies like Uniqlo, Nike, and Samsung. He now works out of studioriley, a global brand strategy studio bringing together geographic insight, strategic analysis and creative skills to develop ideas that transform lives.

— Posted on 09/28 at 07:30 AM

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