Erik Wahl Colors Canvas and Community: What is the Value of a Creative Idea?

On Tuesday, March 4th, The Hun School of Princeton welcomed Erik Wahl, for the keynote address of the School’s Centennial Speaker Series: The Next 100 Years. Mr. Wahl’s energetic and moving presentation, “Discover Your Creative Genius,” entertained and inspired audiences. He addressed topics of adaptive vision, risk-taking, creating disruptive strategies, dealing with fear, and strategically allowing oneself to embrace creativity – all while painting original pieces of artwork live on stage. In addition to the two interactive keynote presentations, Mr. Wahl fielded questions from students and faculty, enticed treasure hunters, and set classrooms and social media ablaze with provocative discussions.
After suggesting that remarkable things happen on the edge of comfort, Mr. Wahl invited Maria Freitas ’15 to the stage to perform a set of Fear Factor-inspired instructions. He explained, “We sometimes allow these fears to paralyze our creative thought process. Truly, more than anything else, the future trajectory of your own careers – be it with your business career, your professional career, or your academic career – is dependent upon your imagination and fear will kill the performance.”

The sealed instructions turned out to be a gift; and Mr. Wahl presented his first painting to Maria, saying, “Sometimes it pays to take a risk.”

Mr. Wahl went on to convey the theme of his most recent book, “UNthink.” He said, “If we take ourselves as leaders, as students, too seriously along the way, it’s naturally going to block our own ability to perform under pressure. And to the degree that you are able to expand your mind, you are able to transform your life. It is oftentimes our thinking – our critical thinking – that can be some of the greatest barriers to success. Where I would almost argue that unthinking – our ability to be imaginative – is going to be more important going forward. The greatest growth is going to take place on the boarder between chaos and order.”

Mr. Wahl took time throughout the day and evening to meet guests and respond to questions. Having enjoyed the first presentation, several students encouraged their parents to attend in the evening. They took to Twitter to convey their praise and gratitude.

Jessica Johnson ’16 wrote, "Best speaker ever! Changed my view on life!”

After the first show, Mr. Wahl hid one of his paintings on The Hun School campus and encouraged those inspired to hunt for it. Wil Hagen ’15 beat out throngs of students who were also searching for the piece and found it before the first clue was posted.
Wil said, “I think he did a very good job getting the attention of the student body in a way that no other speaker so far has. His story is inspiring as is his artwork. I found it really cool how he broke down each portrait to only the essential parts of the painting, so he could give the bare minimum, while still achieving a full painting. Every time he started a new painting, he had everyone on the edge of their seats, puzzled on what it would be; but by the end, the whole audience would be in awe.”

The suggestion of the power of creativity coupled with the opportunity to directly experience Mr. Wahl’s artistry made for a unique educational experience. With creativity emerging as an essential skill for students and professionals in the 21st Century, Mr. Wahl’s message was as advantageous as it was enjoyable.

Students arriving to campus the next day discovered four blank canvas and several tubes of bright finger paint on display. Each Raider House is invited to H…UNthink – to exercise their creativity and collaboration to create a house-inspired piece. Points will be awardedfor creativity.
The Hun School of Princeton is an independent, coeducational, private day and boarding college preparatory school.  Student-centered, hands-on learning prepares students for the global community in which they will live and work.

176 Edgerstoune Road, Princeton, NJ 08540  |  Phone: (609) 921-7600 | Email: