Someone once showed me how ants will organize themselves in a line and follow their path between two points. Block the path of ants in some way and they will scramble around and reorganize themselves between the same two points, but the path will be different. Stasis, stability, calm, order, cohesion, whole. A disruption occurs, and the stasis and cohesion break apart, shifts, and reassembles itself.
I think creativity lives on that edge of breaking continuity. In a way, that break in continuity, is a definition of creativity. After all, it becomes necessary to leave the proverbial “box” to think outside of it. A teacher I had in college said to me, it is ridiculous, as an artist, that you can just sit down and think, “Today I will create a masterpiece! That just does not happen.”, he continued.
Mapping out the Noodles
Some years ago, the musician Prince was noodling around with a piano while a tape machine was recording. His estate recently shared some of that recording where one can hear him stumble upon the prosaic sketches that would eventually become his iconic creative work, Purple Rain. I can imagine Beethoven working out his fifth symphony. Was it a playful joke at first that eventually had meaning?
I’ll Have the Cubist Salad
Pablo Picasso did not sit down after lunch one day and start laying out a body of work that he called cubism. He and his studio mate and friend, George Braque tooled around as painters in a traditional style for some time before the ideas eventually worked their way into breaking the picture plane. They made the work, shifted the order of things, someone else labeled it, even more started copying it. Even after that threshold of visual tinkering was transgressed, cubism itself morphed into different kinds of cubism, which morphed into other visual languages as well and continue to do so. It is as if Pablo and George, Prince and Beethoven spent some time laying their hands in the paths of ants, watching what they might do.
The Art of Bumbling Around
Stasis, calm, harmony, order. These ideas are states we often identify as existing on the spiritual plane. They are states of desire, perhaps. These are where we wish to be or what we wish to attain. Like the ants, we struggle here in this physical world, bumbling around and into ourselves, sometimes achieving order and other times not. We may impose disorder on ourselves, as in the case of cubism for example. We may have disorder imposed upon us. Then, like the ants, we find intuitive or creative ways to manage the new circumstance and once again return to order but, it may look a little different than it did before the disruption happened.
Casts and Choruses
Design is often searching for the “hierarchal element” that brings a unique feature into focus. It is meant to set apart from the repetitive elements that support the rest of the design. In painting, the composition must have that same hierarchal element to be compelling. In music, there is the flying melody over the repetition of the rhythm section. In theater, there is the star and the supporting cast. The disruption, the standout, the unique feature, is dependent on the stability of the repetition, the stasis. Otherwise, neither of them, it could be argued, could exist or be visible until they appear together.
Perhaps that is why we can be drawn at times to the tranquility of a still life. Its solemnity invites reflection toward the spiritual, the order, the harmony. But as humans, we often get bored with the monotony of a perfect order and tend to bend and stretch the order of things. As mentioned before, sometimes we decide to mash things up a bit to learn a better way of doing things. Maybe for practical reasons or for simple entertainment to humor ourselves. Sometimes, we are unsure if the order of things are working or we need to step outside of the “box” and simply have a look around. And when we do that, we learn a little bit, add to our perspective on things, and remind ourselves that no matter what, there is perhaps a harmony to it all.