Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Creating Something (Again)
Do you labor in the vineyard of creativity? Most people do, whether they consider it that or not these days. There's a lot less drudgery in the work world lately, and take it from someone who's actually dug ditches: a modern ditchdigger is driving a backhoe that costs more than a Lexus, is conversant in simple geology, hydraulics, physics, mathematics, explosives, and small engine repair, and he's talking to his brethren on a cell phone while laying out the ditch with a laser level, or perhaps Global Positioning Satellite data. He's usually aware of both current and ancient water, sewer, drainage, telephone, electrical and data line burial practices. And if something unforeseen and unfortunate happens, he knows CPR too. And he knows the spread of the Ravens/Giants game to boot. What does an Ivy League Liberal Arts professor know, exactly?
I make furniture. There's drudgery there too, like any job, but you can use a complementary mixture of your head, heart, and hand more than you can in most work. I prefer the tangible arts, because there's a framework that you improvise inside, and it actually allows a greater range of expression than if their are no rules, even though that seems counterintuitive.
At least it seems to seem counterintuitive to that Ivy League professor I mentioned earlier. A football game has lots of rules, for instance, mountains of them, many obscure. The teams prepare game plans for a week at least, to work within these rigid guidelines against a known opponent. They script their plays, and try to predict their opponent's script. Then they blow the whistle, and all hell breaks loose. The rules don't stop inprovisation, and no two football games look very much alike, not for very long. If there were no rules, people would have to stop and decide everything, and so nothing much would happen, and very little would happen in quick succession, except fistfights over the "decidin,'" and that's hockey, not football.
Furniture has rules. They boil down to three: Is it sturdy? Is it comfortable? Is it beautiful? Some call it: commodity, firmness, and delight. There are many subsets of rules, of course; the average human is 18" wide at the shoulder and kitchen counters are hard to make bread dough on if they're higher than eye level. But never mind complexity, get the three rules right, and you're in high cotton.
There's a mindset that's de rigueur these days that rules are for schmucks. (See Ivy League Professor) Do your own thing, man, be creative. My little son's teacher demands that he write complicated and flowery prose, while refusing to teach him to read or write or spell. The rules will just get in the way of creativity, she thinks.
What utter bosh. Michaelangelo Buonnarotti Simoni painted some interesting things, and he labored under plenty of constraints, including: don't piss off your patron, he can have you killed AND excommunicated. It didn't seem to take much off his fastball. But let's give the Rousseau "Noble Savage" wannabes the benefit of the doubt. Let's imagine we let the old chiseler off the hook from Pope Julius. Paint what ever you want, Mikie. Do you really think he'd paint something better than the Sistine Chapel? Why stop there? Let's take it as far as modern artists do. Why not have Michaelangelo paint with his feet, using yogurt instead of paint, and a toilet brush for his stylus? That should free up his creative juices, huh? Don't like the sound of that? What are you, square?
As I was saying, commodity, firmness, and delight. Sounds easy enough. Let's see you do it. It's easy to blaze a trail if you start out by saying wheels should be square instead of round, or made from spaghetti. You'll get Yoko Ono sized plaudits in the art magazines for that, but the cart still won't go. Your mission, if you live in that world, is to find a patron that wants an odd useless cart. And has a trust fund too.
Forget all that. Let's see you carry the rules on your back lightly, like an angel on your shoulder, or heavy, like a rucksack filled with brass knobs-- whatever is your lot in life -- and make the trip to creativity. Let's see you do it for a price. Let's see you make another person -- or even better - many people, happy and comfortable and safe for a little while. Let's see you do it on time. Let's see you please yourself, and the rest of the world, and maybe throw your little all into the mixer of meaning that is posterity, and have it stick, maybe just a little.
Sometimes, I think I did it a little, and it makes me content.