August 08, 2023
Gloria Mark ’78 reflects on her unorthodox career trajectory
By Carlo Wolff
Gloria Mark, a 1978 Cleveland Institute of Art alum, is Chancellor’s Professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Her title hardly says “art school graduate,” but it was art education—particularly classes with the legendary painter Moe Brooker—that set Mark on her uniquely creative path.
Mark originally wanted to be a journalist, but when she discovered she could draw people well, she shifted to art. “Being an artist just fit the times and the lifestyle, and it seemed like a world of beauty,” she says. “And it just all seemed to make sense.
“There was nothing that I wasn't interested in,” she says. “I could have majored in Ceramics or Jewelry and I would've been thrilled.”
Brooker had a great impact on Mark. The college’s first Black faculty member, Brooker was known for his colorful, abstract painting. (Brooker died in January 2022.)
After graduating, Mark applied for 60 grants, one of which landed her in London, where she painted murals for a year. When that money ran out, she decided to seek more education.
A turning point was a job at the University of Michigan—one that involved writing about the discovery process of artists—that affirmed her thinking outside the box. “It’s basically the idea that people make all kinds of errors in everyday life judgments,” she says, “and that was the part I liked.” Her abiding interest is the mind, its mechanics and quirks.
Mark went on to earn a Master of Science in biostatistics from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a PhD in psychology from Columbia University in New York City.
Early this year, Mark published her first book, Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity. Its focus is the relationship between humans and computers and the way digital media affects how we learn. Attention Span has been selected by the Next Big Idea Book Club as a Season 20 finalist; ranked as a top nonfiction book for 2023 by Cosmopolitan; and written about in Forbes, Newsweek and CNN.
Developing science begins with an idea, Mark says. That’s where lateral (as opposed to linear) thinking comes in. Lateral thinking uses an indirect, more intuitive approach instead of a more straightforward, step-by-step process. Unfortunately, Mark says, lateral thinking is not taught in science. Which brings her back to her formative years at CIA.
“What I learned from Moe Brooker is that you have to take a risk, take a chance, and go for it and do something really different,” she says. “And that’s usually not done in science. So many people are just following what’s called linear logic. And they’re not thinking out of the box.
“Moe absolutely had a big influence, but it was every CIA course I took, discussions I had with students, seeing other people's work—all contributed to that.”
In her Commencement speech, Mark noted that the crème de la crème of Nobel Prize winners are scientists who also are artists. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company, a high-powered businesswoman she met at a party, once told her she’d been crazy to switch fields. She thinks otherwise.
“I would never have thought of the ideas I have today if I didn’t have the art background,” she says.
Any advice for today’s students?
“Art is different from a lot of other professions in that you can get so involved in it, you tend to block out other important things,” Mark says. “So, I think it’s really important to focus on personal life. There are many things that comprise life and that are important.”
For more information about this or other CIA news, contact us here.