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October 27, 2009

On Creativity and Design


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I've experienced few things as enlightening as my illustration professor's discussion of stroke. I've written on this before; mastery of any skill depends upon a thorough knowledge of the tools and materials. The Sistine Chapel, Leonardo's sketches, Hokusai's wave--all use the same tool: the stroke.

This is important for many reasons, but I feel the greatest is this: if knowledge of the tool expands the ability in a craft there is nothing inborn about creativity. It is merely seeing something to its logical end which allows for what we consider to be the greatest works.

In an interview on Charlie Rose, Malcolm Gladwell asserted that it is perseverance and stubborn diligence which creates a master. If I remember correctly he said that it's usually at the 10-year mark that those we deem great will look back and say, "here's where it started to feel natural; here's where I found myself completely comfortable within my craft."

So it would seem that, yes, we are not all creative... but simply because we haven't put in the time.

Additionally, school programs deem the arts and such mind-expanding activities as less than necessary, and we accept it. The societal consensus tells us that it takes a dream and a lucky break to be successful creatives, and (why? for the life of me I don't know) we believe it. I wonder what would happen if we revised the default value and process for being creative. What would we see in a century, even a generation.

I imagine we'd first see that being creative is not about using colors or notes; it's about creating things. "Creating things" should imply that what is created was not; "reinvention" is a horrible word that confuses what really is happening.

What most often happens in our world is design, and design always answers a question. Often times that question is very specific, but in reality it usually always comes down to "what will make this better?"

An artist creates, and as the creator is given the ultimate authority as to what his creation means, what it is saying. A designer will forever be bound to the definition of efficiency and improvement, and should never be in a position to define their own work. They may state what it does, but in truth that should be evident in the work itself and by those who utilize it.

Which brings us full circle: it is the arrangement of strokes--its design, if you will--that makes us immediately tell a masterpiece from an amateurish rendering. And that design is the product of dedicated persistence; not whim. How many strokes came from Van Gogh's brush before "Starry Night"? Which stroke did not hone his ability to the level of that now-famous work?

How many strokes are between you and your goal?

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