About Me

I'm just someone struggling against my own inertia to be creative. My current favorite book is "Oh the places you'll go" by Dr. Seuss

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On bad artistic assumptions

In creativity, I cannot stress enough the importance of research. This is not an idle bit of advice. In teaching or learning, there are many such rules and practices, which are taught and given without argument, expected to be accepted. As a student you may accept unquestioningly what you are taught, at least for the purposes of the course and the grade. Without the reasoning to back it up though, such lessons do not become knowledge, but instead become religion. Knowledge is something that you can demonstrate, and if prompted, give a convincing argument why such and such is so. Religion is merely a set of rules that you follow, without knowing why. They are in other words, a set of assumptions.

This is all very abstract without an example, so I will demonstrate now why research is important, and why a creative should not take it for granted.

Some time ago, I made a Totem painting. The basic idea I had was to paint on a 2' by 8' masonite board, a Totem Pole composed of a number of various mass cultural characters, such as the cat in the hat, kermit the frog, mickey mouse, etc. Collaged with this was images of various scenes I picked out of searching through various japanese websites and books; imagery from japanese culture; modern and traditional. While the painting was generally well recieved, it wasn't a *great* painting, and this was not due to the quality of paint I used (admittedly poor), or how much time I spent making crisp lines (not a lot).

The reason it wasn't a great painting is due to the rushed assumptions I made in the conceptual phase. The worst assumption, was the ethnocentric viewpoint that totem pole design is simple, and primative, and thus easy to imitate. The really stupid assumption that totem poles were merely stacks of heads, and yet another bad assumption that it's possible to encapsulate the subtleties of an entire culture by merely selecting a few images.

The truth is, totem pole design is as nuanced and delicate an art as font design, or classical architecture. There is a balance of line, volume, and flow which is not easily mastered. Additionally, totem poles are not merely heads- they are entire bodies, deformed yes, so that the head is the most prominant feature. But the body is still there nonetheless. There is cultural context in these deformations which again is not easily mastered. This sense of cultural context is also missing in my rushed and crass choice of japanese imagery. These assumptions, spelled out, seem obviously stupid. But these sorts of assumptions are not easy to notice, especially when you are rushed. They are not easily noticed because one does not typically think about what assumptions one holds, until they are prompted in such a critical way.

The most difficult thing about learning, is being flexible enough to recognize where you are making assumptions, and maintaining the will to discard these assumptions when it becomes necessary. This is something a teacher cannot do for you. This is why research is important: It shows you what reality IS, not what you expect it to be.

Research research.

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