Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Living Arts

I've written a lot earlier on in my blogs about my aversion to defining myself; who I am, what my goals are, and particularly the question 'what's my purpose in life' that had been posed to me in an EGL session. Much of the criticism that I levied against those kinds of questions centered on the fact that any given answer involves a lot of loss and limitation. Why would anyone want to limit their purpose in life, I asked? It just doesn't make sense.

While exploring that train of thought, as liberating as it felt and as philosophically correct as it seemed, there was always a little shred of doubt that maybe I was on the wrong path. I ended the essay 'Undefined' on that exact note, but never figured out why. It took 10 weeks in an utterly bizarre, frustrating and yet fascinating art class to get this straight. Where I think I went wrong is that I'm trying to analyze something that can't be analyzed.

I'm currently dead-in-the-mud stuck on my final project - a 100% pure, unabated open-ended design assignment. Literally, I can do anything I want. There are no requirements to fill or criteria by which to judge the outcome. It's been driving me completely insane. Somehow, some way, there are some projects that are better than others. But there is no way to judge it, except by the gut feeling you get. That's it. But how on earth do you plan for that? It's been killing me.

The premise of the class is that there is at least a vague formula for creativity - it's not random, it's not a personality trait, it's not necessarily a skill. It's a process. And that process looks something like this (rather bluntly):

1. Follow your gut, not your brain; find something that seems interesting-ish to you, and drive as hard as you can on that path. Do not plan, do not think too much, just do.

2. Take a break and do nothing for a while. Then continue.

3. Go until your interest wanes or your gut feeling changes. Then tear down everything you don't like, revise your direction until you get that interesting-ish feeling in your gut again, and once again put the pedal on the floor.

4. Rinse and repeat

There is no finish line. Rinse and repeat, then do it again. Keep rolling around that circle, and you'll start building something that everyone agrees is (but nobody can say why) awesome. It's the design-build-test cycle of engineering, only there is no design and the only test is your gut. It's the (middle school version) scientific method PIHERCA without the P, I, H, R, C, or A. And it's really, really hard, at least for poor suckers like me who expect the world make sense.

And yet it works. It absolutely, somehow works... if you can trust it enough to let go, that is. And that's the key - letting go. You can't make predictions or think it out or even analyze where you've been, otherwise you tank the whole process. This is where it applies to questions much larger than an arts class project - questions like 'what is your purpose in life'.

Just like in the art class, I struggled with the question because I wanted criteria, I wanted a plan, and I wanted it to make sense. What's the best possible answer for 'a purpose in life'? Unfortunately (or maybe it's a good thing...) I don't think you can really plan stuff like that out. Pick something that seems interesting-ish, or just kind of feels right, and drive that way until your gut tells you to turn. Eventually, something of real quality will arise of its own. Maybe it doesn't even make any sense. But, like good art, there's quality there nonetheless. Or so I hope.

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